rosiphelee: (Miffed horse)
[personal profile] rosiphelee
Imagine, for a moment, that it is 1993. Our scene is the centre of Reading, a large town in the Thames Valley. The town centre has been partially pedestrianised, but redevelopment has not yet started in earnest. The shops along the central road, Broad Street, are all chain shops - shoes, clothes, two branches of Boots the Chemist, a WHSmith. Just off Broad Street, things are tattier, awaiting the start of work on the new shopping centre which finally opened in 1999. It is mid-afternoon, not yet three, and the first wave of school children are making their way back to the bus stops and the station. This first wave is all female, from the local grammar school which has a compressed timetable and so finishes early. They're trailing into town, some straight along the road to head up to the station, others peeling off to take a shortcut over the canal and up the sidestreets towards their bus stops. They stop at shops along the way to buy sweets and magazines. A few of the older girls are digging cigarettes out of their bags, planning to hang around and wait for the boys' school to finish.

In amongst this crowd are two very earnest twelve year girls. Their rucksacks are stuffed with books and homework, heavy enough that they have both shoulder straps on, rather than carrying them casually over one shoulder. One of these girls is very neat, the other scruffy, but both have skirts which fall down past their knees (a terrible fashion faux pas - normal girls asked their mums to take their hems up as many inches as they could get away with).

These two are me and my friend Ellie (she was the neat one). We weren't close friends, but we were the only two in our form who caught the 65 bus, so we travelled home together most days. On this particular evening, Ellie had to go into WHSmiths to pick up a book order for her mum. I was in no rush, so agreed to go with her.

Once in the shop, she trotted off to get the book, and I waited for her by the Crime section, browsing my way through the Agatha Christies and testing myself to see if I could remember who the murderer was in each one. After a while I got bored and wandered around to see what was on the other side of the bookshelf.

Now, to understand what happened next, it helps to know that none of the older members of my family read fantasy and science fiction. I'd grown up devouring books by Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Tamora Pierce. My dad had copies of the Lord of the Rings, which I'd read when I was seven, but I knew they were old books, and the others were just for kids. I had absolutely no idea that the genre of fantasy existed.

Walking unwittingly into the Science Fiction and Fantasy department of Smiths changed my life. In front of me were three wall-high shelves of books, with bright and glorious covers. Everywhere I looked there were dragons and wizards and rearing horses and fierce barbarians and vast, spectacular landscapes. My knees gave out - I don't even remember sitting down, but I remember sitting there on the floor, just gazing up at shelves that seemed to go on forever. I may have cried; I can't remember. I definitely struggled for breath.

I don't know how long I sat there and stared, but eventually it dawned on me that these were books that I could pick up, and look at, and even, if I could find the money, buy. And then I could read them, all of the these books that were just waiting there for me. Shaking, I reached out and picked up the first book that caught my eye, one that was at my eye-level where I was sitting by the bottom of the first bookshelf. By the time I'd read the blurb, I wanted that book, wanted it so much that it knocked the breath out of me. (And then I realised that it was dark outside, and Ellie was gone, and I had missed so many buses that my mother probably thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere, but that's a digression).

That book is sitting on the desk beside me as I write. It's gone soft with age and rereading. The corners are all folded in. Its spine is creased, and coming detached. Its cover feels loose in my hand when I pick it up. It's been lugged around in ugly schoolbags, in the bottom of my student backpacks, in smart handbags on commuter trains. It's been to Oxford, Cambridge, London, all over the south east. I can still remember little bits of it off by heart, especially from the opening pages.

That book is The Diamond Throne. In case anyone reading this doesn't know, the man who wrote it died this week.

I loved Eddings' books as a teenager. I remember going into the bookshop every night on the way home to check if The Shining Ones was out in paperback yet. I remember spending an RE lesson desperately whispering spoilers for The Hidden City to my poor best friend, who was waiting for me to finish it and lend it to her, until she and our teacher both begged me to be quiet. I bought The Rivan Codex in hardback on the release date and considered it money well-spent. I've read The Losers, High Hunt and Regina's Song (though I found them all either dull or contrived - some plot elements don't translate well to other genres). As a young adult, I found his writing more frustrating, particularly his female characters, but I still kept my copies, and I still reread them. Last year, I sat down and reread The Belgariad again, and just enjoyed the sheer craftmanship of it.

As a writer, I was hugely influenced by Eddings, particularly by The Elenium, which I vastly preferred. The Belgariad is great fun, especially for an Arthurian geek, but Sparhawk's world was real to me in a way Garion's never was. Here was this messy, dirty complicated world, with murky politics and dreadful weather and heroes who were weary and occasionally bad-tempered and more prone to bantering than long-winded speeches, but still heroes for all that. I can't quite remember how I first reacted to the opening of the books, with this tired man riding in the rain, musing on his past, but by the time I reached the third book, the road to Cimmura was one of my favourite places. That mixture of realism, melancholy and wry humour had a huge influence on my writing. In a way, whenever Tiger watches the mist gather over Atlantis, or Geldorath struggles with hiraeth or the rain starts falling on the Ardent Tamarisk, they're on the road to Cimmura in the rain.

There's more I could say, but I have reports to write, and a battered, much loved set of books to start rereading.

Rest in Peace, David Eddings

Date: 2009-06-07 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And now I feel like a dreadful mother for not telling you about fantasy. But I'm not sure I knew either, not being remotely interested in the genre. And you must have given me a good excuse for being late as I don't remember that day. I knew his death would affect you, having packed those books in boxes for you to take with a few times.

Date: 2009-06-07 04:21 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
Well, I'm sure it was just one of many times I was late home because I'd been distracted in a bookshop. I don't think it was one of those times I spent my emergency money on a book, so it might not stand out.

It was sad news, but his wife died a couple of years ago. They were co-writers and very close, and I'd be surprised if he had been happy without her.

Date: 2009-06-07 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thing is - I did it too on my way home from school. In the Smiths that used to be on the other side of Broad Street. But not quite with such intensity as you!

And what do you mean - spent your emergency money on a book! Dreadful!

Date: 2009-06-07 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What would you recommend to the curious-but-probably-too-old-to-be-as-impressed as a starting point for the late Mr.Edding's works?

Date: 2009-06-07 08:06 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not sure it's possible to develop the same affection for his books as an adult. Either The Diamond Throne or Pawn of Prophecy are good starting points. They're both classic epic fantasy, but the former is more closely inspired by medieval Europe, whereas the latter has its roots in medieval romance (quite obviously too - Eddings studied medieval lit at masters level, iirc).

Date: 2009-06-07 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I know - this is someone with a Moorcock hoard speaking - but I'm a curious beast, several people whose writing I admire, including yourself, have made mention of his profound influence on their young minds and I reckon that hell, if I can survive the Fionovar Tapestry and an omnibus of Salvatore and profit on the salvage, I can take it almost as it's meant to be. I shall consult the library forthwith.

Date: 2009-06-07 08:41 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
Personally, I prefer the series that starts with The Diamond Throne, partly because I read those first and partly because I prefer the pov character - the pov character in the other series is very young and naive, whereas Sparhawk is much more battered and cynical.

Date: 2009-06-07 09:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And the library has it! (under Adult Fiction rather than Fantasy O_o)
Ah. [bites lip] Would it be bad to ask how the young, naieve [assumes] callow farmhand stops being such, or is it through dint of sheer experience? I'm trying to help save a kitten from going boom, you see.

Date: 2009-06-07 09:24 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, he gets dragged along on a mysterious quest and all the rest of his party teach him things and he discovers his own abilities. The usual. He's a fairly sturdy and thoughtful type, which is why I still like the books, predictable as they are. I like watching relatively sensible people thrown into extraordinary situations.

Date: 2009-06-08 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*five cents* While I'm not as allergic to Garion as I am to the other 5 million farmboy heroes (and while that series does contain Mandorallen, with whom I rather think Saisorhi would get along smashingly <3), personally I'd start with a hard-edged knight-protagonist who considers garrotting someone in the first few pages ...

Date: 2009-06-08 06:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
He's kinda like what'd happen if you polished a Templar, without the food fights... [now 70 pages in] I keep reading the Grand Visier Cardinal High Primate's name as "Pineapple", though, because my eyes scan it, see "Ananas" and my brain autotranslates...nice to see an older squire doing squireful things, though - some writers assume all squires are highborn protégés destined for knighthood themselves rather than being a job/class unto themselves.

Date: 2009-06-08 07:55 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
*just revels in the mental image of Pineapple Head!Annias*

Date: 2009-06-08 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
>_< You realise you've just altered my mental image of the guy to a cross between Pyramid Head and a pineapple, right? Sun Tzu is appauled.

Date: 2009-06-09 02:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think this series has just turned Japanese.

Date: 2009-06-07 07:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow. That is one intense story of genre discovery. *snugs* And bless you calling your mum's worry a digression. ^-~

I knew Eddings was beloved to some of you (*coughLyssacough*), but you I didn't know. Even chatting with your earlier today, that I wouldn't have thought. But it's an absolutely beautiful memory to have.

Date: 2009-06-07 08:09 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Miffed horse)
From: [identity profile]
It's one of those unforgettable moments. (Heh, her worry - I panicked all the way home (and my mother still assumes one of us is dead in a ditch at least once a week)).

In many ways, I outgrew his books, but you never really forget something you loved that much. I read his works now, and I can recognise his influences and see how he manipulates archetypes and constructs a compelling narrative, but as a kid I was just spellbound. It all came back to me this week.

Date: 2009-06-07 09:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I resent that! Its at least twice a week actually!

Date: 2009-06-08 04:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Between you and Alyssa, I think I'm going to read The Elenium sometime - I've only read The Belgariad and The Mallorean. I, too, discovered the fantasy genre via Eddings. Suddenly I had to go to the bookstore to get Magician's Gambit because I just couldn't wait for the library's copy to be returned, and there, surrounding it, were all these other fantasy books. It's a lovely memory you've written about. *hugs*

Date: 2009-06-08 07:53 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Do. It's a good self-indulgent read and very different in tone from the Garion books.

It's a fond memory now, and I don't usually dwell on it, but the news about Eddings brought it back very vividly.

Date: 2009-06-08 08:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I remember getting lost in a David Edding's book while taking a six hour coach trip to Bournemouth - completely forgetting my poor friend, who I should have been keeping company. But hey, I had other worlds to visit.

I can't remember quite why I first picked up The Diamond Throne, I think the title and cover intrigued me, but it was in Smiths too. They have so much to answer for in terms of my younger reading. And I'm grateful for that.

Thank you for sharing your story. He'll be much missed.

Date: 2009-06-08 08:07 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
There's an essay somewhere where he claims that if you read the first 50 pages of Pawn of Prophecy, you'll read the whole series. He set out to get as many archetypal hooks in there as possible, and it works.

The thing was, Smiths really wasn't the best source of genre fiction in Reading. It was just the first place I stumbled across fantasy. Within a few weeks, I'd discovered that one of our branches of Blackwells was a specialist SF shop, and that became my second home pretty fast.

Date: 2009-06-08 11:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just finished re-reading the Belgarion (all 10) and laughed myself silly over some of my favourite bits (Garion blowing out a wall for instance - the Orb got a bit excited)

The Elenium and Tumuli will soon be next. It is a sad day but I am glad he and Leigh gave us what they did. Old friends we can constantly go back to visit.

Date: 2009-06-08 08:14 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Spindrift)
From: [identity profile]
I snicker my way through every scene where Sparhawk encounters self-satisfied courtiers or politicians.

Date: 2009-06-08 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*grins* You're singing my song. I drove the bookstore owners in Hobart nuts until The Shining Ones came out. One actually came to recognise my face and would shake his head when I crept up to the counter XD

And The Diamond Throne was the first David Eddings book I ever read, too ... but I rejected it when I first saw it in the Manjimup Newsagency! Blasphemy!!

I actually picked it up and put it back multiple times while searching for something else good after Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books. Later on I borrowed it out from the town library because they only stocked 8-10 fantasy books, read it (still remember the look on Mum's face when I read the first chapter and asked her: "What's a whore (pron. 'wore')?"), and immediately rushed back to the newsagency to buy it once I'd finished it.

It is the humour that makes those books, isn't it? They're heroes, but self-effacing ones rather than raise-my-sword-gleaming-in-the-sunlight ones. Too many heroes take themselves too seriously. ^_- And yet that's mixed with moments like the last scene with Martel, which still puts a lump in my throat.

I need to dig out my books from those boxes.

Date: 2009-06-09 08:09 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
(Right, let's see if I can get this comment to post tonight)

I was always under the impression that most people read The Belgariad first. I wonder if it says anything about us as a group and own style of writing that there seems to be a strong preference for The Elenium here.

*snickers* I was aware enough to twig that was a rude word and therefore I should look it up myself rather than risk getting my book confiscated again (it happened to a lot of my buys until I figured out some sneaky strategies).

It's that wry humour, isn't it, and the characters who are flawed but don't see that as a source of angst (I've just reread the scene early on where Sparhawk walks in on the council and sets out to be as offensive as he possibly can, and it's still glorious). Then you have those breathtaking moments - Garion's arrival in Riva and the revelation of Aphrael - as well as the little moments of musing or nostalgia which make you believe that these are real, complex people.

I'm pondering putting a discussion post on [ profile] talechasing as a few of us seem to have picked them up this week, either to reread or as a first read.

Date: 2009-06-10 03:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Heh, there's a very interesting theory. I'm tempted to suggest the affinity might be angst-related (as in the general lack thereof). Or perhaps it was just that egg-based dessert preference.

I was either too young and innocent or too young and dim ... the discerning observer may decide.

And aahh, I'd forgotten about Aphrael's big moment! That was fabulous too. Please do the discussion post, I'd love to relive a few more of those ... XD

Date: 2009-06-13 12:09 am (UTC)
magycmyste: (Default)
From: [personal profile] magycmyste
::hugs:: So far, the Elenium is the only series of his that I've read. (I've only been able to actually buy The Ruby Knight so far, for some reason.) I think I discovered it at a point when I was starting o bridge over from the Nancy Drews and Sweet Valley Highs into more serious fantasy.

I just remember going with my parents to visit a friend's house (well, technically, friend of my older sister's and her parents, and she was away at college at the time) for dinner. I think her dad gave us a tour of the house or something, and when we got to her room, my eyes immediately went to the bookshelf, and I started looking through the books and the blurbs. (I've been a huge reader since I was little, and all of my parents' friends know this, and were either very impressed or very amused by it. My suspicion is some combination of the two.) I kind of decided to stay in Soumya's room and read while the adults talked in the living room. By the time my parents were ready to go home a few hours later, I was already halfway through The Diamond Throne. I didn't really want to leave, but Soumya's dad let me borrow the book (and possibly The Ruby Knight and The Sapphire Rose, too. I don't remember. I might have gotten those from the library), so I got to finish reading it. I do this it was one of the first two fantasy series I'd read that was actually meant for adults.

Afterwards, I started collecting his other series here and there, but I never got very far with it. I think I've got one book from the Belgariad and one from the Malloreon, and I got a copy of The Ruby Knight. Not certain why I don't have the other two in the Elenium yet.

::hugs:: At least this tragedy brought us a nice trip down memory lane.


rosiphelee: (Default)

February 2012


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