Fantasy Classics: “The Seeress of Kell (by David Eddings)

And so at last we come to the conclusion of David Eddings’ magnificent The Mallorean, in which the Child of Dark and the Child of Light finally come together and Cyradis, the Seeress of Kell, makes her fateful decision about which one will prevail. It probably goes without saying that she comes down firmly on the side of good, and Eriond becomes the new god of the Angaraks. The novel concludes with Polgara giving birth to twins, bringing history full circle.

I suppose no one could truly claim to be surprised by the fact that Eriond is the one who ends up ascending to godhood. That was clearly hinted at in the first pages of Guardians of the West, when we see the almost supernatural connection that he has with Horse. However, it’s very satisfying to see this beloved character finally become the new god that he clearly deserves to be, especially since the Angaraks haven’t had very good luck with their deities in the past. Eriond was always one of my favourite characters in these new books (even if he didn’t get as much POV time in the later novels), and his deification seems like a natural conclusion to everything that’s come before.

Likewise, I can’t say that I was surprised that the female wolf ended up being Poledra. Almost from the beginning of this series, it’s been obvious that Belgarath’s supposedly deceased wife has a larger role to play in the fate of the world than has been supposed, and it was also pretty obvious that she wasn’t really dead. I think that even the most credulous reader would have recognized before now that the mysterious wolf that joined the company in the previous book was a little too knowing to be a simple wild animal. What’s more, it reveals that, beneath his rather crusty and irreverent exterior, Belgarath really is a man of deep emotions. He clearly loved his wife dearly, and has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to learn to forgive himself for leaving her behind when he set out to steal the Orb from Torak. Now, at last, they are reunited, and one of the outstanding threads from the previous series has been neatly tied up. And, of course, it goes without saying that Poledra is a delight as a character, given that her wolfish wisdom punctures the foibles of human vanity with the precision of a scalpel.

Likewise, this book finally gives Polgara the chance to build a family of her own. For all of her long life, she has always had to look over the heirs of Riva, awaiting the day when one of them would be the Child of Light. As a result, she has always had to subsume her own desires for a family of her own beneath her duty, and the ending allows her to have the future and the life that she wants, to live her life on her terms. I’m sure that some will see in this narrative resolution a desire to tame Polgara’s female energies, to make her into nothing more than a housewife, content to tend her hearth and home and family. It seems to me, however, that this is a fatal misreading of her character. She’s still the same powerful woman that she’s always been, and being domestic isn’t necessarily antithetical to being empowered (certainly not in the fantasy world that Eddings has created).

What I found especially intriguing about this series in particular was its greater cosmological complexity than its predecessor. We now know that the splitting of the universe was the result of an event that took place in the outer reaches of the cosmos. Putting aside the question of whether or not it checks out astronomically, it’s actually rather neat to see such a natural explanation for this tremendous cosmological event that has shaped the destinies of so many. The fact that Zandramas has now become a patch of sorts in the gap in that outer reach is a fitting ending for her character (though I do rather wish that we’d gotten a few more chapters from her perspective, since she remains a bit of an enigma right up until the end).

I have to admit that I was kind of relieved to be done with this series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it quite a lot. However, I think that its greater length ended up being a detriment. It gave Eddings far too much time to indulge in his little tics, and those get very tedious indeed by the time of the novel’s conclusion. The teasing and banter wear very thin very quickly, and if I never have to read the strangled dialogue of the Mimbrates again it will be too soon.

Nevertheless, I will say that The Mallorean is a special kind of epic fantasy, of a sort that has largely passed out of fashion. There’s never a doubt that the series is going to end happily, and there’s a particular form of pleasure to this sort of narrative simplicity. As a reader, you don’t have to worry about just how many of the main characters are going to die, since you know that most, if not all, of them will ultimately live. (As it turns out, only one does, and while it’s sad to see Toth perish as a result of defending the others, we haven’t really been allowed to grow all that close to him). Of course, this means that there isn’t much dramatic tension in this story, but then that’s not really the point of The Mallorean. It’s a simple story rather simply told, and there’s something to be said for that. I sometimes wish that contemporary fantasy would remember that there’s still a space for these old-fashioned narratives.

All in all, I enjoyed both The Seeress of Kell and The Mallorean more generally. Eddings was without doubt one of the giants of modern fantasy, and this series shows why. It reminds us that there really is good in the world and that sometimes, sometimes, the good guys win after all.