Monday, November 22
8190 words since October 26.
I was reading back, and I started thinking "what is the difference between repeating yourself and revisiting a theme?"
When I was somewhere in my early teens, somebody — I think it was my buddy Mike, but it might have been a teacher or librarian — gave me a copy of Pawn of Prophecy, the first novel in David Eddings' Belgariad.
The Belgariad is (TOTALLY PREDICTABLE SPOILER ALERT) a pile of novels
about a farm boy who unbeknownst to himself is really the chosen one and must
fulfill his secret royal legacy while hanging out with sorcerers, a witty
thief, a hot willful redheaded dryad princess, and a bunch of other mass-market
Fantasy archetypes. After the first five books, Eddings1 pumped out five more with the same characters,
shuffled things around a bit for a six-book run in a different but equally
derivative universe with magical colored rocks, and then rehashed the backstory
of the first two series from the perspective of his
Old People With Magic.
I read almost all of this stuff. I have forgotten many details, but it helps in commenting that everything after the first couple of books was essentially the first couple of books over again. Most of the names and incidents have gone missing from memory, but the flavor of the whole enterprise remains largely intact.
If it seems like I'm not very impressed by the late Mr. Eddings as a literary stylist or an original thinker, well, let's let Danny Yee take it for a moment:
David Eddings employs the usual fantasy stereotypes to perfection, with a collection of different characters on a quest, an assortment of magical items, and the clash of good and evil all pulled together in a simple and smoothly flowing narrative. The plot is so predictable there's no point giving it away — not just predictable in the sense of unoriginal, but predictable in that one could just about write the outlines for the last four books in each series after having read the first.
Eddings' characters are completely one-dimensional. They seem to have been created the way characters are created in some role-playing games, by amalgamating an assortment of attributes and character traits; there is no unitary vision of an individual anywhere. … Perhaps most worryingly, there is nothing in the entire series which will make anyone think; nothing happens that might disconcert the reader even a little.
This, and the rest of Yee's review, are sound judgment. On the other hand, perhaps the man is a little harsh. There's no doubt that Eddings' work is morally vacant, creatively shallow, and entirely unchallenging. This is not the Fantasy you go to Tolkien for. I remember liking those one-dimensional characters, and enjoying the time I spent wrapped up in their cardboard universe, but there's very little here to take up permanent dwelling in a reader's heart — unless it's a fading echo of some greater idea. Still, I doubt it's done most of its readers any lasting harm. And Eddings did accomplish something I can respect in the process of churning out all this formula: A lot of people read his stuff, and he made a living out of it. (If the amount of money he left his alma mater when he died last year is any indication, he seems to have made a considerably-better-than-average living.)
There is a lot of shit talked these days about writers like Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. It's almost entirely deserved — these are people who've ridden a torrent of bad prose and worse ideas to massive popularity, and it's always kind of annoying to watch this happen.
But, ok, I have thought for a while: If I was convinced I had whatever it is that it takes to produce several thousand pages of terrible, unoriginal novels intermixed with that strange, near-magical quality of readability that sells millions and millions of copies?
I would start that project like right now.
1 And apparently his wife Leigh, who was uncredited on early works but eventually started getting her name on covers.