this month the eighteenth book of fantasy fiction by David Eddings '54, one of the most beloved and influential fantasy authors in the world, hits the streets in the United States. The long-awaited Polgara the Sorceress, already a bestseller in the UK, is expected to ship more than 400,000 volumes this month alone. It concludes a 12-book series, the Belgariad and the Malloreon, of which the vast majority of volumes have been bestsellers on both the New York Times and the London Times charts.
But don't ask Eddings to speak about his success. This self-effacing man will say "I'm never going to be in danger of getting a Nobel Prize for literature." He's almost too aware of the fact that genre fiction is undervalued, that it doesn't get the respect that literature does. He's an absolute master of the fantasy genre, though: that's what's kept millions of readers hooked on his books, going back and reading them again and again.
Fantasy is commonly thought to involve a strong and handsome hero, swords and sorcery, beautiful swooning women, archaic language, worlds where all the action is on an elevated and legendary level. Eddings has overturned most of that. Garion, his hero in the Belgariad and Malloreon books, is, well, kind of dumb, or at least he starts out that way. He's totally unaware of his potential and of how the world works, so the reader and the hero have the privilege of learning the ropes together as Garion grows. In the Elenium and Tamuli, Eddings's second series of fantasy books, the hero, Sparhawk, is a homely soldier with a banged-up nose whose chainmail has a rather pungent odor from long use. The women in these books are smart, tough, and self-sufficient. Men and women are intimate in this world where eroticism is allowed--not the case in many fantasy books. People on perilous quests for important magic jewels stop to make camp, and they bicker over whose turn it is to make dinner. Their campfire conversations are worth overhearing.