I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The master Sorcerer Belgarath and his daughter Polgara the arch-Sorceress were on the trail of the Orb, seeking to regain its saving power before the final disaster prophesized by the legends. And with them went Garion, a simple farm boy only months before, but now the focus of the struggle. He had never believed in sorcery and wanted no part of it. Yet with every league they traveled, the power grew in him, forcing him to acts of wizardry he could not accept.
The second installment of the Belgariad—and although this world certainly has some commonalities with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, there are many distinctions as well. Yes, there is a company of travellers on a quest for a powerful jewel, but they are not nearly as noble as LOTR characters. Can you imagine Gandalf getting drunk and having a hangover on the morning of an early departure? Belgarath does. How about producing sweets to attract Dryads to him and stating that Dryads will do almost anything for a candy? (Leaving us to guess what he may have coerced them into doing). Gandalf may have withheld information from Bilbo and Frodo, but he eventually fills them in on essential information that will keep them safe(r). Garion gets almost no information from Belgarath or Polgara, he tries to fill in the gaps on his own, and then gets chastised for it. Not very logical, really.
Another Tolkien echo is Bard, the warrior, who tends to become a huge bear when he is in the thick of battle—this reminded me strongly of Beorn, the bear man, in The Hobbit. But the key thing for me is that Eddings manages to give these ideas his own twist—he may take inspiration from Tolkien, but he doesn’t just copy him wholesale. Plus, he has many more female characters with much more substantial roles.
Having said that, the genders are still treated in a stereotypical fashion—Polgara is rigid, rather puritanical, and very controlling, while Belgarath is looser, both in discipline and morals, and much more improvisational. Women are expected to control themselves and are somehow responsible for restraining the men’s sexuality, implying that men are unable or unwilling to control themselves. This is a much more sexual world than previous high fantasy epics (pre 1980s). To me, there was also an echo of Mary Stewart’s King Arthur series in the sheltering of Garion from sexual experience, which an implication that it would “complicate” his study of sorcery (just as Merlin was required to remain chaste in order to practice his magic).
Considering the number of pages in each volume, the plot doesn’t advance very quickly. Eddings was obviously focussed on income and more volumes equalled more money. I find that I can’t blame him for wanting to make a living, but I’m wishing that things moved along with a little more vigour. At least, up until this point, there has been no poetry and no singing.
Book number 173 in my science fiction & fantasy reading project.