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David Eddings

David Eddings, co-author of the Belgariad and other series, has died. The obits talk about how he made a lot of money and was motivated by cash.

There's something a bit dismissive by those comments, but then I don't suppose Eddings was considered great literature by anyone, not even myself. When I was a teenager I read his series, introduced to them by Dj, and I have to admit, I did dig them at the time. They were an easier and palpable introduction to fantasy than Tolkien was (and is, to my mind, still). Strangely, I'd not given the books much thought until recently when one of the students I have began reading them. In a week, the kid has churned through four of the first five books in the series, and is planning to read the next five, which may or may not seem impressive to you, but in my world, finding books that teenage boys want to read is something of a hassle. A lot of them don't want to read--I work a lot with movies and TV shows and music videos, since the techniques you need to teach for basic English translate a lot through that, and you can slip in books and poems and short stories as needed. Still, though, this kid has torn through the books, and will likely go through all of Eddings work before he's finished. Oddly, he was asking me for what to read next, for both he and his friend. The power will obviously send me insane and he'll find himself reading boring shit within a month, but that's the joy of job number one.

Anyhow, here's a little something to add to the obits floating round:

"I know I'm doing it [writing] as well as I possibly can," he [Eddings] says. "Some people say oh well, what the heck, it's just genre fiction so that's good enough. This is a good way to become enrolled in the large fraternity known as unpublished writers. You have to do it well, because if you don't think this is as good as you can do, then it's going to show." Eddings is characteristically humble about his work. He says that many people tell him that they never liked to read before coming upon his work, but now they read all the time. "I look upon this as perhaps my purpose in life," he says. "I am here to teach a generation or two how to read. After they've finished with me and I don't challenge them any more, they can move on to somebody important like Homer or Milton."

For all he does to distance his work from literature, Eddings has a strong background in the discipline and bases his work in secretly profound ways on archetypes and old written traditions. Eddings, who majored in English at Reed, drew on the Odyssey and Arthurian and Carolingian legends for the mythic underpinnings of the Belgariad and Malloreon. After a term of service in the Army from 1954 to 1956, Eddings used G. I. Bill funds to attend graduate school in English at the University of Washington. Although his field was contemporary American fiction (he wrote a novel for his master's degree), he became fluent in Middle English and fell in love with Chaucer and from there with Sir Thomas Malory. "Since what is called 'epic fantasy' in the contemporary world descends in an almost direct line from medieval romance, my studies of Chaucer and Malory gave me a running head start in the field," Eddings wrote in the introduction to his preliminary studies of the Belgariad series. Just for fun, Eddings wrote a speech in Middle English, from memory, in the middle of his book The Shining Ones: he checked it later and it turned out to be perfect Middle English.

"To be honest about it, I write because I have to write," Eddings says. He began trying his hand at writing at 17, and his Reed senior thesis gave him his first chance to write a sustained piece of fiction. During his junior year a noted writer named Walter van Tilberg Clark visited Reed for a week, read one of Eddings's short stories--about a soldier returned from the military who tries to find out why his girlfriend committed suicide--and suggested that Eddings expand it into a novel. Eddings had been taking a creative writing course from English and art history professor Lloyd Reynolds, who became his thesis adviser for the novel, How Lonely Are the Dead. Eddings recalls Reynolds's inspiring teaching method: "He would bring things in and read them to us. He'd take that pipe out of his mouth and say, 'Now that's writing!' He got his point across and generated a great deal of enthusiasm among the students."


(crossposted)

Comments

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angriest
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
I liked Edding's Belgariad as a kid, and like you found it a much more engaging introduction to fantasy books than Tolkien. Same goes for Terry Brooks actually, and (much as everyone seems to back them) Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
benpeek
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
i never got into brooks, it must be said. weis and hickman yes, and along with eddings and david gemmell, they were basically the things i read as a kid...
angriest
Jun. 4th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
For some reason I never tried Gemmell.

I found Brooks wonderful as a kid because while I liked the world and the characters of The Lord of the Rings, the writing style was driving me up the wall and sending me to sleep (still does, to be honest, although I appreciate the style a lot more these days). Brooks had essentially plagiarised the plot and rewritten it in a much breezier Hollywood-esque style.

I do think Brooks' stuff would make better films than they do novels - Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold is a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to happen IMO.
benpeek
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
gemmell might still be worth the look, perhaps. i kept up with him over the years (i've kept up with weis and hickman, too, cause i get the whole 'i'm a kid' thing when i read their work). give a look in on WAYLANDER or LEGEND, or perhaps even one of the recent ones--THE LORD OF THE SILVER BOW, which i was surprisingly engaged with (the sequel is good, but the third book in the trilogy was finished by his wife after his death, and i couldn't get thru twenty pages of it)
ataxi
Jun. 4th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
I always preferred Tolkien. Read him first and never minded the writing style (apart from the lousy poetry in The Hobbit ...).

However, I read Eddings right through at least once (I think I might've re-read the Malloreon, but I'm unsure), and I remember waiting with breath bated for new instalments of the Tamuli. Which unfortunately was when he began to fail to live up to expectations.

Oh and Shannara, Death Gate Cycle. Darksword Trilogy. All that. This was my life from ages 12-14!
angriest
Jun. 4th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Dragonlance at age 12 was a revelation. I also really like Weis and Hickman's Arabian Nights pastiche, the name of which completely eludes me. Darksword I never got into for some reason.
benpeek
Jun. 4th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
rose of the prophet.
angriest
Jun. 4th, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
That's the chap.
ataxi
Jun. 4th, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
Darksword was poor. Good example of a bad premise dominating character interactions that were decidedly sub-par anyway. Actually Death Gate got a bit like that as well. I tolerated Death Gate for a long time because I was a Haplo fanboy.
crankynick
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:33 am (UTC)
At 14 it was a revelation - I went back to have a look at it recently and...

No. Just no.
angriest
Jun. 4th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Never go back. I made that mistake with Starblazers.
benpeek
Jun. 4th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
i loved the death gate cycle as a kid. i waited for next volumes in that with the bated breath.
ataxi
Jun. 4th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
Yeah, me too. But then I never finished it! Stopped after book four I think. I also remember thinking that the "Zifnab" (Fizban) character in it was woefully self-indulgent in a very much you're-not-Moorcock-and-this-isn't-the-Multiverse sort of way.
benpeek
Jun. 4th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
zifnab worked for me, at the time, and i read all of the books. i remember thinking that it really fell apart in the final two volumes--the last one especially was pretty weak.

but i dug the first five a lot.

i also have a soft spot for weis' solo sci fi series.
hani
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
Oh! How sad... I loved his Belgariad series when I was younger, and his standalone Redemption of Althalus book though the other series felt so repetitive... And I couldn't begin his new series at all. My sisters and I grew up reading him, and I don't think any of us read Tolkien. :P
benpeek
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
oh. i'd forgotten all about that stand alone book. i thought it was okay, if i remember right from memory.
jody_macgregor
Jun. 4th, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
He sounds like a standup guy, but I never read any of his books as a kid. I dug Tolkien, but I'm glad I read The Hobbit first. If I hadn't already been a fan of that I'm not sure I would have slogged through Lord Of The Rings.

By the time I got to the second of Terry Brooks' Shannara books I gave up on Tolkienesque fantasy. I just had this very clear "Why on Earth am I reading another one of these?" epiphany moments.
benpeek
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
yeah, i had that experience with the wheel of time. i gave up following the stuff then, though i must admit, in recent years i found martin's song of ice and fire books, which are quite good.
simplykathryn
Jun. 4th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
I read the Belgariad series to my kids, as well as the Polgara and Belgarath books (which is why my kids know what a eunuch is, and why I had a good laugh when they saw the paperwork my husband brought home for his vasectomy) and my youngest has since re-read the Belgariad series by himself and would read the next one if I could just find the first book.
benpeek
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
lol. yeah, i got them round here, somewhere...
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