Eddings writes strongly and with conviction: "I know I'm doing it as well as I possibly can," he says. "Some people say oh well, what the heck, it's just genre fiction so that's good enough. This is a good way to become enrolled in the large fraternity known as unpublished writers. You have to do it well, because if you don't think this is as good as you can do, then it's going to show." Eddings is characteristically humble about his work. He says that many people tell him that they never liked to read before coming upon his work, but now they read all the time. "I look upon this as perhaps my purpose in life," he says. "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 orMilton."
For all he does to distance his work from literature, Eddings has a strong background in the discipline and bases his work in secretly profound ways on archetypes and old written traditions. Eddings, who majored in English at Reed, drew on the Odyssey and Arthurian and Carolingian legends for the mythic underpinnings of the Belgariad and Malloreon. After a term of service in the Army from 1954 to 1956, Eddings used G. I. Bill funds to attend graduate school in English at the University of Washington. Although his field was contemporary American fiction (he wrote a novel for his master's degree), he became fluent in Middle English and fell in love with Chaucer and from there with Sir Thomas Malory. "Since what is called 'epic fantasy' in the contemporary world descends in an almost direct line from medieval romance, my studies of Chaucer and Malory gave me a running head start in the field," Eddings wrote in the introduction to his preliminary studies of the Belgariad series. Just for fun, Eddings wrote a speech in Middle English, from memory, in the middle of his book The Shining Ones: he checked it later and it turned out to be perfect Middle English.
"To be honest about it, I write because I have to write," Eddings says. He began trying his hand at writing at 17, and his Reed senior thesis gave him his first chance to write a sustained piece of fiction. During his junior year a noted writer named Walter van Tilberg Clark visited Reed for a week, read one of Eddings's short stories--about a soldier returned from the military who tries to find out why his girlfriend committed suicide--and suggested that Eddings expand it into a novel. Eddings had been taking a creative writing course from English and art history professor Lloyd Reynolds, who became his thesis adviser for the novel, How Lonely Are the Dead. Eddings recalls Reynolds's inspiring teaching method: "He would bring things in and read them to us. He'd take that pipe out of his mouth and say, 'Now that's writing!' He got his point across and generated a great deal of enthusiasm among the students."
Eddings worked as a grocery clerk during and after graduate school. After a time working for Boeing in Seattle and New Orleans as what he calls a "missile bum," he and his new wife, Leigh, moved to the Midwest. There Eddings taught English at a business college, then at a small teachers college. After three or four years there, the administration got a pay raise but the teachers didn't: Eddings decided to leave. "And good heavens, abandoned tenure in the process. I could still be there, teaching Dostoevsky or something."
For a year he and Leigh lived in Denver on their savings and Eddings wrote what would be his first published novel in 1973, High Hunt, a tense adventure tale about deer hunting. The book, which had some success, was grounded in experience: Eddings and his wife had long been interested in hunting and enjoyed the outdoors. Their experiences in the mountains served him well: the mountain places in his fantasy novels always ring true, capturing the forest sights and smells.