Fall from Grace

Once upon a time, before Robert Jordan's titanic The Wheel of Time, before Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth, before George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, before Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Haydon, David Farland, as well as all those newcomers in the fantasy genre, an author used to dominate the genre.

The 80s are not very far behind, but to the new generation of fantasy fans it seems that it's a forgotten era. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . .;-) Most new readers of the genre often have no idea concerning those writers who paved the way for Robert Jordan and all the current favorites.

In my opinion, the most shocking thing of all is not that those young men and women have not read anything written by such greats as Stephen R. Donaldson, Guy Gavriel Kay or Raymond E. Feist. No, what is more disturbing is the fact that most of them have never even heard of such brilliant authors.

An old proverb claims that what was once exalted can be cast down. Sadly, such appears to be the case with one of the best writers of the 80s and the 90s.

Between 1982 and 1997, David Eddings had an unbroken string of 15 New York Times bestsellers, 19 in total during his illustrious career. He has sold millions of copies of his books worldwide, and his works have been translated in more than a dozen languages.

His first two series, The Belgariad and The Malloreon, earned him much deserved acclaim. If you read my post "La crème de la crème," you are doubtless aware that I consider these 2 series to be the definitive work of fantasy fiction of the 80s.

At that period, it seemed that Eddings could do no wrong. Those 2 series were indubitably fantasy on a grand scale, such as it were back then. In today's market, Jordan's The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven and Lord of Chaos are almost as long as single volumes as the entire series of The Belgariad was.

Still, those series had everything a fantasy fan could ask for. It was a wonderful and entertaining saga, filled with magic, adventure, mystery, Edding's unique sense of humor, political intrigues, etc. The worldbuilding was the very best in the market, and the characterizations were incredible. Moreover, the entire saga was absorbing.

In 1991, even with its anti-climatic ending, The Seeress of Kell reached the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list. He was the first fantasy author to accomplish such a feat. At that point, Eddings was on top of the world.

It was unjust of us to expect him to somehow be able to write another series that would move readers worldwide in such a fashion. But his previous works set the bar rather high, and as demanding fans we expected no less.

His next trilogy, The Elenium, managed to live up to expectations. It was new, different, but it was still Eddings. All three volumes were NYT bestsellers. The series' sequel, The Tamuli, another trilogy, seemed to hint that the author could be running out of ideas. But how could that be possible? We were talking about David Eddings, after all. . . Still, the three books were NYT bestsellers as well.

But at that period of time, the fantasy genre had seen the emergence of a bright new voice, Robert Jordan. And because of him, the market was changing. Since 1991, when The Wheel of Time's third volume The Dragon Reborn made it to the NYT bestseller list, Jordan began to dominate the genre. In 1994, when The Tamuli's ended with the release of The Hidden City, Jordan's saga was steamrolling over the competition. That year, Lord of Chaos brought the series to new heights.

Del Rey, Eddings' publisher, needed to do something. The former powerhouse of the fantasy genre had been beaten by Tor Books, Jordan's publisher. In an effort to satisfy a market that now demanded bigger and better novels, they asked David Eddings and Terry Brooks to produce longer yarns, in an attempt to reclaim some market shares.

Unfortunately, it was an effort that failed miserably. Eddings' Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress were lackluster efforts. At that point, it became apparent that Eddings appeared to be running on an empty tank. Since they were related to his first two classic series, the two books were NYT bestsellers, but they would prove to be Eddings' last.

A major change for these last two novels was the fact that his wife, Leigh, was now acknowledged author as well. They now wrote as a pair. I am acutely aware that she contributed in no small way to each of her husband's previous books. She was working behind the scenes, as many authors' spouses do, and that was best. The old saying claims that behind every great man stands a woman. I mean no disrespect, but I believe that she should have remained behind the scenes. Ever since they began to write as a pair, the quality of their work has diminished dramatically.

The Redemption of Althalus was released in 2000. It did well initially, because Eddings' name still carried some weight. But that rapidly faded. Readers and critics alike did not think much of the novel. That same year, Robert Jordan's Winter's Heart debuted at number one on the NYT bestseller list. Everyone had seen it coming for several years, but the new millenium signalled the changing of the guard.

David Eddings and his wife are now working on a new four-books series, The Dreamers. He is no longer under contract with Del Rey, after about 20 years with the former powerhouse. The first volume, The Elder Gods, was a runner-up on the NYT bestseller list, debuting at number 16. It shows that Eddings still has many fans out there. But the following week, the fans and the critics demolished the novel. The same thing happened with The Treasured One, the second volume of the series. And this time, the book did not even come close to appearing on any bestseller list.

Your fans have spoken, Mr. Eddings. And sadly, I am one of them. Are you listening???

You will always have my respect and admiration for writing two classic series: The Belgariad and The Malloreon.

Having said that, never would I have believed that after reaching such heights, you would one day write such inferior works. Having done so much for the genre, it is sad to see you find yourself in such a position.

What was once exalted can be cast down. . .

2 commentaires:

Lyle said...

What a great site for the who's who of the fantasy genre. Thanks for taking the time, certainly a site to refer to when in desperate need of a new read.....

Patrick said...

Why thank you, Lyle!!! I do what I can...;-)