Turning back the clock with David Eddings

Since my son was old enough to listen, I’ve been reading to him before bed just about every night (excluding the occasional business trip a couple of times a year). These started with simple board books, progressed to Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch, had some side trips into comic book series (such as Avengers and Spider-Man, and eventually to full-fledged novels.

I’ve picked some books, and he has picked others. This has led me to read some novels that I probably would never have chosen on my own, such as the 39 Clues series, or the Percy Jackson novels, many of which I found enjoyable despite being written for a younger audience.

My son turned ten years old this summer, and I’ve been pushing some fantasy series that I remember reading myself when I was young. Naturally, I had already read The Hobbit to him—my wife, as a child, was given a wonderful copy illustrated with images from the 1977 television movie—when he was eight. This started his journey into fantasy stories.

Recently I found a box of paperback books that I’ve had for at least a decade or two. In the box, I rediscovered the Belgariad series, by David Eddings. I originally read these back when they were first released as mass-market paperbacks, and I was just a young teen. I remember enjoying the series so much that I tried to adapt the world for a tabletop Runequest RPG campaign. Unfortunately, the RPG experiment was short-lived and unsuccessful, but I’ve always had fond memories of the series.

I wasn’t sure how well these books would hold up—it’s been more than 30 years since I first read them. However, my recollection was that they were light, humorous, yet epic in scope. The books avoid the classic Tolkien races (dwarf, elf, halfling, human), replacing them with human cultures that are painted in broad strokes and shamelessly borrow elements from real-life historical cultures.

For example: the Chereks are big, burly, and bearded barbarians, the Tolnedrans are pretty much the Roman empire, the Sendars are simple English farmers, the Mimbrates are all knights in shining armor, etc.

So how did it all hold up after 30+ years?

First, my son absolutely loves these books. He laughs at the witty banter between characters, he speculates on what is going to happen next, he not-so-secretly has a crush on the Imperial Princess, Ce’Nedra, and he wishes he was the main character, Garion. (I’m not impressed that he sees me as Belgarath, however, considering I’m only in my early/mid-forties.)

He cannot get enough of this series, and he begs me to read to him at every spare moment, not just before bed. We’ve churned through the first four novels in a few weeks, and we’re about a quarter-way through Enchanters’ End Game as of the writing of this post. It’s been great watching him get inspired by these stories that were such a big part of my imagination when I was 13-14.

And, as a jaded adult, what do I think of these books now?

Well, I have to say I’m actually pretty surprised at how well the story and the writing holds up. Let’s be clear, this is not great “literature.” It’s a pretty simple zero-to-hero story with an evil god (evil for the sake of being evil, really), some cultures that are almost entirely good, other cultures that are almost entirely bad, over-the-top villains, etc. There’s nothing really that special about the story or the setting when looked at in the context of the genre as a whole. But the writing is so clean and you get the feeling Mr. Eddings really enjoyed himself immensely while committing the words to paper, and so the whole thing becomes far greater than the sum of its parts.

To sum up, I’m really glad I revisited these books and shared them with my son. They’ve aged rather well, and have been a breath of fresh air in the current landscape of grim fantasy novels patterned off of the Song of Ice and Fire series. (Not that I’m not a fan of George R.R. Martin, but the relentless grimdark of his many imitators gets tiresome after a while.)

It turns out that sometimes you can go back, and things are just as good as you remember them.

What about you? Are you re-reading anything that you originally read as a teen? How does it hold up? Are you sharing any of those books with your own children, either by reading to them or by them reading the books directly?

Tell me all about it in the comments.

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