An older series written by David Eddings way back in the 1980s, The Belgariad is a tale of fantasy and magic, of gods and kings, and of course, of great adventure.
The Belgariad is a series of 5 books; I definitely recommend getting all of them before starting, you won’t be able to stop ;)
**DISCLAIMER** I will try my best to include as few spoilers as possible, though please note that it’s practically impossible to not include any.
But why should you read it?
A Timeless Fable
“It’s only a story, isn’t it?”...
”Who’s to say what’s only a story and what’s truth disguised as a story?”
Featuring warring gods, political intrigue, supernatural creatures, a unique magic system, and plenty else, The Belgariad’s story is one that is highly accessible and endlessly re-readable, and I’ve read the entire 5-book series 6 times. Yeah, I like it that much.
That being said, I do note that high fantasy epics aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, though The Belgariad manages to straddle the fine line between ‘adult’ and ‘kid’ fantasy, not being too heavy like The Lord of The Rings, stressing less on world-building and heavy exposition, but neither is it too childish, having more than enough complexity to attract older readers.
The Belgariad is a tale of coming-of-age, saving the world, and epic adventures. Although the story is definitely your standard fantasy tale of a group travelling to fulfill a quest, it is done in such a way that makes the ending worth it.
Simply put, a game-changing object known as the Orb of Aldur has been stolen, and Garion, unaware of his destiny, has been swept into the pursuit of it. The many adventures along the way, be they encounters with enemies and feral creatures, or summons from kings and royalty, are never without purpose, each small coincidence, every tiny action carrying out the will of a Prophecy spanning centuries.
It feels very connected and is very enjoyable as a story, each reveal preceded by well-placed foreshadowing and succeeded by an even bigger reveal. The pacing is also very well done, having intense actions scenes back-to-back, followed by a phase of well-written exposition. Suspense however doesn’t run too high, and although they were working towards a deadline, the seeming lack of care sometimes was a bit weird, though it doesn’t happen too often.
For a longer summary of the story, please look forward to a separate article to be written soon.
A Whole New World
LOOK AT THE PRETTY MAP.
Being a ‘proper’ fantasy story, The Belgariad takes place in an unnamed world, currently in a medieval age, and peopled by various races, humans and beasts.
There are no Dwarves, Elves, or other ‘standard’ fantasy races. There are instead various races of humans, all possessing different characteristics, and each special in their own way.
There are quite a few different races, and they’ll also be covered more extensively in the upcoming article mentioned earlier.
The Alorns, people of the Bear-God Belar, are split into four sub-races, including the Chereks of Val Alorn, a Viking-like race of people; the Drasnians, the spies of the West; and the nomadic Algar. The fourth, and arguably the most important, race includes the Rivans, who dwell on the Isle of the Winds, and are the guardians of the Orb of Aldur.
There are also the Arends, who used to be split into three sub-races, until one was wiped out, leaving the Asturians and Mimbrates; the Nyissans, people who worship snakes as sacred animals; Tolnedrans, who belong to an empire with immense economic and military might; the Ulgos, a race of cave-people; the Marags, a seemingly extinct race of cannibals; and of course, the Angaraks, inclusive of the Murgos, Thulls, Nadraks, and Malloreans.
It all sounds quite complicated, but I promise it all makes sense and helps to make the world a much bigger and better a place.
All of the characters in The Belgariad are people. I’m pointing to the fact that they’re written very well, each having very distinct characteristics, quirks, and racial tendencies. The book is the best medium in my opinion, because it allows all of this backstory, motivation building, and character development to happen. It simply cannot occur in your average TV show or movie. Games arguably fail this as well, since many games now allow you to choose the path your character takes, thus making him more ‘you’ than ‘himself/herself’.
I’ll only be writing about Garion, our MC, here, but the rest will be covered later. It won’t do to make this too long.
Not-so-much a Hero
The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor’s farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home. No matter how high Garion rose in life, he never forgot that all his memories began in that kitchen.
Our hero, Garion, had been a simple peasant boy living and working on a farm, for as long as he could remember, and he never thought that would change. But his placid existence at the farm was disrupted when he neared manhood, thanks to matters out of his hands. A victim of circumstance, he pitied himself a lot at the beginning, but soon grew to accept his place in the prophecy.
Garion is a very easy protagonist to relate to. Often we are placed in situations over which we have no control, but we either face it, or run away. Of course, one course of action is tougher than the other, and Garion knows this too. His growth, through interaction with the other characters, is a very satisfying to read about. His actions by the end of the series are noticeably different, at first being a mere victim of circumstance, but then he decides to become the champion of his own destiny.
Still a Man
“Why are the people all so unhappy?” he asked Mister Wolf. “They have a stern and demanding God,” Wolf replied. “Which God is that?” Garion asked. “Money,” Wolf said.”
In The Belgariad, there are numerous kingdoms, with their own kings, (duh) and there are also various religious factions, and all of them are handled well, and they stay true to their archetypes. One good thing to note is, especially during the war (books 4-5), all of their actions are clear and very realistic. Of course, this added aspect of realism allows a sense of maturity to the books, but the major part of its influence is allowing it to draw in the readers that much more easily.
All of the characters are very complex, and act in accordance to their motivations. This aspect of the story really draws me in, unlike quite a few books, which rely quite heavily on ‘Deus Ex Humana’ to drive character actions.
The Will and the Word
“But there’s a world beyond what we can see and touch, and that world lives by its own laws. What may be impossible in this very ordinary world is very possible there, and sometimes the boundaries between the two worlds disappear, and then who can say what is possible and impossible?”
Again, being a ‘proper’ fantasy series, of course there is magic. The primary form of magic used is the ‘Will and the Word’, which involves using your will to influence the world, in many ways, ranging from simple translocation (i.e. telekinesis) to godly powers such as the revival of dead ones. However, you may NEVER unmake something. Yes, killing with the power is fine, such as burning your foe with will-created flames, but direct destruction of something, anything, is not permitted by the Universe.
There are also other forms of power, ranging from witchcraft, which involves communication and bargaining with spirits in order to achieve an outcome, to the Morindim Magic, which is used to summon Devils.
The robust magic system is explained through exchanges between Garion and Belgarath and Polgara, all users of ‘the Will and the Word’. It’s definitely an interesting and unique system that’s pretty well-explained, and there’s only the slightest use of ‘Dues Ex Machina’ in it.
Let me share some examples of funny ‘coincidences’ I found in my last read-through:
While the party was in Arendia, they stayed at Count Reldegen’s house, and during a conversation, he said he obtained a limp he had been shot in the knee.
“What happened to your leg?” Wolf asked him.
“An arrow in the knee.” The count shrugged.
Remind you of anyone?
And while they were in Ulgoland, they encountered an Eldrakyn, a troll-like character named Grul.
There’s a character in the WoW and Hearthstone called Gruul, and he looks like a troll.
Of course, these could be mere coincidences, though we’ll never know ;)
Not so Child-Friendly
There are a few different editions of The Belgariad, and the ‘child-friendly’ one should be avoided at all cost. The Belgariad was written for adults of course, and as such, contains some ‘objectionable’ words such as ‘orgy’. There’s also infrequent mention of acts that are sexual in nature, and of course, there’s the bloody fighting. Sheesh. It’s a book. Get the Del Rey Books version, shown in the header image; it’s the best you can find.
The Belgariad is definitely still one of my most favourite fantasy series, even after so many years. And it will probably stay there for a long time yet. It is definitely worth the time you’d take to read it, and if you’re like me, you’ll be both sad and happy by the time it ends, a definite hallmark of a good series.
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This article was written by the Ascendant - Izanagi, who uses TAY as an excuse to read too many books and Ani-TAY as an excuse to watch too much anime. Check out his other works here: