And so at last we come to the concluding volume of David Eddings’ Belgariad. It’s been a wild ride, and as I’ve gone through my re-reading of this series, I’ve been astonished again and again at how very quickly I’ve made my way through them. There’s just something compulsively readable about this series, something that hooks you right from the beginning and keeps you moving through.
In this novel, the final confrontation between Garion and Torak is set to take place. While he, Silk, and Belgarath make their way to Torak’s hiding place, those left behind must do all they can to keep the forces of the Angaraks at bay. Finally, of course, Garion and the Dark God confront one another and, inevitably, Torak is defeated. In the epilogue, Garion marries C’Nedra, while Polgara marries Durnik (who has been resurrected after being slain by Zedar the Apostate).
This book marks a narrative change from all of the earlier volumes. Every other book has been restricted to the point of view of either Garion or, some rarer instances, C’Nedra. Now, however, a very large portion of the book is given to the various other political actors in the brewing war, particularly the queens of the north, all of whom have to deal with the consequences of the titanic struggle going on here, and this focus on the concerns of women is particularly refreshing. Some rightfully ding this series for being so focused on the male characters, so it’s nice to see that Eddings does have the ability to craft compelling female narratives when the need arises. C’Nedra is, to be sure, a bit of a brat, but there is something uniquely endearing about her.
In these passages, one also sees a different shade of another character in Sadi, a certain eunuch who would come to play a very large role in the governing of Nyissa (since its queen has been turned into a snake). In doing so, he comes to resemble a certain Varys of A Song of Ice and Fire, another eunuch who really seems to have the well-being of his nation in mind. I’m not sure if the homage is deliberate but, given that Martin was very much aware of the fantasy books that preceded him, so it seems rather likely.
Of course, Polgara also has her own part to play, and her emotional conversation with C’Nedra is one of the strongest parts of the book. In all of the other entries in the series, she’s been the rock upon which the other characters have based their lives, as foundational to the success of this adventure as her father Belgarath. Here, however, she reveals that she, too, has her own sensitive side, her own fears. In her case, they center upon the power of Torak to possibly bend her to his will. As it turns out, it’s the power of her love for Durnik that proves to be the turning point, the thing that turns her away from him forever. It’s a bit hackneyed, to be sure, but also touching in its way. And, as it turns out, they are truly equal, since after his resurrection Durnik is a sorcerer in his own right. It’s a fitting ending for the series’ most compelling character.
The ending for Torak is no less fitting. One of the strengths of this series is the way that it paints the Dark God in a somewhat sympathetic light. While one would be forgiven for expecting the death of Torak to be a cause for celebration, it’s actually a great deal more complicated than that. It’s true that he is a dark and terrible force, a God driven mad by his subservience to the darker powers of prophecy. At the same time, you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him, especially since it’s very clear that he, like Garion, ultimately had no choice in whether he was going to be the bearer of such a grand destiny. True, he was delusional, and certainly he took a special sort of delight in inflicting pain on others. However, it is eventually shown that his life has been a tragedy since, by his end, he is cast out and, in his own mind, hated by all. As it turns out, he isn’t, and his last anguished cry of “Mother!,” the universe’s response to his death, and the mourning of his fellow gods (and their father, UL), shows that even the evil aren’t unmourned. Especially when they are as much a victim of fate as anyone.
Indeed, the entire Belgariad is five-book reflection on the power of free will, and whether in fact regular humans have any of it at all. It’s hard to say where exactly the books come down on the issue, but precisely that’s the point. Human beings do have a certain measure of autonomy, but it’s always circumscribed by other destinies, by forces that they usually can neither name nor describe nor apprehend in their totality. There is always something vaster than the individual. If that isn’t the very description of life under modernity (and postmodernity, for that matter), then I don’t know what is.
No review of this novel would be complete without mentioning how adeptly it captures the tragedy of war. While the main characters all survive, this conflict is not without its losses, including some characters that we have met in passing along the way. Arguably the most senseless–and thus the most wrenching–is the poor shepherd boy who had the unnatural ability to produce beautiful music. He’s slain by a random Mallorean, and his senseless death is a potent reminder that there are always losses that remind us that no victory is without cost.
I have to be honest. I’m rather sad that I’ve now finished The Belgariad. While I am, of course, looking forward to reading The Mallorean (which I must confess to have never having finished), there’s something endlessly endearing about the simplicity of the narrative, about the well-worn idea of an epic hero and his quest. It’s going to take me a while to finish Guardians of the West, since it’s a great deal longer than any of the books in The Belgariad, but rest assured I will. I can’t wait to share all of my thoughts with you!