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reed magazine logoAutumn 2009


David Eddings ’54

The Sorcerer’s Spell

By Nadine Fiedler ’89

Author David Eddings, whose fantasy fiction became wildly popular the world over, died in June at age 77 in his home in Carson City, Nevada. His death came two years after that of his beloved wife and collaborator, Leigh.

Writing, and an abiding love of literature, marked his life. An English major—and proud of it—David frequently said that his profound hope was that his work would spur young readers to read the classics.


“Let television tremble. Big Dave and Little Leigh are coming to black out those screens,” he wrote in his preliminary studies for his two blockbuster fantasy series, the Belgariad and the Malloreon. “Maybe that’s our purpose in life. We’re here to teach a whole generation how to read—not everybody, perhaps, but enough to possibly make a difference. And after they’re finished with us they can move on to somebody important like Homer or Milton.

David made that sense of purpose concrete for generations of Reed students with a gift of $18 million in addition to his literary estate and archives. He directed his gift primarily toward the study of languages and literature, including scholarships to help students of limited means attend Reed; an endowed professorship in English literature; and unrestricted support for the college’s endowment.

His generosity perpetuates a legacy of guiding young lives through his works. Fantasy is a particularly powerful genre for adolescent readers. With their strong basis in Jungian archetypes, David’s books provide a between-the-lines manual for young adults trying to puzzle their way through the world. Upon hearing of his death, many of his fans remarked online about how he taught them to persevere in the face of adversity, to respect strong women, to bear responsibility for their actions, and to find humor and humanity through life’s adventures.

One fan wrote, “At a point in my life when I needed direction—any direction—the most, these novels…positively affected my life in ways I still may not be fully aware of… I’ll bet there are millions of fantasy fans out there who read the Belgariad and/or the Malloreon in their teens and had similarly moving experiences.” Another wrote, “I would not be the man I am today if it were not for David Eddings and his work on the Belgariad. His work helped an insecure boy, failing English one year, become a book lover the next. He not only entertained but laid the foundation for my academic success and later opportunity. RIP—you will be missed.”

Although he was grateful for his readers, David scorned the cult of celebrity and was for the most part unwilling to relinquish his privacy. “I do not hunger, neither do I thirst, for the kind of celebrity that involves the spilling of my guts in public,” he wrote. “My guts are fine where they are, thank you.” He refused to tour to promote his books (after a near-collision during one flight, he vowed never to fly again) and almost never granted interviews.

Eddings lived most of his early life in Spokane, Washington, where he was born on July 7, 1931, to a family of modest means. He began writing when he was 17, and always assumed he would wind up being a writer. He also enjoyed performing; acting was his second passion. He participated in theater, speech, and debate in high school and in Everett Junior College. “I tore that junior college up,” he wrote. He won a statewide oratorical contest, played the male lead in most productions, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. These accomplishments led to him winning a scholarship to Reed.

“Reed turned out to be quite a bit more difficult,” he wrote. He started out as a theatre major, but switched to English after one semester because he had to get a part-time job to pay for his living expenses, and had no time for rehearsals. He didn’t mind changing majors, he said, “because I was going to be a writer anyway.” Teachers such as Lloyd Reynolds and Don McRae introduced him to works he would never have read otherwise. David enjoyed the intense workload, the freedom from grades, and above all the intellectual challenges. He spent many years thinking about a question that philosophy professor Edwin Garlan posed for a final exam: explain the difference between Right and Good. (“I think I finally figured it out,” he said in our 1997 interview. “Right is an ethical choice, good is a moral choice. There is a difference.”)

David wrote his thesis, a novel titled How Lonely Are the Dead, under Lloyd Reynolds, with encouragement from a visiting writer, Walter van Tilberg Clark. After graduation he was drafted and posted to Germany, where his training in German from professor Kaspar Locher served him well. Following his discharge, he bagged groceries to save money, then enrolled in graduate school at the University of Washington, thanks to the G.I. Bill. Despite his major in modern American fiction, he spent time with the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and Sir Thomas Mallory, and developed a love for Middle English, all of which were key to the creation of the universes of his later works of fantasy.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2009