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Analysis

Historical Indoctrination in Belgarath the Sorcerer

Although the future has arrived, in 1995 the Eddingses have more story to tell. And I do mean plural. David and Leigh Eddings are finally listed side by side as co-authors. Belgarath the Sorcerer and its counterpart Polgara the Sorceress are strange, timeline-wise. The prologue and epilogue of both books occur after the end of Seeress of Kell. But the rest of the book is a first person narrative of the seven thousand years of titular character’s history. In essence, they’re The Silmarillion or the World of Ice and Fire for the Eddingses. The strange timeline also means strange things for the message of the novel. It reads more like historical indoctrination, given Belgarath and Polgara’s recorded biases. They’re also oddly inconsistent, with blatant dehumanization of Angaraks juxtaposed against queries about how Zakath and Cyradis are doing. Belgarath the Sorcerer is contradictory yes, but it’s also profoundly entertaining.

Spoiler Warnings for all of the Eddingses previous works

So, What Happened?

Pre-History to The Return of the Orb

The story begins just after Seeress of Kell ends, the night Polgara’s twins are born. Belgarath, Garion, and Durnik continue their conversation about repetitions. Garion decides that he wants to hear the whole story. Ce’Nedra and Poledra eventually drag him into writing it down. He complains about the task, then immediately starts detailing his thieving childhood. Belgarath leaves his village, and meets an old man in a rickety cart. The old man is Aldur, who leads him to the Vale and teaches him the mundane and sorcerous arts. Eventually others show up, Beldin, Belzedar, Beltira, Belkira, Belmakor, and Belsambar. They round out the original brotherhood of sorcerers. All the while Aldur polishes the orb.

Torak shows up and steals the Orb. Zedar goes into frenzies, demanding they reclaim the Orb at once. The disciples gather the gods and their peoples, and go to war. Belgarath finds a she wolf on the way to find Belar and the Alorns. They wind up fire bombing the Angarak cities to force Torak’s hand. Torak cracks the world, and Aldur and Belar prevent the ocean from completely drowning the continent. Belsambar kills himself out of grief. He was of Angarak descent and was the one who suggested the fire bombs. Zedar spends more and more time in Mallorea, and Belmakor kills himself as well.

Time passes, and the she-wolf becomes Poledra, though Belgarath doesn’t consciously acknowledge it. He fiddles around with bloodlines and makes sure the right king is on the Alorn throne. Eventually Poledra announces that she’s pregnant. Cherek, and his sons Dras, Algar, and Riva approach Belgarath. The five of them go to steal the Orb, and Riva takes it up. Belgarath splits the Alorns, helps Riva forge the sword of the Rivan King. He returns home to find Poledra dead.

The Rivan Kings

After several years spent drinking in Camaar and spending time with Marag women, Belgarath returns to the Vale. He finds Beldaran absolutely adores him, and that Polgara absolutely despises him. Eventually Beldaran brokers some peace between them until the twins turn sixteen. Then Aldur instructs him that one of his daughters must marry Riva. Belgarath chooses Beldaran, because Polgara possesses the gift of sorcery.

They all go to Riva, and Beldaran and Riva instantly adore the other. Polgara spends some time breaking hearts, and then helps her sister with the wedding. Afterwards Belgarath teaches Polgara and gives her access to his library. When Beldaran gives birth to a son, they head to Riva to see her again. Then, they go on a tour to Darine and Kotu, where the Mrin and Darine prophets currently live. They receive copies of the prophecies, and return to the Vale to study more. Eventually Beldaran dies, and both Belgarath and Polgara grieve.

After a few centuries of studying the prophecies, Polgara goes to Arendia. She derails a Grolim plot to stir up more unrest, and spends the next six centuries there, keeping the peace. Belgarath introduces the Dryad blood into the house of Borune by arranging a marriage. Then Vo Wacune falls, and Polgara spends the next few decades depressed in her mother’s cottage.

Belgarath barely notices a warning in the prophecies and they barely arrive at Riva in time to save Geran from the Nyissan’s massacre of his family. The Alorns mount an expedition into Nyissa to punish them for the death of the Rivan King. Belgarath and Polgara hide Geran, to keep the line safe. Polgara spends her time moving around Sendaria. Belgarath spends his time distracting Chamdar, also known as Asharak the Murgo

The Battle of Vo Mimbre to Garion

A few centuries after the fall of Gorek, the last Rivan King, Torak invades the west. Two hundred pages consist solely of the preparations for the Battle of Vo Mimbre. It’s the climactic event of the book, though it continues past that. Torak invades and decimates Drasnia before heading to Algaria to besiege the Stronghold for seven years.

While the dukes of Asturia and Mimbre cannot abide each other, hope shows in the forms of Mandor and Wildantor. The ancestors of Garion’s companions forge a firm friendship through the fight. Afterwards comes the unification of Arendia, because the Dukes killed each other in a duel. Their children are married, and Arendia settles into covert war instead of open warfare.

Polgara returns to hiding the heirs of Riva’s throne, and apart from a few fumbles, they manage well. Belgarath continues arranging marriages and dynasties to prepare for Garion’s companions. Then, Garion is born.

It’s a bit more complicated then that. Asharak found them, and killed Garion’s grandfather. His grandmother was grief-stricken, and Polgara had to look after her. That grief was exacerbated by Asharak’s mental influence. The night Garion was born, Asharak forced his grandmother out of the house, and Polgara went looking for her. Ildera, Garion’s mother gave birth to him, and shortly after midnight, Asharak set the house on fire. He stole Garion and Belgarath barely managed to intercept him.

After that comes the conclusion, where Ce’Nedra and Garion receive the last installment of Belgarath’s history. Ce’Nedra reminds Garion that Torak and Zandramas were error, and Eriond was the true point of everything. She then proceeds to go up in flames at the things Belgarath left out of the story. She sets out packing for the Vale to drag the rest out of Polgara.

Peace and War

Peace

The events covered in Belgarath the Sorcerer were referenced in the other books, or could be inferred from those references. One of the things that went completely unmentioned was Polgara’s period of peace in Arendia. We knew that she spent time in Vo Wacune, but not that she’d brokered peace there, or for six hundred years. In conjunction with Mandor and Wildantor’s friendship, it’s more interesting.

The whole situation with Arendia seems to be a case of the Eddingses projecting the peaceful future onto the past. Polgara’s time in Arendia will be more thoroughly covered in Polgara the Sorceress. She brokered peace by giving a duke who kidnapped a baby heir an ulcer. Then she received the title Duchess of Erat, one she’ll carry through the centuries. The way that Polgara managed to intimidate all the Dukes into playing nice is reminiscent of Garion’s relationship with the Angaraks. Whenever he brings up killing Torak, they all get very twitchy. Polgara intimidates them to get her way.

It doesn’t last however, and that makes the friendship between Wildantor and Mandor surprising and poignant. They met while delaying the Angaraks, destroying bridges and preventing them from fording the river.

“Wildantor!’ he bellowed in a voice they probably heard in Vo Mimbre. ‘To me!’ The red-haired Asturian was being carried downriver at a ferocious speed, but he angled across the current and reached up his arm as he was swept past the splintered end of the ruined bridge. The hands of the two men came together with a resounding smack, and the Mimbrate leaned back, literally jerking the Asturian up and out of the current.” (543).

Belgarath later remarked that moment gave him hope for the future. They provide an example of a peaceful future, just as Polgara’s peace did earlier.

War

While peace looks to the future, the wars bring us full circle. The Cold War was mostly fought through spies and mutually assured destruction. Of course, this was interspersed with actual wars, fought on foreign soil. All of these elements show up in Belgarath the Sorcerer.

The mutually assured destruction shows when Belgarath and Ctuchik interact. After Polgara and Belgarath receive the first parts of the prophecies, Belgarath goes on a trip. He goes to Cthol Murgos and sneaks into Ctuchik’s presence. They pose in front of each other for a while. Then Belgarath says, “If you push the Alorn’s too far … do something precipitous. If that happens we could throw this whole business into the lap of pure, random chance. We could end up with a third possibility, and I don’t think the other two would like that very much.” (366).

If that’s not mutually assured destruction, then I don’t know what is. Belgarath’s threat keeps Ctuchik away for a while, but after the Nyissan’s kill Gorek, things change. He sends Chamdar, or Asharak the Murgo into the West, to look for Polgara. This leads to all the wonderful things that Asharak does, and to the red gold in Pawn of Prophecy, because this is when it starts.

Something else covered here is Zedar’s apostacy and lust for the Orb. That affinity for the Orb shows up from the very first second Aldur explains what it is. Zedar wants the Orb with a fanatic’s intensity. When Torak stole it, Zedar subverted to Torak’s side, in an attempt to steal it away, but failed and became Torak’s disciple instead. Considering that the Orb is Eddings’s answer to the nuclear bomb, and the generalized fear of sabotage during the beginning of the Cold War, Zedar’s apostacy fits very well.

Indoctrination

Indoctrination by Belgarath

The moments where indoctrination show the most in Belgarath the Sorcerer are the moments when Belgarath shows most of his character. The narrative is told in the first person, with Belgarath literally narrating the story. He uses the I, and occasionally cuts away to make sly comments. More pervasively, the millennia of hatred for certain groups shows even in the subliminal writing. He and Beldin joke that the Karands are subhuman. He states that Angarak names are “so universally ugly that my Master [Aldur] did [Belsambar] a great favor when he renamed him.” (42). During the lead up to the War of the Gods, he notes that several peoples claimed to invent siege engines, and then blithely states that it was his brothers.

It shows Belgarath’s character, yes, but it also shows the biases he still retains. Another pertinent quote is, “We base out assessment of the intelligence of others almost entirely on how closely their thinking matches our own.” (133). What better way to make their opinions match your own than to write the history book? Your own biases included? That the book literally begins with a birth reinforces this point. This is the story he’s going to tell his grandchildren. It reads as the same exact thing that Zandramas threatened to do to Geran. With none of the Cold War anxiety because it’s the good guys doing this.

Polgara also plays a role in the indoctrination going on. She raises the Rivan line, and it’s entirely up to her what they know about their heritage. Some, like Garion, know nothing until the day an Angarak threatens them. Others know everything, like Gelane, the heir during the Battle of Vo Mimbre. But once again, that’ll be covered in more detail in Polgara the Sorceress.

Indoctrination by Angaraks

Asharak makes an intense appearance here, as both the specter haunting Polgara, and as the would-be child thief. He hires several Dagashi to impersonate him, which gives him free rein from Drasnian spies. Asharak also attempts to subvert Gelane, the heir at the time of Vo Mimbre. He wanted to deliver him to Torak, and become the favored disciple, though Polgara puts a stop to that. His attempted theft of Garion also attempts indoctrination. He wanted to kill Garion, or to raise him a follower of Torak, so that Torak would win. It reeks of indoctrination, and he manages somewhat with the magic he places on Garion over his childhood.

The other terrifying moment in Belgarath the Sorcerer is when Brand faces down Torak at Vo Mimbre. Torak tries to sway Belgarath to his side. Then he proposes marriage to Polgara, with the assumption that he would be the father of her children. Belgarath says, “That marriage proposal has given Polgara nightmares for five centuries now.” (574). The prospect of being married to someone the polar opposite of you, and your children indoctrinated into his belief is objectively horrifying.

But Polgara isn’t the only one offered the hand of Torak. Illessa, the Salmissra who ordered Gorek killed ties in here as well. Zedar promised her Torak’s hand and immortality if she killed the Rivan King. After Belgarath talks about Polgara’s Torak related nightmares he continues. “I suspect [Torak]’d gotten the idea from the Ashabine Oracles, and it was probably that same passage that had given Zedar the idea for his cruel deception of Illessa.” (575). I am also of the opinion that this passage is what led Zandramas to believe she and Geran would marry. Which ties it right back into Geran’s attempted indoctrination by Zandramas, and the anxiety there.

Conclusion

Belgarath the Sorcerer proves entertaining and horrifying by turns. The disparate handling of indoctrination proves interesting. It’s condoned for the heroes and vilified when done by the enemy. That fits with the dissipating anxiety of the Cold War, as does the mixture of future peace and current warfare. The complicated timeline serves the story well, and provides a way to tie all the threads together. Both the story and the metaphor are well served with this background. It makes re-reading the first ten more poignant given the backstory, as well as providing an engaging narrative in it’s own right. Polgara the Sorceress continues in the same vein, both engaging intellectually and narratively, in the Eddingses final book in this universe.


 

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Angela is a full-time fantasy nerd. She is either reading a novel or talking about one. Or is watching Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time. Character archetypes and cultural context always fascinate her.

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