David Eddings passes away at 77

David Eddings passed away on June 2. Because of my schedule I missed the announcements and obituaries but I wanted to say something. I was never a huge David Eddings fan but nonetheless I read 10 of his books: the five original Belgariad books and the five subsequent Malloreon. I also bought Polgara the Sorceress but never found time to read it.

Those of you who have followed me through the years know my favorite SF authors were Andre Norton and J.R.R. Tolkien. I never had the opportunity to meet Tolkien but I did meet Andre Norton on several occasions. She was a very gracious lady and in my mind unquestionably one of the leading science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th century. Andre Norton broke down barriers for women interested in writing science fiction and fantasy but her stories also set the pace for many later books and movies.

Long before Centropolis films gave us “Stargate” (1994 — perhaps Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s best-known movie), Andre was sending characters through “gates” from Earth to other worlds. Was she the first person to use a gate device in a science fiction or fantasy story? Not really — you can find evidence of “gates” or “gate magic” in ancient folklore from Ireland and other cultures.

People like Norton, Tolkien, and Eddings drew upon mythology, history, and science to shape their fantasy worlds — and even the science fictiony worlds are “fantasy” worlds. Eddings’ contribution to the modern fantasy genre came in the acceptance by readers of a non-Tolkienesque world that dared to be epic in size but quotidian in form. I mean, Eddings’ writing was more easily accepted than either Norton’s or Tolkien’s. David Eddings had a casual, informal style in his books that made readers comfortable.

My college friends introduced me to The Belgariad. While I was preaching Tolkien to them (often without much success) they were regaling me with stories about Eddings’ interesting characters. He didn’t try to emulate Tolkien’s hobbits; he didn’t reproduce the Elves; and Tolkien never had a character like Sylk.

Were Eddings’ books sophisticated? Not really. I almost didn’t read the first one when I browsed the prologue. I thought it was cheesy. But he began his story, he took his characters through the life-changing events that made the story meaningful, and he allowed his characters to develop in new directions. When I read the final words of The Malloreon, I was touched by Edding’s “Gentle readers” note, where he said there would be other stories but that one had come to an end.

After ten books, I thought I would be interested in reading more.

David Eddings proved you CAN write book after book, really without any commitment to the end of a series. Now, Andre Norton had been doing this for years with her Witch World novels but she never achieved the best-seller status that Eddings did. Most people didn’t read Norton’s series, but in the 1980s it was hard to meet a science fiction and fantasy fan who had not read Eddings.

Christopher Stasheff, Robert Jordan, and many other authors probably owe a great deal to David Eddings for helping prove that markets do exist for large epic stories. There was a time when an entire audience gasped with horror at the prospect of someone trying to write 20 books set in the same world. Nowadays, I wonder if publishers will take on anything less.

How the fantasy genre has changed since writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs patched together quick adventure stories. He never foresaw the success he’d realize with Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars. Robert E. Howard did not live to see his stories spawn an entire sub-genre of sword-and-sorcery adventure tales. J.R.R. Tolkien only glimpsed the full potential of the fantasy market. Andre Norton outlived them all, writing up until 2005.

They all paved the way for authors like David Eddings, who each in their own turns helped paved the road for yet another generation of writers. Eddings was unfairly compared to Tolkien in several ways but to be honest I never felt like his work was trying to be anything more than just an interesting tale as told by a passionate story-teller.

Let us remember him that way.

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