Updated: Sep 28, 2020
I was introduced to one of my very favorite fantasy stories when I was in high school. I read a lot back in those days, being a pretty bright teenager with lots of free time. I can remember hours upon hours spent in my room, with some CD or other playing on “repeat all” in the background, as I consumed a novel. Often times I’d tear through a half a book in a single reading. It was hard to keep myself properly stocked at times.
My favorite series at the time was Dragonlance. I was absolutely in love with the whole series, and the fact that it was not just one writer, but a writing team, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, who co-authored the founding 3-book series ‘Chronicles,’ and later the conclusive trilogy, ‘Legends.’ Even more than that, Dragonlance was a team of writers, there had to be at least ten of them. Some were the poets, some the historians, each had their strengths, and they used them all to weave the most amazing stories, with layers and fathomless depth.
I loved them so much I think I must have read through all six books at least three times before they started releasing more. Trilogy after trilogy, one about the elven nations, one about the dwarves, another about the gnomes. I loved the fact that they had original races, including the kender and gully dwarves and draconians. And I very much loved that they had a well-developed world, unique on the fantasy landscape, with its own chronology, its own mythology, its own deities, everything was rather unique.
“Well if you like that, you’ll love the Belgariad,” my uncle mentioned one day.
“Never heard of it,” I can hear myself replying.
“It’s awesome. The main character, Garion, starts off as a boy, and eventually he learns how to use magic. The way the author described how it worked, I actually spent some time trying to do it myself!” he’d said.
Well, that sold me on it, so I borrowed the first book, the Pawn of Prophecy. From book one I was hooked. For a lot of the same reasons I had been hooked on the Dragonlance series, too. It was a unique world, with a well-developed history and cultures. They didn’t really have other races, but their human civilizations were so different they might as well have been different races. Again, I was enchanted, and I plowed through the first five-book series, the ‘Belgariad,’ like a starving Viking diving into a roast chicken.
And just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, David Eddings walloped me with part 2 of his 1-2 punch: the ‘Mallorean,’ which continued the tale of the Belgariad to an absolutely new and amazing conclusion. Prophecy and legend and gods and mortals all clashed and battled and wrapped themselves together to a very satisfying conclusion at the end. I had been romanced.
But David Eddings was not done with me yet. His final legacy for me, his lesson, his taunting challenge for me, came in the form of a single book published afterward: the Rivan Codex. Why did this book have such a formative effect on me? Let me count the ways…
First, it was written by David and Leigh Eddings. Yes, a fact that had been hidden from me, from most readers up to then I think, was that David and his wife Leigh co-authored their books. David credited Leigh with much of his inspiration, and I thought that was simply amazing. But when I bought the book and cracked it open, that’s when he punched me in the gut. You see, I’d always wanted to be a fantasy author. I’d dreamed of writing novels of the scope and breadth of Lord of the Rings, that were filled with legend, and prophecy, and song and poetry, and history and languages and…you get the picture. They felt like not just books, but portals into another world. And I wanted to do that, too.
But David Eddings was a cruel tutor. His words ring harsh and true to my ears to this day. And though I will be horribly misquoting him here, his message was this: “If you think to become the author of a fantasy novel, don’t. You have no idea what is involved, so just quit now. It’s not as easy as just writing a story; you have to create a world. You have to become God.” And then he went into quite lengthy detail about what it took to create the world the Belgariad and the Mallorean were set in. I was at the same time awestruck, horribly discouraged, and not just a little pissed off at him for telling me my dream was too hard to reach for. For an instant, I admit, I didn’t like the guy at all.
But that was high school. And after many years of reading and gaming, and of course meeting and marrying my wife Rose, who shared many of the same passions as I, and who has an incredible talent for storyline, we decided to write together. She crafted the storyline, and I did what David said was impossible: I started to create a world. The world of Cyrradon. And you know what? He was right. It was impossible. I started with an origin of the world, and I felt like a moron. I explained the creation of the races, and I still felt like I was parroting, copying old worn out ideas, or coming up with variations so threadbare that no true connoisseur of fantasy would be fooled into thinking I had an original thought in my whole dang head.
And then, the originality started to flow. Stories appeared of how the dwarves formed their kingdoms, the struggles and wars they had with human kings of old, what those wars resulted in, and how the world cultures were shaped. Treaties and alliances, mistrusts and divisions. And suddenly there was a world I could see, but I’d only scratched the surface. Now it was I who was visiting the world, and needing desperately to scratch the surface deeper and deeper to see what I could find, every time logging it in my notes for posterity’s sake. I became the first archaeologist of Cyrradon. The first historian.
Without saying too much, I will finish with this. This effort continues to this day. Every day Rose and I write, we unearth a little more of Cyrradon. We learn something of a ruler in the human kingdoms, or an artifact that had some important place in history, or a magician who made a horrible mistake and changed the fundamentals of time and space and…I’ve said too much.
Listen, my friends. David Eddings was right, and wrong. To create a world, you do not have to become a God. You have to dig. And dig. And dig. And as you dig, you take careful diligent notes. And with each page, each volume you fill, you become more and more the defining expert of your world. But lest you misunderstand me in this, let me be clear. This world, this story that unfolds as your fingers move over the keyboard…it is a living thing, and it wants to be discovered. If you mean to be a fantasy writer, get used to the idea that to truly tell your story, you cannot dominate it as a God, you must coax it gently into existence with a patient and loving hand.
That’s all for now, friends. Take care.