This post is brought to you by some of the themes, terms, and actions found in The Belgariad and The Malloreon, two related series by Eddings. I haven’t reviewed all of the books, but if you aren’t familiar with the series or have forgotten about them, here are my reviews of Guardians Of The West and King Of The Murgos. In the second you will find the paragraph about women that first inspired this article. Please note that due to the situations that raised the thoughts that follow, if you have not yet read the second series and plan to, you may find minor spoilers in the text.
Eddings has a view of women, but what that view is is debatable. At first, when I realised how well he had laid out these views, I thought it was simply a minor point, an issue hardly worth any time, but the more I looked into it I saw how deep these views were ingrained in the text overall. Indeed it could be said that Eddings’s views form part of the background context of the books, with Princess Ce’Nedra being destined to become a wife and mother as part of a prophecy, but since the prophecy also declares that everyone else must play a role, and because of her husband having to play a particularly warrior-like role he continually wishes he could escape from, I believe we can leave background context out of it.
The main issue of contention is the way Eddings handles the relationship between his male and female characters, and the fact that given Eddings is a narrator with a pretty distinctive and often black and white tone, we can assume that this relationship forms part if not all of his own views towards women. On the one hand we have an author who portrays his female characters as strong and somewhat fearless – Polgara is a powerful witch, Ce’Nedra leads an army into battle, and newcomer Prala gives her betrothed a sword and basically tells him to get on with it. Indeed it is rather nice that Eddings sets up these women in such a way that, for example, in Ce’Nedra we have a small weak-looking girl who has a tendency to take off her clothes and flirt, later spinning round and bringing the ceiling down with her yelling, giving her husband as much in an argument as she receives from him. But on the other hand we have the group of male characters constantly worrying about what “the ladies” might think. And this isn’t the sort of thinking that will make the women turn round and give the men the what for, this thinking is about how a woman will react to seeing the bodies of slaughtered people. Yes, this worry is about how women, who have previously gone into battle and caused the violent deaths of hundreds, will react to seeing a dead body. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?
There are times when the women cry, such as Polgara when distraught at the fact she had to condemn an amateur sorceress to Hell, or Ce’Nedra as she mourns the loss of her baby to a kidnapper, but these situations are understandable. The men have their moments too, one can imagine that any of them would have felt similarly to Polgara, and whilst Ce’Nedra’s husband Garion may not cry over his baby he certainly feels anger and the need to get the child back. And yes, Ce’Nedra, once the leader of armies, becomes a woman obsessed with screaming at people to get back “my baby”, thus neglecting Garion’s role as a father, but in the event one can’t blame her outrage and pain.
So if Eddings portrays both sides, the strong female and the weak female, what is he saying? One could argue that he is suggesting, through his use of the male characters as the sole perpetrators of the idea of the poor weak woman, that women are actually the stronger sex and that men in all their power and historical superiority have got it all wrong. And it is true that in some cases when a male character has decided something, a woman comes along and overturns the verdict. Indeed Eddings could be demonstrating a sort of hypocrisy within his world.
However if hypocrisy is the right word, then it is also an apt one for another element we must consider – the role of Eddings’s wife in the series. It is more widely known today than it was back in the 1980s; Leigh Eddings played a substantial part in the writing of all of Eddings’s books, and while we may not know how much of a part exactly, it is safe to say she played at the very least an equal role, be it in the creation of the world, the plot, or in the writing itself. Yet what you won’t find, even in most cases still today, is Leigh’s name on the book covers. And considering women were publishing books in the 1980s it would not be wrong to wonder if it was David’s decision rather than his possibly female-fantasy-author-phobic publisher to not include her name anywhere except in the dedications (in which she is credited for her support and contributions). Indeed in this it is interesting to note that the woman’s first name was in fact Judith1. A quick search of reviews will yield a few murmurs of discontent for Leigh, such as “his books have taken a turn for the worse since Leigh Eddings began to be credited” for example2.
If it was Eddings’s decision to neglect Leigh in the author credit, then what does that say to the reader? Did Eddings not believe in the literary relevance and education of women, as some of his (male) readers seem to believe too? Did he want to take the glory for himself rather than acknowledge in an appropriate manner the help of a woman? To read this interview certainly suggests a writer who was rather vainglorious3.
Does it make sense that a woman in the 1980s would have been so gracious to give all credit of every book to her husband? As mentioned in my review, Girl Power followed not too long after the publication of all two series had happened, and in a time where women were writing and achieving success through it, would it really have been so bad for a husband and wife to write a book together? The generation the couple were born into might have had something to do with it but considering the books are so appealing to both women and men a double credit would have made sense, even if “Leigh” is a unisex name and thus open to miscomprehension.
Sadly there is little to add to this debate as both authors have passed on and the only addition point that can be made is the unsupported snippet from a fan that they simply decided against including her until she was writing so much that it was impossible not to4.
It would be nice to think that the co-authorship was such that the treatment of women was simply a means of adding tradition and the values of an older generation into the text. It is the tone and method of reference that makes it suspect. The jury is out and likely always will be; and I could always be completely wrong. But whatever the feelings of Eddings, his wife, or their publisher, it does seem a particular message within the text, albeit difficult to discern.
Have you read the Eddings’ work? What are your thoughts on the portrayal of women therein?
1 Jakob Persson, Jack’s David and Leigh Eddings site, 8th January 1999
2 Kotori, Amazon USA, 7th October 2004
3 SFF World, 24th February 2006
4 My boyfriend (he introduced me to the series)
October 15, 2012, 11:39 am
I haven’t read any of these and hadn’t heard this background info before. Very interesting! I do see a prejudice in male readers in general (not all of them!) at the library that they don’t want to read a book written by a woman, and I can see them imagining a difference in the writing even if there isn’t one with the addition of a woman’s name as co-author. After reading the author interview in SFF World, I wonder if his wife is the person he refers to as “the typist”? If so, that would make me think he doesn’t think she actually contributes all that much to the books except for maybe cleaning up grammatical and spelling errors. Interesting!
October 16, 2012, 1:13 am
Oh God I haven’t read these books since high school. All I remember from them is that there was a thief and the plots of all of them were the sameish, and young me found that rather soothing. I didn’t know La Famille de Eddings had died though!
October 16, 2012, 3:58 am
What a great analysis. I think gender in fantasy is something I struggle with a lot because I really enjoy epic fantasy but feel quite strongly that more women (and minorities) should be published because, quite frankly, the stories can get super-repetitive, with the same stereotypes.
October 16, 2012, 6:49 pm
Huh, I’ve never read these, but speculative fiction has always had interesting issues with women.
I might be more willing to ascribe the publisher some role in not crediting Leigh – even now, female authors writing for a male audience are encouraged to use more masculine names. (Jo Rowling = J. K. Rowling.)
October 18, 2012, 10:05 am
Laurie: That’s a possibly, regarding “the typist”, though I’m not sure because he uses the word “send”. Although the tone of his answers might make it possible, I’d hope he would refer more… gracefully?… in regards to his wife. She certainly did contribute more, so hopefully not!
Jenny: I only found out recently myself, I guess he was moderately successful so it wasn’t in the news. Sameness in them can be good, though as far as I know the other series are much the same too.
Aarti: Yes, this is one of those books, repetitive. It does have different races in it but not in the way you mean. It’s weird really, that the genre isn’t so diverse, because it’s all about the make-believe, and it’s strange that we, as a society, have something so imaginary as a male-dominated territory.
Liviania: Yes, I was thinking the same by the end of my writing, because of the slightly more positive nature of the content of the books themselves. It’s good, in a way, that Rowling was “outed” early on, though at the same time my experience of knowing people who read Harry Potter and watch the films is that there are far more females in it.