Here is the second entry in the #WritingSparks series, answering the question “What authors and books sparked you into becoming a writer, or most influenced how you craft stories?”. Part one was an easy choice because, like so many other writers and readers out there, I grew up on a steady diet of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. But now it gets a little more tricky as I move into novels that had a huge influence on me but that not everyone in the world knows.
I was tempted to surprise absolutely no one and make #WritingSparks 2 about Tolkien, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. But no… even though Tolkien will definitely make an appearance in this blog series, his books had less of an effect on me as a writer than some others. It may be fair to say that Tolkien was extremely important to me as a *reader*, since his epic tales were some of the first to attract me to fantasy. But after giving it some thought, the writer in me knew there was only one choice for slot number two on the list.
Here is #WritingSparks 2!
1) Author: David Eddings.
2) Books: The Belgariad series (five books) and the Mallorean series (five books), which I first read between ages 16 and 21.
I will never forget my shock when, after reading “Pawn of Prophecy” – Book one of the Belgariad – I realized that epic, otherworldly fantasy can be (*gasp*)… FUNNY! And lighthearted at times! While still having powerful stakes and drama. Fresh off the heels of lots of Tolkien’s high fantasy, PhD-style stories, I found myself smiling, laughing, and for the first time *relating* to the characters in a personal way as the stories unfolded. As much as I loved Narnia and Lord of the Rings, it was a stretch to see much of myself in the Pevensies or the Bagginses (though the movies of both series delivered relatability in powerful ways). But Garion, the scullery boy nephew of Aunt Pol, growing up on Faldor’s farm and playing with friends and having crushes on girls and getting in trouble? Instantly relatable, and I absolutely loved it.
Eddings’ ability to build real characters, complete with flaws and vices as well as strengths, wowed me as a teenager. No one could tell me that I didn’t *know* Garion, Silk, Belgarath, Polgara, Durnik, and Ce’Nedra. Their conversations were natural and fluid (Eddings truly was a master of dialogue), managing to build each personality over time while also carrying the plot forward without excessive exposition. Eddings’ characters were old friends, not just names on a page, and they were as complex as, well, all the actual humans I encountered in the real world every day. This had a great impact on me. Decades later when I began writing seriously I quickly recognized some of Eddings’ style in in my writing voice.
Reflecting on the two series now, I also see a great deal of Eddings’ influence on how I pursue worldbuilding. I loved the details in Garion’s world; the economics, the politics, the commerce, the foreign relations. I adored the fact that this world not only had a complete known history from its creation forward (like Narnia), but that the vast majority of it could be learned if one read the two series and the companion books “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress”. I had the sense Garion’s world was just out there in the ether and that Eddings’ job was to carefully pick which parts of it he would share with readers.
Love. Just all the love. Garion’s story is all about personality, not the amazing powers he learns he has, not the world-saving destiny he eventually pursues. It’s all about how an orphan farm-boy with rural, down-to-earth sensibilities survives when he learns he is literally one of the most powerful beings in creation. And it’s a love story, and a parenting story, and a tale of friendships. Is there a greater high than the stunning moment when Garion holds Iron Grip’s sword over his head in it bursts into blue flame, proclaiming him the rightful heir to the Rivan throne? Is there a deeper low than when he instinctively lashes out with the will and the word to teleport a stranger from leech-infested waters to safety… only to watch the man still die in agony? Is anything more funny than when Ce’Nedra learns that she’s destined to marry the scullery boy from Sendaria and, in front of everyone, screams out her shock and horror? Then there was the legitimate, honest sorrow of the gods after Torak is slain. Since when do we mourn the death of the villain??? And it worked. It totally made sense. Even Torak was a real personality, far more than just an evil face in the distance.
I could go on for pages and pages. Tears. Laughter. Anguish. Fear. Pain. It’s all there, and it all felt *real* in the lives of my dear old friends. Wait… I mean, Eddings’ characters. 🙂
I read the entire Belgariad aloud to my kids about ten years ago when the oldest was around 11 years old. It was a great experience for all of us, so much fun, and resulted in many great memories. But I also ran right into a whole new set of feelings that I may have always known but never verbalized.
My favorite people in the two series are not Garion and Ce’Nedra, not Silk or Belgarath, not Mandorallen, even though I adore all of them. No, more than anything I love Polgara and Durnik, especially in later books when we see their relationship grow and their children born. Why? Because I see my mother and father in those two powerful heroes and I absolutely love it. My mother is one of the most powerful people ever! Strong but loving, kind but firm, heroic and smart… Polgara feels like she was cut from my mother’s cloth. And Durnik? What a great fit for my father if he were ever cast in a fantasy movie. My dad has always been the hardest working human being I’ve ever seen, period. Strong, wise, sometimes quiet, always *there*, always striving to make things right in a world of challenges and fears. By the grace of God they are both still around, but they’ve never heard that they are two of my fantasy heroes! Now I’m even more excited to share this post.
Eddings’ impact on my worldbuilding cannot be overstated. When I began writing my YA fantasy book series, I spent many months making sure that I knew (and documented) the history of my new Land as well as many of the day-to-day details about its countries and peoples… including many aspects that I knew might never make it into a book! The Land of Pasaron (featured in the Proving Trilogy (YA) and The Magic Stones collection (MG)) and all of its complex history simply exists. Only after getting a solid handle on what the Land was like did I decide which stories from the timeline I would pick to share with others. This might be why I have never struggle to find book ideas. There is so much that could be told! The hard part is deciding whose stories are really the best before zeroing in to capture the details.
But the sparks are many and varied beyond that. I have not yet read a better cast of characters long-term quest story. There are several that are just as good, but really none are better. But Eddings did this *twice*! The Belgariad is one enormous five book quest across the whole continent where the heroes dwell. Then the Mallorean is another five book quest across the other big continent in that world, places most of them had never seen before. My books are just a bit “quest-y”, if that’s a word, and do have something of a cast of characters approach, and I strive to make them as engaging and fresh as Eddings’ series. Eddings’ use of dialogue is an endless source of inspiration for me, as is the humor he built into so many of his characters. Last but not least, though, was the impact that his author journey had on me. Eddings wrote the Belgariad while working his normal day job, triggered by a simple map that he sketched on a piece of paper one day. That is such a relatable, real beginning to a huge success story! It gives me hope.
Thanks for reading!