Belgarath and Gandalf

Fantasy is a word that holds different meaning for almost everyone. To some, it is an idea, something they want to do with their lives. To others, it is a place to go to escape the often mundane and boring lives we already lead. I’m afraid I fall into the second category. Fantasy fiction novels are my drug of choice. I owe my addiction to a man named David Eddings, and to a somewhat lesser degree, J.R.R. Tolkien.

I have always found Tolkien’s world (Arda) to be a fascinating, beautiful place. It is full of wonder, natural beauty that dazzles the eye, and high adventure. The role of the “reluctant hero” who is only a hero because of circumstances beyond his control has always appealed to me. The backstory however I found oddly lacking in character buildup. Who is Gandalf? What is Gandalf? Is he an angel? A god? So many questions about who and what he is and how he got there have often sent me on searches thru Tolkien’s different works in search of some kind of answer. I finally concluded that Gandalf is the voice of reason in an unreasonable world. He often becomes frustrated with man’s lack of the moral ability to do the right thing, but he rarely takes an active role in forcing events to happen. In a way, he is almost saintly. And again, there are many questions left unanswered about his past. Here is where my attention was drawn to another author.

Where Tolkien spent hundreds of pages creating his world, and then tells you a story in that world, Eddings launches the reader into a story already taking place, and the world unfolds around you. And there are definitely no saints, only people. Real people that you can connect with and understand. It still amazes me 15 years later at the depth of human understanding that Eddings displays in his various works.

The central character to my favorite Eddings tale isn’t so much a single person, as it is the whole group. This is also something I found that drew me to Tolkien, but in my opinion, Eddings perfected it. There is of course a central hero to the whole story, (the reluctant, and often startled hero who feels completely unfit for the position he finds himself in) but over all, the “quest group” plays more of a role here than any single person. This is also Tolkienish, but here is were the similarities die and an entire new creature is born.

I have never felt closer to a group of fantasy characters than I do with Eddings’. They are real, so real that I often find myself comparing people I know to them. This is either the sign of a sad, boring existence on my part, or fantastic story telling on his part. I of course am inclined to vote for the latter.

Eddings himself wrote a fantastic summary of how and why he wrote this particular story, (See, The Rivan Codex) so I’ll try not to steal too much from that, and instead focus on my favorite character and why I like him so much. Belgarath, the eternally youthful thief, scoundrel, and vagabond who coincidentally is also one of the most powerful men in the world. He is also utterly human. Eddings, I think, realized he needed to avoid the “superman complex” with his heroes (as he stated in The Rivan Codex) and so he avoided that by making him human; full of flaws, and completely understandable.

The humanizing of Belgarath is why I relate so well to Eddings’ work as opposed to Tolkien. Gandalf is just as powerful, and cares greatly for the people, but he is too saintly to make for a truly lovable character. I might offend a great many people by saying this, but we don’t really connect with saints very well. They are too “perfect”. We couldn’t ever attain their status in life, so why try? By humanizing and “defrocking” the saint, we see that to become great as they are isn’t anything great and noble. It was simply the ability to act, to move when others were stuck, too scared or unsure of how to act or move.

This is not all to say I don’t enjoy Tolkien’s work. I am a HUGE fan of Tolkien. I mean only to say that I connect better with Eddings’ characters.

Enough hero worship….. Now go read it yourself. I’d recommend starting with “Pawn of Prophecy”. Read the entire Belgariad series, then the Mallorean. Then “Belgarath the Sorcerer” followed by “Polgara the Sorceress”. Of course, by the time you finish reading the first ten pages of “Pawn of Prophecy” you will likely be so addicted to the story you won’t need any further prompting.

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2 thoughts on “Belgarath and Gandalf

  1. Interesting comparison.

    I wonder if it could be said that Eddings’ characters are more important than the story? Tolkein’s characters are there for the story, and take their places in the history.

    Also, it might be argued that Tolkein’s writing takes more investment from the readers. Take Gandalf, everyone trusts him, but noone knows his backstory. Isn’t that intentional?

    Belgarath cannot be mysterious, because he is familiar.

    • The familiarity is the main thing that drew me to Eddings. He appears to have understood that while the story may be entertaining, it is what happens to the people in the story that people really care about.

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