Now I chose Belgariad mainly because, along with Terry Brooks Shannara novels and Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant, they were books that occupied the fantasy section of the library when I was a kid. Their covers stuck in my mind and I’d never got around to reading them and felt a need to balance the modern styles of Martin and Erikson (by ‘modern’ read ‘dark’) with something a little more innocent and easy going.
The Belgariad’s five books were compulsive reading and I thoroughly enjoyed going through them. However, when I was getting towards the middle of book three it did occur to me that the plot was somewhat linear. It read like a tour guide for the fantasy world he was describing. The characters were fun and their dialogue witty, and if I took anything from those books it was the importance of having banter and believable dialogue between the characters.
Now I’m currently writing the fifth of six books in my Prism series (which would have been the first half of volume three had the publisher not chose to splice each volume in twain) and I was reflecting on how clichés sneak into what I write. I don’t have a huge issue with this, after all it’s what you do with the clichés that matter, and fantasy isn’t unique in that way. But when I was thinking my mind drifted back to the Belgeriad, which was hugely popular but seemed quite laden with fantasy stereotype.
David Eddings was a scholar and teacher of English Literature and he proposed that all fantasy novels had ten essential ingredients, which he followed in his various series from the Belgeriad onwards. I decided to run my fantasy novel, Darkness Rising through the Eddings rules to see how it fared. Eddings said that fantasy novels required...
1. A Theological arena
Well, yes, I do have one of those. I’ve two neighbouring nations with opposing views on the same deity, I’ve got old gods and young gods and a few demon dukes chucked in for good measure... score 1
2. A Quest
Yes, siree, I have a quest spanning the six books to regain an ancient artefact which is also coveted by a range of bad guys. Of course, the artefact is in bits that they have to gain as they go along. Maybe I should be writing computer games... score 1
3. A magical element
4. A hero
Just the one? Au contrare, mon ami, I have two. Hunor and Jem. Given that one is a wild-mage he can count for criteria number 5, and I’ll keep the happy go lucky, wears his heart on his sleeve, Hunor for the hero. Of course, he has some secrets and an issue with his past that shapes his world-view. But that is balanced by a massive sword... score 1
5. A resident wizard
Aww, this is getting crazy now. Yes, I have one, although he’s not really a Gandalf / Belgarath/ Allanon type. Rather he’s a dapper obsessive-compulsive Wild-mage from a nation of witch-burners. His mentor is more akin to the wise-old wizard type, in a sort of Yoda way... score 1
6. A heroine
Indeed I do, and she is the main character for the book. We meet her first as a child, then a teenager and finally as a woman. It is Emelia’s search for identity that is the crux of the series... score 1
7. A villain
Well where would be the fun if I didn’t have a decent bad guy. There’s quite a few in the whole series, but there’s one that’s the big baddy. He’s not some almighty nebulous presence like Sauron or Lord Foul, rather he’s an undead sorcerer called Vildor who is Master of the Ghasts, themselves lords of the vampyrs. He’s exquisitely evil, with a good dose of charm and wit, and we really see his character develop by book three... score 1
8. A group of companions
9. A group of ladies attached to the companions
No! No, no and thrice, no. Given that almost half the group are of the farer sex this one wouldn’t work for me. And we don’t have any spare characters, out for the ride because the man they love has chosen to seek a legendary blade and they’re bored hanging around the palace... score 0
And a return to form at the last hurdle... huzzah!! The setting of Prism is replete with nations, with a veritable hotch-potch of monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies, democracies and tribal societies. All post-Empire too! It’s like the History Channel dropped a litre of acid and cavorted like Bilbo’s love-child.... score 1
So I’ve made 9/10. On the Eddings scale I must be near perfect for my generic fantasy novel. Proud? Absolutely. I have no problem with fantasy clichés or stereotypes... it’s how we turn them on their head and screw with them that matters. George RR Martin’s gritty Game of Thrones scores 6, I reckon, and Erikson’s Garden of the Moon scores 6 also, although on different ones. So even the new wave tug the forelock to the master of linear fantasy, David Eddings.
Put your favourite fantasy through it and see how it fares. More on clichés and classic fantasy influences next time.