Lately I’ve tinkered with the idea of re-reading some old favorite childhood books, but worried that my experience would be markedly different than it was when I was 10-, 12-, or 15-years old. Markedly different in the sense that my adult sensibility might turn the pages to excrement. I don’t want to destroy a fond memory, you see.
One night, I scared up an old, tattered copy of Pawn of Prophecy. Published in 1982, it’s the first of five volumes in The Belgariad series by David Eddings. In high school, I had read them with great care and studiousness, and I, a perennial D student, would have aced any quiz, test, mid-term, or paper, if only my teachers had taken the time to create one for me. The blurb on the back cover gives you an idea of the book.
Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.
But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved — but did not know?
You get the gist. I held the book, and probably even smelled it — I’m weird that way — and just before opening it, I let my mind go blank and allowed words and feelings to bump around a bit: “Garion,” that was one word; “Aunt Pol,” another. “Warmth,” this was more a feeling, as was “safety.” Slowly a scene knitted itself together, a place of pots and pans, of boiling water, of coriander and bay leaves, and of little nooks and crannies. I knew immediately it was the opening scene of the book, involuntarily recollected, in good Proustian fashion, from thirty years ago. Thirty years ago! An impossibly large number, that.
Here’s the first paragraph from Chapter 1:
The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor’s farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home.
The good news is that you’re now acquainted with the finest sentence in The Belgariad series. The bad news is that Eddings is an epigone of J.R.R. Tolkien without any real talent for innovation: there’s an assortment of strange characters, each with a unique gift, whose adventures through exotic kingdoms is driven by a quest for an orb (not to be confused with the Ring of power), and so on.
Fortunately, the adult-me doesn’t sneer at the younger me and hasn’t turned the pages of The Belgariad into shit. At least not all of them. I still feel a child’s trembling joy at the sight of the book covers, all five of them. And that’s reason enough to keep them and gaze at them once or twice a year.