Getting away with convenient character decisions – Eddings’ Guardians of the West

I cannae lie. I wanted to be done with David and Leigh Eddings after finding out about their child abusing past. But I’m going through a major style reading slump so I decided to try an old favourite easy read to break it. I wasn’t in the mood for Pratchett, so Eddings it was, even after saying I wasn’t going back to that well.

It isn’t just Eddings’ history that had turned me against them. It was a certain amount of disgust with the laziness of their writing. Sure enough, it wasn’t that long into Guardians of the West that I started seeing lazy choices by the ton and started plotting my next breakdown of what convenient character decisions looks like. After a while though, I decided to change the focus for two reasons:

1) There were just so many of the fuckers that I honestly couldn’t choose which ones to focus on, and the idea of doing them all filled me with dread.

2) The practice of making sure to not have characters take out of character decisions that benefit them, and to make sure characters are well enough explained that people don’t disagree with your logic of in character, is an easy one to understand. Execution might be difficult, but not understanding.

But what about why I’m continuing to read these books despite that? Despite Eddings’ history? Just about any author can write a piece that is technically competent if they’re willing to put the work in. Finding the charm, the appeal, that can win over tons of readers, is real damn difficult. That is worth looking at.

Before I start on that – and partly as a way of warming up my brain – let’s go through one of the examples of convenience. Note beforehand that this wasn’t my original example, as I’m reading as I write, and writing has been slow due to a needy cat, but that’s okay, I find a fresh one every few pages. This particular example – the heroes are in Drasnia, a country previously noted for being so full of spies that everyone spies on everyone, and are rounding up the army to go march against some religious fanatic rebels. The main general hears the news and is distressed. As he leaves, one character wonders about that. You’re telling me the country full of spies hasn’t figured this one out already?

Now, let’s get to why I still enjoy the Eddings’ books despite this, and I think a key part of that is when in the right mood, I actively enjoy all those weird decisions.

The Eddings’ books are an invitation to share their presented world view (they come across as a lot fonder of children than they must have to their briefly adopted children) and honestly I love it. A lot of people like to talk about the Eddings as being very cookie cutter fantasy but while there are good reasons for that, I’d say there’s something quite unique about their books and that tone is is that thing. It’s a very human, almost banally so at times, tone. Most conversations are friends genially sniping at each other, or occasionally enemies hamming it up at each other. Some of it’s very stereotypical (women gushing about babies and weddings, men complaining about how women won’t listen to them) but it’s mostly done with affection. Picking up an Eddings book is picking up a series of bad jokes by people who love each other and worry about the little things, and how often do you really get that in Epic Fantasy?

The joking goes deeper than that. David Eddings loved fantasy enough to start twenty plus books in the genre, but he probably enjoyed ribbing at it more. The stereotypes he throws out, he throws out in the sure knowledge that he knows we’re not going to take it totally seriously. And as a reader taking that in, first subconsciously then consciously, that effects how the story is viewed. If the Eddings undermine their characters in the name of drama, and their drama in the name of comedy, then that’s entirely in character for their writing.

So when I see a terrible, lazy character decision, I’m a little exasperated but mainly laughing along with the joke, even the brazenness with which the Eddings flout making sense for to get their jokes in.

And that is how the Eddings get away with their awfully convenient character decisions and other such lazy bits of writing. It’s because they have presented a style of storytelling and stayed consistent to that, and staying consistent to the style is more important than staying consistent to the story.

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