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Saturday, June 06, 2009 

Mister Wolf won't be returning to the farm

I was sad to hear about David Carradine, of course, but honestly I never watched Kung Fu growing up, and as much as his death was a tragic, senseless waste I can at least point out selfishly that my favourite Carradine is still around (Keith, of course). But there was someone who passed away this week whose work I loved, someone who influenced me profoundly as a kid. I'm talking about David Eddings of course. I still remember reading the Malloreon series as a kid - my dad brought the first one home from the library and after I read the back he told me he wasn't sure whether I was old enough to handle them. So naturally I insisted I was (if he was deploying reverse psychology it worked like a charm) and I ran through them and then the Belgariad (followed swiftly by both Sparhawk series) as fast as I could manage. I've bought them all in the big TPB editions that have come out recently, and they hold up suprisingly well as pure entertainment - that is, I'd still like them if I was reading them for the first time now. With the benefit of my years of fondness for the characters, settings and plots of these books

Eddings worked with his wife Leigh. She only officially accepted credit in the 90s, but cowrote all of his books and predeceased him by a few years. He didn't suffer any illusions about the artistic status of his work - you have to love an author who said (in 1997), "I look upon this as perhaps my purpose in life, I am here to teach a generation or two how to read. After they've finished with me and I don't challenge them any more, they can move on to somebody important like Homer or Milton." I also loved when I first stumbled into the Eddings' work that the characters spoke in plain English (although often cleverly, or movingly, or bluntly), that rather than inventing countries of elves, dwarves, and so on, the different 'races' in his two most famous fantasy worlds consisted merely of different humans with the kind of pronounced regionally based cultural and physical differences you got in actual medieval times, how pragmatic and yet idealistic the morality their books espoused was, the way the Eddings' could make me care as much about a papal election or a flirtation blossoming into an honest-to-God relationship as much as a battle - in other words, for how they valued intelligence, integrity, humour, and affection among the heroes as much as any sort of martial or magical prowess. They were and are the kind of books and characters that I hate to finish reading, and love coming back to every few years.

I never got into their more recent works, but 18 largeish novels (19 if you count the not-quite-fiction supplemental Rivan Codex they put out that I still need to get my hands on) that I love make more than enough of a legacy for me. I'll miss them.

I didn't know he'd died! People always recommend Eddings to me- with the caveat that I should have read it when I was young to be morew forgiving of its flaws. But I guess I felt the same way when Robert Jordan died- he'd left that unfinished legacy of immensely bloated books but long-time youthful readers like me had come along so far that even though we were threatening mutiny we'd invested so many damned hours on the thing we actually wanted to see how it ENDED. (Another writer is completing "The Wheel of Time" sequence.)
In other words, from a fantasy fan from a neighboring vaguely Middle-Earthian world to another, my condolences.
Oh, and by "fantasy fan" of course I mean geek ;-)

I read Eddings before I read Jordan, but I read both at a young age, and trust me Hans, Eddings is leaques better than Jordan. You, in particular, I could see enjoying him. Give The Belgariad a try if you get a chance, eh?

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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