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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Beginning with the Belgariad

Some of you will have come here from my other blog, Somebody Has To Say It. Some of you may have come here from Twitter. Some of you… maybe somewhere else. You may know I’m a fantasy writer. Or not.

I’m also a fantasy reader, for even longer than I have been a writer (and that’s a looong time). This blog is dedicated to the fantasy genre and the books I love. I’ve called it Flight of the Dragon because… well, because I love dragons. Dragons are intrinsically fantastical. Oh and I want klout in dragons, but I decided that after I named this blog, so that had no causal effect. You can expect a new dragon picture with each blog. Today’s picture is my bedside lamp. For those who care about such things, I will blog at least once a fortnight, sometimes more often.

My love affair with fantasy began in 1990. I was 9. Dad was reading a great big fat whopping hardcover book called ‘Castle of Wizardry’. It’s book four of the Belgariad by David Eddings. I don’t know how they made the hardcover so big, because my newer paperback is a sliver of that original hardback. Maybe it had really BIG font.

For the last year I had been avidly reading every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Dana Sisters book I could get my hands on. Picking up the book, I said, ‘Do you think I’d like this, Dad?’

When the answer was ‘probably’ I sat down, opened the book and started reading. Yep, at book four. Dad got his book back when I’d finished it. Too bad he was halfway through it. Fortunately it only took me a day.

After reading Enchanter’s End Game, I went back and read the first three books of the Belgariad and the entire Mallorean series. Later, when the Elenium and the Tamuli were released, I read them as well.

The Belgariad and the Mallorean are short, simple books by today’s fantasy standards despite the fact that there are five books to a series. Some of its elements are now considered dreadful clich├ęs, such as an orphaned king in disguise with a distinctive birthmark and a magical sword. Terry Pratchett even gives this device a nod in his Discworld series. It’s well understood that Captain Carrot is the long missing heir to the now defunct throne of Ankh-Morpork because, well, he has a crown-shaped birthmark and a magic sword.

David Eddings’s books are marked by a dry wit. The jokes may be simple, but they still make me laugh. A couple of my favourites, which I have never forgotten, are:

‘I like things nice and simple,’ Belgarath said.

‘Good and evil?’ Durnik suggested.

‘That’s too complicated. I prefer “them” and “us”’.
and
'You’re lost.’

‘I’m not lost,’ said Belgarath. ‘I’m just not precisely sure where I am at the moment.’
Arguably many of the jokes aren’t even particularly funny. Some of them are the brand of humour called ‘Dad humour’ – you know, the lame jokes your Dad tells and you only roll your eyes? Well, I guess I like Dad humour. Or maybe it’s just because I grew up sharing these jokes with my Dad.

Slightly more original were some of the jokes in the Elenium and the Tamuli. I recall Kalten’s delight as the knights travelled through mosquito infested lands. Wearing plate armour there always made him happy because he was left with the vision of hordes of the bloodsuckers trying to hammer their noses straight with teeny tiny hammers. He was rather disappointed when someone else pointed out they wouldn’t try to bite him through plate armour. Me too. I don’t like mosquitoes.

And of course Ulath’s cooking system, which he informed the other knights was quite complicated, but was in fact as simple as waiting for someone to ask whose turn it was to cook. The person who asked was promptly appointed to cook the meal. If no one asked, Ulath had to cook. Needless to say, when the knights figured this out, Ulath had a lot of cooking to do.

Possibly my favourite line from the Sparhawk books is this one:

‘I once saw Kalten write down a six letter word and he didn’t get a single letter right,’ Sparhawk said.

‘Some words are hard to spell.’

‘His own name?’
Priceless.

The characters are too many and varied to list all my favourites, but if I had to pick one, I’d have to say Sparhawk. Unlike Garion in the Belgariad, Sparhawk is hard-bitten and weatherworn when we first meet him. Our broken-nosed friend is cynical and pragmatic and I like it. Excuse me, our broken-nosed neighbour. I love that!

If you are looking for something a little lighter than the massive epic fantasies on the market these days, something a little fun, something for your children to read, or even something that’s just finished, I’d recommend the Belgariad, the Mallorean, the Elenium and the Tamuli. Stop there though, really. I don’t even remember the names of the later series.

I’m feeling so nostalgic now I wish I hadn’t packed all these books away in storage.

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