In 1997 or thereabouts, a friend’s wife lent me a book that she thought I’d enjoy. Three years later, my family and I moved to a different part of London; a couple of years after that, my friend’s marriage broke up; fast forward a few more years and we moved out of London, I got a Ph.D in palaeontology, my wife got an MA in Music Therapy, I started writing The Reinvigorated Programmer … and the book remained unread.
This is that book: David Eddings’ Pawn of Prophecy, the first volume in his five-volume masterwork
À la Recherche du Temps Perdu The Belgariad:
I just can’t make myself read it.
And here is why — from the back-cover blurb:
Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.
Maybe it’s a really good book, but I can’t get past that horrible, portentous prose. “Storyteller” gets a capital letter, because he’s not just a storyteller, oh no. “Gods” gets a capital despite the universal convention that only a single God gets the capital, and plural gods don’t — presumably to make the evil god Torak more menacing. (Also: whenever I read this, I can’t help but think of Chris Torek, who wrote device drivers for Berkeley Unix back in the 1980s. But I digress.) “Orb” gets a capital, of course, because a mere orb would never have the power to keep men safe. Only an Orb can do that. At least, so the prophecy goes.
But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years.
What? Why the heck not? I’d have thought that if a dark man without a shadow has haunted you for years, you’d need to be positively cloth-headed not to suspect there must be something in these magic Dooms. (Make that “magic dooms”. The word “doom” inexplicably does not get a capital.)
“But Mike!”, you cry, “It’s terribly silly of you to dismiss a book on the strength of the back-cover blurb, which is not even written by the author.” I can’t deny it. So let’s turn to the prologue, which is the work of Eddings himself. (And why do all these books have to have prologues? They are rarely a good idea — at best they are convenient places to dump exposition.)
When the world was new, the seven Gods dwelt in harmony, and the races of man were as one people. Belar, youngest of the Gods, was beloved by the Alorns [whatever they may have been]. He abode with them and cherished them, and they prospered in his care. And so on, and so forth.
I dunno, it just sticks in my eyes as I try to read it. (That was a clumsy attempt at a metaphor analogous with words that stick in my throat then I try to say them.) It’s … what’s the word … lumpen.
(I say this, by the way, as one who has read both the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and enjoyed them enough to re-read all six volumes, possibly twice. It’s not that Epic Fantasy isn’t my thing, even Bad Epic Fantasy, which most people seem to agree the Covenant books are. It’s the sheer leadenness of this specimen that hurts.)
Writing archaic prose is hard. It needs a subtle touch and a trained ear. To do it well you’d need to be, I don’t know, a linguist or something.
But here is the thing — there are people, and plenty of them, that love the Belgariad. If I could get past the blurb and the preface, maybe I could be one of those people? This book must have something that’s grabbing them, and if so then maybe that something can grab me, too?
So I will probably be making a good, solid attempt and reading Pawn of Prophecy — if only so I have something to distract me from having stalled four pages into Dune. I’ll let you know how it goes.
After years of flatly refusing to tweet, loftily claiming that “anything that can be said in 140 characters is too trivial to be worth saying”, I gave in a couple of months ago, and can now be found on https://twitter.com/#!/SauropodMike. I signed up only so that I could post links to my new blog entries there, but I’ve been impressed at how useful it actually is, and how flexible the very simple Twitter approach is as a basis for building all sorts of things like live central-Edinburgh travel reports, or communal commenting on broadcasts of old Doctor Who episodes. Also there are some people who can consistently come up with funny things to say in 140 characters.
So I am a reluctant convert to Twitter. Maybe I will also be a reluctant convert to Eddings?