The Belgariad & The Malloreon
The Belgariad and Malloreon are
two pentalogies (and two prequels) of King Arthur-esque light high fantasy
written by US author David Eddings (1931-2009, with later credits also given to
his wife Leigh Eddings) and published between 1982 and 1997.
The Eddings' created an endearingly simple and apparently polemic world in which to portray the backdrop of this story of the human psyche. Although commercially highly successful in its time, the series has attracted much scathing criticism among most "serious" fantasy-genre fans who tend to dismiss or deride the Eddings' work as "bubblegum" or "junk food" fantasy - however, I argue that they are at their core far more profound than they have been given credit for, when considered from a more occult and esoteric perspective. It is worth bearing in mind that the hallmark of timeless fairytales, fables, parables and myths is that they are simple and easily accessible without the pretense of being dressed up in excessive intellectual clothing or literary gymnastics, yet they nevertheless contain deep and penetrating wisdom about the nature of reality which is not always immediately obvious. Though fully aware that many (if not most) fantasy enthusiasts may disagree with me, I maintain that this series also falls into that category and is deserving of great respect and love.
The main plot revolves around a pair
of conflicting, polarized ancient prophecies and the various characters who
embody and serve as instruments of these prophecies; and over ten books spanning roughly twenty years, tells the tale of
their ultimate resolution.
The basic premise of this series is the existence of a schism in Reality which occurred at the beginning of Creation, causing two opposing Infinite Consciousnesses (Necessities) to exist concurrently. It is the story of those characters who are most intimately involved in the turmoil caused by this schism and the ultimate attempts to resolve it. The method through which these Consciousnesses communicate with mortal humanity is via an assortment of heavily encoded Prophecies written by a selection of possessed people - madmen and lunatics at various points in history - and sequestered, censored or interpreted by a very small and elite group of charismatic mystics and sorcerers whose lifespans encompass the thousands of years of the series' back story.
Archetypes naturally abound in the Belgariad and Malloreon, and are charismatically and often humorously portrayed; none more so than those of the Wise Old
Man (Belgarath) and the Rogue (Prince Kheldar). Mankind is divided simply and
starkly into a number of distinct, racially and culturally homogeneous tribes, each of which broadly and somewhat crudely
display clearly-defined racial stereotypes. These are as follows:
The Alorns: A warlike tribe analogous to the archetypal Vikings. Peerless seafarers and fearsome warriors with a weakness for casual violence and excessive drinking, they are nevertheless a likeable people with an admirably independent streak. The totem of their god is the bear, but this god doesn't take himself too seriously and so most Alorns (apart from a marginalised and ridiculed sect of rednecks called the "bear-cult" who serve as a useful plot device) don't take themselves or their religion too seriously either.
The Angaraks: The most religiously oppressed and traumatised people in the Eddings world, the Angaraks' spiritual development is ruthlessly stunted by their narcissistic and maimed god Torak, whose totem is the dragon and who - in a fit of jealous rage - is responsible for having destroyed the ancient world in an enormous cataclysm culminating in a giant flood, at the cost of his own physical beauty and one of his eyes. The one-eyed god Torak wallows in the abject submission and terror of his tribe and demands regular ritualistic human blood sacrifices. The money produced by the Angaraks is a type of gold mined from their lands which displays a blood-red tinge as well as preternaturally addictive and mesmeric qualities, and is much-coveted throughout the known world. The god Torak One-Eye himself is the flawed vessel of one of the Consciousnesses, but he is unable to let go of his ego and is ruled by the fear of the other Consciousness ultimately defeating him. Consequently, he becomes consumed by fear and hatred, which he projects onto the world and in particular onto his Angarak worshippers. In spite of this, his brother gods never entirely forsake their lost and troubled brother.
The Tolnedrans echo a mixture of ancient Rome and modern capitalist society, and Ran Borune XXIII is their secular, skeptical emperor. Tolnedrans are raised in a culture that refuses to believe in any form of sorcery or the world beyond their five senses (making them arguably the people most easily relatable to by the readership), and have shut themselves off from any involvement in or acknowledgement of the world in which Garion (the main protagonist) et al move. This makes the Tolnedrans at times more of a hindrance than a help to the main protagonists despite their civilised and urbane veneer. Their racial mindset is reductionist, materialist and very rational. Eddings does a good job of demonstrating through these people the human ability to rationalise away the arcane and inexplicable where possible, and the tendency to dismiss, ignore or (if necessary in order to maintain the pretense of their worldview) suppress that which cannot be rationally or scientifically explained. From the reader's perspective, however, knowing the forces that are afoot in this story, this often makes these people seem slightly ridiculous, petty and childish, even though they never entirely lose their sense of dignity and place in the world.
The Nyissans: People of the god Issa, whose totem is the snake. A rather amoral and primitive, jungle-dwelling people, the Nyissans generally take only a limited interest in the wider world, being culturally more oriented towards the use (and abuse) of the many narcotics and plant-medicines that thrive in their native climate ... the more adventurous of their kind are usually heavily involved in the global narcotics trade and in the trafficking of slaves.
The Marags: An extinct race loosely inspired by the Mayans and the Spanish legend of El Dorado, the physically beautiful Marags were genocided by the Tolnedrans in a frenzy of greed some three thousand years before the time of the story's setting - a deed which has profoundly haunted the collective character of the urbane Tolnedrans ever since. The land of Maragor, however, was never successfully annexed in spite of its vast natural reserves of gold because of a powerful supernatural curse placed upon it by Mara, the bereft and weeping god of the Marags ...
The Arends: A noble and warlike race reminiscent of the feudal societies of medieval France. Natural would-be allies of the Alorns and generally on cordial terms with their other powerful neighbours the Tolnedrans, the martial capabilities of the Arends are highly respected. However, their insular and divided nature, marred by internal strife and never-ending vendettas, renders them as much of a liability as a potential aid in the emerging global conflagration ...
The Ulgos: A deeply religious cave-dwelling people almost entirely isolated from the outside world (which is largely unaware of their existence), the Ulgos nevertheless possess a fey and profound understanding of the more occulted history that has shaped it; together with an uncompromising moral outlook.
The Dals: Distant surface-dwelling cousins of the Ulgos separated by the great cataclysm which cracked the world millennia earlier, the Dals nevertheless possess an arguably even more esoteric and mystical character and seem content to be perceived as the misfits of the Eddings world.
THE ESOTERIC PERSPECTIVE
The chief antagonist (in the Belgariad) is ostensibly the one-eyed DRAGON god Torak, but behind him moves a much deeper schism in the natural order of reality (of which Torak is merely an anthropomorphic avatar) known only as the Two Necessities or Prophecies ... one of which must be vanquished in order to restore the natural order of Creation. Why is Torak the only totem that is represented by a mythological beast (and a reptilian one to boot)? Additionally, Eddings' world history is built upon the foundations of a great cataclysm and Flood of global proportions (one which the dragon god was responsible for) in which whole continents and civilisations were drowned and the world took on a totally new geographical shape. Eddings' gods are mortal, if immensely powerful and long-lived, and they physically leave the world after the cataclysm (Torak's 'cracking of the world'), leaving only their corrupted brother the Dragon God himself behind in person to inflict his tormented self-loathing on the new world he helped to create. It is also worth noting that in this unnatural act of destruction, Torak is rendered maimed and only one eye remains in his face. This is, of course, a recurring theme (see Sauron, the All Seeing Eye, Baal/Balor etc.)
THE GNOSTIC DEMIURGIC PERSPECTIVE
to be continued...
Garion: A simple 14-year-old farm orphan at the start of the series, Garion finds himself caught up in the most important world events of the age, concerning some characters and historical issues he had assumed to be nothing more than folklore and superstition. As the books advance, Garion matures and grows in stature, experience and position to become a major player in these events himself.
Polgara: A mythological sorceress of legendary power and wisdom, daughter of the equally-legendary sorcerer Belgarath and disciple of the god Aldur. Polgara is over 3,300 years old – although she maintains the appearance of an unusually beautiful woman in her mid-twenties – and has spent the last thirteen centuries or so hiding a royal line of kings from the minions of the Dark Prophecy.
Belgarath: The most famous
legendary character in the mythology of this fantasy world, Belgarath is
nevertheless a real man; the god Aldur’s first disciple, and at least 7,000
years old (with the appearance of a robust and vigorous man in his seventies). As
one of the key instruments of the Light Prophecy, he mostly travels the world incognito
as an affable storyteller; a scruffy, homeless tramp with a weakness for ale,
petty theft and impressionable young women: however, when the world needs him,
he is more than capable of shedding this persona and becoming the mighty and
terrible sorcerer that features in so many of the history books.
Durnik: A humble, decent country blacksmith and father-figure to Garion, who follows his heart and frequently acts as a moral compass and the reader’s anchor to an everyman’s perspective. Durnik never forgets who he is or his roots no matter how fantastic the events he gets caught up in become or how overwhelmed and out of his depth he appears to find himself. Age at start: late 30s.
Barak: An enormous (nearly 7ft), big-hearted but ferocious aristocratic warrior with a huge, red, braided beard (culturally and visually similar to an archetypal Viking) singled out by the Light Prophecy to be Garion’s guardian. More intelligent than a typical warrior. Main interests: Fighting, drinking, sailing. Age at start: early 30s.
Silk: Also known as Prince Kheldar and several other pseudonyms, Silk is both a famous merchant and one of the world’s most notorious and accomplished spies. A highly trained martial artist, he is witty, sardonic, cynical, worldly, incredibly intelligent and involved in so many different side-projects he has a tendency to get sidetracked. Nevertheless, he is one of the most useful all-round characters that the Light Prophecy works through. Age at start: mid-30s.
Hettar: A horse-lord from a nomadic warrior culture, Hettar has the ability to communicate with horses as well as being an excellent swordsman. A tall, serious young man with a tragic and traumatic past who doesn’t say much and is obsessed with revenge, his companionship with the others brings him somewhat out of his shell. Age at start: 20s
Mandorallen: The archetypal chivalrous knight, Mandorallen is all about honour, nobility, bravery and self-sacrifice. A peerless swordsman, though not particularly bright and utterly lacking in humour, this character is so confident in his prowess that he is totally incapable of entertaining the concept of losing a fight. Despite this, one eventually learns his confidence is well-earned and that he is one of the most reliable, dependable and selfless characters who has great integrity to match his confidence and prowess, and is a formidable ally. Age at start: early 30s
Torak: The one-eyed Dragon-god of the Angarak people: the main instrument of the Dark Prophecy and the only one of the gods still walking the earth. Torak was maimed whilst trying to steal the Orb of his elder brother-god Aldur (a religious talisman and a major instrument of the Light Prophecy) several thousand years ago, causing him to feel unending pain and a permanent disfiguring of his formerly-beautiful face. He was always a jealous god, but his millennia of suffering have driven him completely insane. He demands regular human sacrifice of his followers and is obsessed with world domination. Far more powerful than any mortal, including Belgarath or Polgara, he is nevertheless largely constrained by Prophecy, which is the primeval force of creation, and must try to work through the constraints of the prophecies (although naturally, he keeps trying to cheat this to gain an advantage).
More to follow.