Which is to say, I have an idea for an essay about my general feelings about David Eddings’ handling of race and ethnicity, but I don’t have anything written down yet. I can point out various instances of his writing that have disturbed me to a greater or lesser extent–but I can’t narrow it down to “here is what seems like a problem to me.” The general argument/response to an essay that deals with issues of race (especially where a popular writer like Eddings is concerned) is that you get the people who use the “but it makes sense in context!” argument, and the “how dare you call [writer] a racist!”
Of course, the issue isn’t that the writer is being called a racist, it’s that the person making the accusation doesn’t want to consider the possibility that there might be a problem in the way something is being portrayed. The fact that there are arguments about how race is portrayed in books (and other media) means that there is a problem with same, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the writer is racist. (Tooth grindingly ignorant and offensive occasionally, but not racist.) People however, don’t seem to be very good at stepping back and thinking about the other side’s position. (And I include myself in that. Sometimes I’m too busy being angry to think.)
Another reason why my essay idea is a little big for me to handle is that there are many, many instances of “fail” in Eddings writing, even when you can tell he was trying Very Hard not to. For instance, he would have different characters with different backgrounds and cultures but individuals supposedly from those cultures sound exactly like all the other characters from his pseudo-Western (European) cultures. He wrote what were essentially stereotypes, not characteristics, and it made for some fairly shoddy world building.
Many readers like to say that Eddings’ writing went downhill because he co-wrote his later books with his wife. I tend to disagree–both because the Eddings’ stated that his wife had been his co-writer from the beginning, and because I feel that the reason the quality went down is because the Eddings were essentially writers of a one-trick pony type. Given that they tended to write stereotypes to begin with, it’s only natural that the shark would be jumped eventually. Also, I had been noticing problems related to well before David Eddings’ admitted to having collaberated with his wife.
A Short List of Problems
- Domes of Fire Stragen essentially uses the “Stop Whining” argument on the Styric Council, which quite understandably is not happy with the Elenes because of centuries of pogroms, institutionalized racism and etc. In order to get the full weight of why “stop whining” is so offensive, imagine saying that Jews should stop “whining” about centuries of institutionalized anti-Semitism…and the Holocaust.
- The Elenium …Sephrenia, a Styric makes horrible statements on how disgusting she finds the idea of Styrics and Elenes intermarrying–despite her long term romance-frome-a-distance with Vanion.
- The Elenium and The Tamuli. Sephrenia again. She seems to harbor a deep dislike of her own people, her culture, and in general is very much a classist snob.
- The Belgariad/Mallorean Murgoes are apparently too controlled by Torak, and too stupid as a culture to realize the Algar Stronghold is basically a better mouse trap. Despite individual Murgoes not being excessively stupid. (Mysteriously, the not very stupid Murgoes are also closest in personality to the “Western” characters.)
- The Belgariad/Mallorean If I listed all the disablism moments this would be a long list, not a short one.
- The Tamuli The Eddings’ manage to simultaneously lose AND fail when mentioning (off screen) homosexual characters. Sadly, the fail comes into play because Danae (apparently a child) is only sent away when discussing homosexuals, but not necessarily when discussing violence.
- The Elenium/Tamuli Sparhawk not telling Ehlana her daughter is actually a goddess. No, it doesn’t matter that Ehlana might go bonkers because of it.