Wed
Jun 3 2009 2:42pm

David Eddings (1931-2009), In Memoriam

David Eddings passed away yesterday, at the age of 77. At the risk of sounding cliched, he’ll be missed.

He wrote epic quest fantasy in the grand style, with heroes who discover unsuspected destinies, companions who ply their various specialties on behalf of the hero and their shared missions, highly-placed evil schemers, and the lot. But as I discovered when friends persuaded me in college to try the Belgariad (not long concluded) and the Malloreon (then just beginning), he brought several personal advantages to his work.

First, he studied Middle English along the way while getting an MA in American literature. When he wrote archaically, he did it right. This is from the prologue to Pawn of Prophecy, the first of five volumes in the Belgariad series:

When the world was new, the seven Gods dwelt in harmony, and the races of man were as one people. Belar, youngest of the Gods, was beloved by the Alorns. He abode with them and cherished them, and they prospered in his care. The other Gods also gathered peoples about them, and each God cherished his own people.

But Belar's eldest brother, Aldur, was God over no people. He dwelt apart from men and Gods, until the day that a vagrant child sought him out.

That’s something you can read out loud and hear it working. Real people have written and spoken like that.

Second, he brought a deep love of place to his work. J.R.R. Tolkien did that, of course: Middle-Earth infused with its creator’s abiding interest in the world and its details, and the ways places and people shape each other. Not all of those inspired by him were equally in love with nature, or as attentive. Eddings, however, was. And where Tolkien built up a secondary creation out of English and other European material, Eddings did with American elements, most particularly the Rocky Mountains. This is from The Seeress of Kell, the fifth and final volume in the Malloreon series:

The air was thin and cool and richly scented with the odor of trees that shed no leaves but stood dark green and resinous from one end of their lives to the other. The sunlight on the snowfields above them was dazzling, and the sound of tumbling water seething down and down rocky streambeds to feed rivers leagues below on the plains of Darshiva and Gandahar was constantly in their ears. That tumble and roar of waters rushing to their destined meeting with the great River Magan was accompanied by the soft, melancholy sighing of an endless wind passing through the deep-green forest of pine and fir and spruce which clad hills that reached towaid the sky in a kind of unthinking yearning. The caravan route Garion and his friends followed rose up and up, winding along streambeds and mounting the sides of ridges. From atop each ridge they could see yet another, and looming over all was the spine of the continent where peaks beyond imagining soared upward to touch the very vault of heaven, peaks pure and pristine in their mantle of eternal snow. Garion had spent time in mountains before, but never had he seen such enormous peaks. He knew that those colossal spires were leagues and leagues away, but the mountain air was so clear that it seemed he could almost reach out and touch them.

If John Muir wrote quest fantasy, that’s what it would have sounded like. This is Muir in “Windstorm in the Forests”, describing his experiences at the top of a hundred-foot-high Douglas spruce tree in the middle of a storm:

In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to thirty degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen others of the same species still more severely tried--bent almost to the ground indeed, in heavy snows--without breaking a fiber. I was therefore safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the piny hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running in ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air. Oftentimes these waves of reflected light would break up suddenly into a kind of beaten foam, and again, after chasing one another in regular order, they would seem to bend forward in concentric curves, and disappear on some hillside, like sea-waves on a shelving shore. The quantity of light reflected from the bent needles was so great as to make whole groves appear as if covered with snow, while the black shadows beneath the trees greatly enhanced the effect of the silvery splendor.

It’s very easy to picture the young Eddings up there with him, taking notes and comparing inspirations.

Third, Eddings steered his stories reliably through the Scylla and Charybdis of quest fantasies: threats to interesting groups. On one side of the channel, there are stories in which the characters never have any real problems with each other, never differ in anything significant, and traipse along like a preschool outing where nobody ever loses their lunch sack or needs a nap. On the other side, there are stories where people who really do need to work with each other disagree so often, so intensely, and so fundamentally that it takes a constant flow of plot devices to keep them moving toward mutual enemies and dangers rather than into combat with each other.

Eddings’ characters argue, often and vigorously, but not stupidly. They disagree about things that matter, and then they work out something to do. They take their responsibilities seriously. Furthermore, his characters actually have responsibilities and decisions, including female ones. His societies have medieval-ish structures and sharp division of roles between the sexes, but his women are called upon to do more than simper adoringly. They don’t get the range of possibilities that would occur to writers giving women’s status and conditions more prominent attention, but I remember noticing at the time the general absence of cheap sexist throwaway gags.

Finally, Eddings handled the social and spiritual complexities of life with prophecy very well. He laid out a grand scene in which recurring cycles of action mean different things each time because of their different circumstances, and where people’s individual natures and choices genuinely do matter even as cosmic forces align and collide. This quote, from Castle of Wizardry, the fourth Belgariad book, is one I found I remembered correctly even though it’s been some time since I re-read the series:

All of this is part of a series of events that must occur in proper sequence and at the proper time. In most situations, the present is determined by the past. This series of events is different, however. In this case, what's happening in the present is determined by the future. If we don't get it exactly the way it's supposed to be, the ending will be different, and I don't think any of us would like that at all.

One other feature of Eddings’ work deserves special mention in memoriam: his constant public appreciation for his wife’s contribution to his work. He apparently always wanted her to get shared credit for his fantasies, but co-author credits were rarer in the early ’80s than they are now. As soon as he could arrange it, though, he did, and long before that he’d been acknowledging the importance of her critiques and revisions to the finished work. Her death in 2007 broke the team. Now the circle closes...for this cycle, at least, his characters might say if consulted on the matter.

29 comments
toryx
1. toryx
What?!?

I saw this post on my way to somewhere else and took a double take.

How shocking. I haven't read any of his books for about 15 years but I did love the Belgariad as a teenager.

RIP, Mr. Eddings.
toryx
2. alreadymadwithgrief
No!!!!!!!!!!!
Not Eddings too.
Elenium series was one of my favorites.
Richard Fife
3. R.Fife
I saw this on my twitter earlier today, and I felt a part of me die. The Elenium was the first fantasy series I read after LotR, followed by the Tuvulium, and I read the Belgaraid not too long ago. So yeah, a sad day for fantasy. I think I'll go out and get the Malloreon now in mourning.
Sam Mickel
4. Samadai
This breaks my heart and saddens me as Eddings was at his best with the Belgariad and Mallorean as well as the Elenium and Tamuli series. His Belgariad pulled me further into fantasy than I had gone before and now will cherish more than ever.
Mr. Eddings rest in peace and God bless
Galen Brinn
5. GatheringStorm
Great books, both series. They were the only books of Edding's that I had read but they were good. Another great Creator gone.
Derek Brine
6. Gamblor
The Belgariad was one of the first fantasy series I ever read. And it wouldn't be a stretch to say that his work fueled my passion for the genre. His writing was very fluid, rich and pleasing. I hope everyone has the opportunity to read some of his works in their lifetime.

Rest in peace Mr. Eddings.
toryx
7. katiekat641
David Eddings was the first fantasy author I ever read. His works opened a whole new world for me. RIP, Mr. Eddings.
toryx
8. Eric Burns-White
One of the things that struck me, in the halcyon days of my youth, was how D&Dish his characters felt -- and I mean that in a complimentary way. Silk and Garion didn't just talk -- they bantered. When the group problem solved, they did it the way I and my friends worked out strategies in the old dungeon -- figuring out what our assets and strengths were, arguing about what might be ahead of us, disagreeing, then ultimately coming up with a plan.

The foibles of Eddings's characters always felt very human to me, and really opened my eyes to the possibilities of character-driven plot.

He will indeed be missed.
Chris Hall
9. bookwormchris
My friend in high school got me interested in his books. (This is senior year when I somehow borrowed and read like 5 books a week. No idea how that even worked out.) Anyways, Eddings was one of the authors I read during that year, literally devouring his books. When I saw that this morning it was quite a shock. RIP David Eddings.
Sara H
10. LadyBelaine
The Elenium was my gateway drug into Fantasy (well, that and Dragonlance). The Elenium was damned fine story.


Reqiescat in Pace, Mr. Eddings.
toryx
11. pmbruce
I saw this earlier, and felt a bit of sadness drop into the pit of my stomach. He was one of my first Fantasy authors, too, and I'm forever grateful for the impact his books had on my life.

What always struck me about his books was that, while realistic in a suitably epic style, they were always fun.

RIP, you'll be remembered, Mr. Eddings.
toryx
12. flute
I was saddened to see yet another of our gerat fantacy writers was gone. Eddings works will live on in the great books and characters. I have reread his books many times and find something new each ti
me. I often thought what gerat movie material.
You will be saddly missed by all.
toryx
13. tariqata
Although I've never gone back to re-read them, my 7th grade English teacher leant me her own copies of the Belgariad and the Mallorean, and although I'd already been reading some young adult fantasy, I think reading those series really motivated me to read works like Lord of the Rings, and I'm so glad I did.
Claire Edwards
14. ClaireBelle
I was so shocked when I saw about David Edding's death on Twitter. He was a fantastic author who wrote such enjoyable fantasy, it was a genuine joy to read anything he wrote. I didn't realise his wife had passed away in 2007 - I hope they are reunited. Rest in Peace x
toryx
15. tamyrlink
i didnt know he was ill. i first read his belgariad in high school and i fell in love with it. the concept of the will and the word was a very good on to me, well thought out and balanced.
i loved the belgariad, the mallorean, the redemption of althalus, and the series bout sparhawk, tho i only read the first three.

by the time i got around to jordan, and martin, i felt his characters to be flat and one dimensional in comparison, but those were still some damn good books. i always pick one up and reread parts when im in a book store or library.

rest in peace.
toryx
16. lollygags
The Belgariad and Malloreon are two of my favorite series. I've read them both several times since I first discovered them in high school. The humor and the sniping between characters is what initially attracted me to the series as well as the feeling of a lived in world that had existed long before we learned about it. Even my wife, who is not a fantasy reader, enjoyed his books. Cliche be damned, you will be missed Mr. Eddings.
Lannis .
17. Lannis
A sad day for fantasy fans, for sure. I saw this on CNN.com and was stunned. I discovered The Belgariad and The Malloreon as a teenager, and they'll always line my shelves. I think my favourite part of those books was the humour--encased in the banter between characters, but also situational humour.

And clichés are clichés because they (by and large) speak the truth. You will be missed, Mr. Eddings.
Paolo Chikiamco
18. Pipe
The Belgariad cycle was the first coming-of-age fantasy novel I'd ever read. I bought them in a set at a book fair, finished them in a month, then read them again. I found the first book of the Mallorean soon after, and the third book, but I couldn't find the second anywhere. (Bookstores in the Philippines at the time had a bad habit of carrying only some books in a given series.)

I held out for a week, then jumped straight to the third book. I just couldn't wait.

I was a die-hard fantasy fan by the time Mr. Eddings was through with me, and maybe more importantly, a fan of books where humor and banter had a role, no matter how dire the over-arching plot.

Thank you Mr. Eddings.
Heather Johnson
19. HeatherJ
This makes me so sad ... I discovered Tolkien at age 6 and Eddings shortly after. He was only the 2nd author whose work I completely fell in love with, and that is something that sticks with you throughout your life. I read the Belgariad and the Mallorean in elementary school and the Elenium and the Tamuli later on. To this day Polgara is still one of my all time favorite characters. Eddings will be sorely missed.
David Spiller
20. scifidavid
This is a tough one to hear about. Very writers are literally living legends. Mr. Eddings was just that. I trust he and Leigh are together again. Fare thee well Mr. Eddings. You will be missed.
j p
21. sps49
I first read his books in 1986, and was so taken with the world that I read the last four through while on suggested study hours in Orlando.

His was one of the better worlds, yes, but it stood out for me because of the "party banter". The characters got along like real people in unreal situations.
toryx
22. chrisR
I am sorry to hear about Mr Eddings' demise, but I am rather at odds with the other comments, finding his style heavy and his plots thin, with repetitive humour and caricatural characters. I also found appalling that his wife contributed a lot to his books without being acknowledged as a coauthor...
toryx
23. Russell Heilling
The Belgariad was one of the first multi-part epic fantasies that I read when I was back in High School. A defining moment in my early years that still influences me today.

While I haven't been as eager for new releases as I once was, allowing other authors to rise up the list of favourites, David Eddings and his works will always hold a special place in my heart.

As I write this I am holding back tears for a man that I never met but profoundly influenced my life. Farewall David. You will be missed.
Soon Lee
24. SoonLee
I'm saddened. The Belgariad was my gateway drug into reading series fantasy. Why stop at a trilogy (LotR) when you can have a whole saga?
Ronald Hobbs
25. dustrider
Terrible news. Yet another of the all time greats passes.

The Belgariad still is one of my favourites and started a trend that has become cliched in its own right, I still think of Eddings and Garion everytime I read the words, "why me?"

Garion and Sparhawk were great characters, and Althalus has been one of my favourite standalone books from any author.
toryx
26. poemanderror
Wow. Throughout the years since I came upon David Eddings I've gone through a number of reductions in my book shelves. Throughout every one of those cuts, David Eddings is the only author whose books have remained a constant. The Elenium and Tamuli remain among my favorite books with the Belgariad and the Mallorean not far behind.
toryx
27. Grizzleypappa
As with most writers I come upon them too late to enjoy them while they are alive. David Eddings is one of these. I read excerpts from his books on the Belgariad just today and was ordering them. Sir, you will be missed. Rest in Peace.
toryx
28. vinaxx
Until last year I didn't even know of David Eddings or of his books until a friend lent me The Balgariad series and I fell in LOVE!!! I love the characters, the story line is good as well.. and the book flows nicely too.. I just ordered The Mallorean and I cant wait to reed it. Rest in Peace Mr. Eddings. -_-
toryx
30. enchance
I was surpised when I first heard about his passing a year ago. David Eddings is one of the best fantasy authors I've read and now that he's gone I'm afraid it would be long before another author takes his place.

Mr. Eddings, I'd like to say thank you for introducing me to one of the greatest fantasy epics one could ever find in a volume of books. Your Belgariad made me want to put sleep aside for fear that the characters might do something while I'm not looking.

I am saddened by this news but am hopeful because your works will always be there to fill any person's need for excellent fantasy. I will always remember you through your books but will never forget you through your characters.

Thank you.

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