Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Change Comes Through King of the Murgos

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Change. Some people say it’s the only constant, some people say it’s inevitable. For a book series whose established universe is so cyclical, King of the Murgos is intensely centered around change. Published in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall fell and proved one of the major symbols of the end of the Cold War. King of the Murgos channels the changing political climate with how Eddings changes perceptions of allies and enemies in this novel.

Spoilers for all previous David Eddings novels and for King of the Murgos.

A Brief Interlude

Last article, I forgot to mention something rather important. Mea Culpa.

Cyradis showed up to Rheon and told Garion who his companions for the remainder of the series would be. She also said that one of his companions would die in fulfilling the quest. This is the first change to the established universe. While Durnik died at the end of Enchanter’s End Game he was resurrected. Cyradis precludes this from happening during this cycle.

This change raises the narrative stakes. It gives Eddings a sense of danger and trepidation that he’d only managed to channel before during Enchanter’s End Game. Guardian of the West ends with Garion protesting taking anyone with him in an attempt to take all the consequences himself. King of the Murgos by contrast starts with an understanding of and trepidation for those consequences.

In addition, my copy of the book has the first three novels in one edition, so the page numbers will be slightly wonky.

What Happened in King of the Murgos?

Eddings’s acknowledgements before the prologue include his wife and collaborator, Leigh Eddings. This is the first time he acknowledges Leigh as a collaborator. This change is emblematic of the rest of the novel. The prologue meanders Garion and Belgarath’s history, and tells how Zandramas stole Geran. After the prologue, King of the Murgos is packed with a lot of plot.

The Western Kingdoms

After this our band of heroes goes on a rapid-fire tour of the Western Kingdoms. There’s a brief pass through Ulgo, where Ce’Nedra’s old Ulgo companions briefly lift her depression over her son’s loss. Errand becomes Eriond in this layover, a new name given to him by UL himself.

Then they pass through Tolnedra. Silk murders several Tolnedrans for crimes against the Drasnian Intelligence agency. (They murdered Bethra, a Drasnian agent Silk was fond of.) Because of this, Javelin sends Liselle, or Velvet, along with Garion’s party, to keep an eye on Silk. Garion and company then pick up Zandramas’s trail in the Wood of the Dryads after a visit with Xantha. Zandramas’s trail leads them to Nyissa.

Once in Nyissa they re-encounter the assassin Issus, who Sadi sent to bring Garion and company to him. When they reach the Drasnian Embassy, which sheltered Sadi, Sadi tells them his story. Another member of Salmissara’s entourage deposed him, and used that position to assist Zandramas with the Nyissan vessel that took her from Riva. They infiltrate Salmissra’s palace to find out if there were other attempts to assist Zandramas. In doing so they converse with Salmissra. Salmissra thanks Polgara for the change she caused in Queen of Sorcery. Salmissra also reveals that Zandramas is a woman. Afterwards, Sadi joins them on their quest. Sadi disguises their party in the costumes of a group of slavers looking to capture runaway slaves. In those disguises they head from Nyissa to the desert between Nyissa and Cthol Murgos.

Cthol Murgos

While in the desert they spy on a battle between Mallorean and Murgo forces, who are still fighting over possession of Cthol Murgos. Immediately after the battle, a group of Dagashi (Murgo assassins) confronts them. Once captured, the Dagashi take them to their city in the middle of the desert. Once there the head Dagashi, employs Sadi to travel to Rak Urga. Then to the temple of Torak, and travel to Mallorean controlled territory with a Dagahsi concealed there.

As Sadi wants to keep them all alive, he agrees. Once they get to Rak Urga things become more complicated.  While they wait for Asharak (the temple head) to return from the palace, Garion and Belgarath go looking for the Murgo prophecies. Eriond, by contrast, deliberately, and without using sorcery, puts out the temple fires. A priestess attempts to have them all killed for this, but King Urgit prevents this from happening.

Urgit shelters them at the palace, and it is discovered both that he is friends with Sadi, and that he’s Silk’s half brother through their father. Urgit discovers this second fact at the same time as he discovers that he’s sheltering Belgarath, Polgara, and Garion. The supposed Dagahsi actually worked for Zandramas. Garion’s friends and Urgit leave Rak Urga. They split up after a shipwreck, leaving Urgit to follow Zandramas’s trail.

Zandramas’s trail leads them to the Mallorean controlled Isle of Verkat. They shelter with the Dal people. Cyradis appears again and allows Belgarath to look at the holy books of the Dal people. After almost being caught by a Mallorean patrol, they hide in the forest. Cyradis and Toth betray them to the Malloreans. The book ends with them captive.

Change in Murgos

Murgos as Enemies

In some ways, even given all the changes, Eddings still needs villains. However, the Murgos are no longer entirely villains. They still do various bad things, but they’re not unilaterally bad in the way they were portrayed in The Belgariad. The antagonism of the Murgos in this book is left mostly to the established evil structures.

We had Brill as a Dagashi antagonist before. Here, we have Jaharb and his cohort dragging our heroes against their will into the desert. The only choice our heroes had was to cooperate or to die.

The other established system that has evil Murgos in it is the Priesthood. Asharak is an antagonist for certain. He despises Zandramas and wants to kill ‘Zakath, yes. But, he wants to take her place, and to make Urgit the Overking of Angarak as per the prophecy. Asharak wants Urgit as Overking, simply because he knows he can control him, not because Asharak believes that Urgit is a better man than ‘Zakath.

Chabat, the priestess that despises both Sadi and Eriond, is also an antagonist. She’s hated even within the temple. The other priests find her enthusiasm for the sacrifices to Torak frightening. She reportedly bathes in blood, and she tries to raise demons with her cohort Sorchak. In addition, she’s hated by our heroes. She throws up block after petty block, trying to prevent them from seeing Asharak and leaving Rak Urga. She tries Eriond for putting out the temple fires, and tries to run a kangaroo court. Asharak stops that for his own amusement, and when Eriond is aquitted, Chabat tries to put Sadi on trial for having drugs.

Chabat raises a demon when everyone leaves Rak Urga. Polgara stops her, but Chabat released immensely destructive powers into the worldbecause of her hatred.

Murgos as Allies

All of the Murgos that exist in previously established evil systems are still portrayed as evil. However, once a Murgo steps out of those systems, we see a change. There’s Urgit of course, but he deserves a segment of his own. When a Murgo exists outside of an evil system, Eddings allows complexity in how they can be portrayed.

The first example of this is when Garion and company traveled by sea on a Murgo ship. A small fleet of Mallorean ships tracked them for a period of time, and the wind was against them. Belgarath asked Durnik to show the Murgo sailors how to rig their sails to quarter the wind. However, Durnik was fishing already, and just caught an enormous fish. Garion instead steps in, and we remember that Garion is the king of an island kingdom. While the captain behaves somewhat pessimistically, Garion manages to work well enough with him to re-do the rigging. This marks a significant divergance from previous books, where even the question of working with Murgos would have been heresy.

The second example of how the heroes can see Murgos  positively comes from after the shipwreck. Garion and company travel through Mallorean controlled territory. They come upon a Murgo farm, and discover that Malloreans killed them. That night, he thinks, “The dead here had been Murgos, but they had also been farmers, and he felt a sudden kinship with them.” (507). This ‘kinship’ remains, and when Garion finds the Mallorean deserters that killed them, he kills them in turn. Garion feels protective of these people because he can see himself in them. By showing this change, Eddings encourages others to show empathy in turn, even to those that were once enemies.

Urgit, King of the Murgos

The Change from Enemy to Neutrality

When we first meet Urgit, the expectation is that he is evil. He’s the son of Taur Urgas, the “madman” who frothed at the mouth when Cho Hag killed him in Enchanter’s End Game. However, Urgit immediately subverts those expectations. He is the most rational character during the scene where Chabat tries Eriond and Sadi. He acts at several points to clarify the situation. In addition, Chabat and Asharak chide him several times during that scene. While he submits to those corrections most of the time, the fact that he acts against the evil Chabat and Asharak serves to signal that he’s not like them.

Eddings reinforces this through his actions after the trial ends, when he escorts them to the palace. Urgit reveals that he knows Sadi, and recognized him through the paper thin disguises. Sadi is not entirely a good character at this point, but he is more heroic than other characters. Urgit’s connection to Sadi works further in Urgit’s favor, giving him connections to people who are not evil.

This continues as we see Urgit’s behavior at the palace over the course of several days. Urgit talks a great deal about what his childhood with Taur Urgas was like, in short, horrible. He recounts how Taur Urgas abused all of his children, all of his wives, and how he set his children against each other. According to Murgo custom only one child could become king, and the other children killed. Considering that Urgit once had several dozen siblings he’s highly traumatized.

In addition, his father’s generals continually walk all over him, even now that he is king. All of this makes him a more understandable character. This change in his portrayal makes him, not a hero, but a neutral entity.

The Change from Neutrality to Good Person

Eddings prompts this change in perception both by Urgit’s actions, his heritage, and a very potent symbol.

In the days after Garion and company arrive at the palace, they know Urgit’s personality well. After a few days, Urgit asks Belgarath, in disguise as an old Alorn man, about Belgarion. Urgit is desperate to forge an alliance with Belgarion. He believes that the Godslayer and the armies of the West are the only things that can stop ‘Zakath and the Malloreans.

After Oskatat reveals Silk as Prince Kheldar, friend of Belgarion and murderer of one of Urgit’s older siblings, we see this desire renewed. Urgit plans to grant Silk forgiveness, if Silk can open a line of communication between him and Belgarion. They proceed to debate terms in a show of wits that Eddings gleefully describes. One of Urgit’s constant refrains was, “I’m going to go mad soon … every male in the Urga family … has gone mad before he reached fifty.” (432). His mother, Lady Tamazin keeps insisting that he won’t.

Between this and the negotiation between Silk and Urgit, Liselle manages to figure out that they are related. Urgit is not the son of Taur Urgas, but of Silk’s father. After this reveal, Urgit becomes accepted as an ally and as a friend by everyone. Garion give Urgit advice on how to be a better king, and Silk drinks with him.

The final important symbol of Urgit’s change happens after the shipwreck, when Urgit and Prala leave Garion and company.

“Cross swords with me, Belgarion, … The fire that ran up its blade was a bright blue; when he touched Urgit’s extended weapon with it … The stones on the hilt of his sword were no longer rubies, but bright blue sapphires. … The Orb did. It seems to like you for some reason.” (505).

If the Orb likes him, shouldn’t we?

Changes in Cyradis’s Character

Cyradis is one of the most dynamic characters in how the audience sees her. Cyradis is impenetrable to both the reader and the characters.  The change we see is the result of the characters trying to discover who she is, not because of any change she experiences.

From the very first, Cyradis is established as a neutral character. “It also appears that the Seers of Kell are directly involving themselves’ … ‘They’ve never done that before.’ … One of them— a girl named Cyradis—appeared at Rheon and gave us some additional information, and certain instructions.” (288-9). The fact that the seers are breaking this neutrality also adds to the importance of this particular cycle.

After this information about the nature of the seers, Cyradis does not actually appear again until the end of the book. Garion and Silk are spying on the Western Dals, and they summon Cyradis’s shadow, which allows her to speak with them. She tells them to let Belgarath look at the Book of Ages, a book of Kellish prophecy. When Garion and Silk tell Belgarath about his, he is flabbergasted. Once he reads the Book of Ages, he finds out that the Orb is only half of a very important magical stone, and that “all division will end and all will be made as one again.” (535). This message of reconciliation and the knowledge that they now have makes you believe that Cyradis is an ally.

That is soon to change. Garion and company flee from a Mallorean patrol, and they hide in a thicket once pursued. Cyradis’s shadow appears to the Malloreans and tells them where to find Garion’s company. Toth grabs Ce’Nedra and presents her to the Malloreans. Because of Cyradis’s actions, the entire party is captured by the people portrayed as evil throughout the entire novel. This makes audience perception of her change from an enemy to an ally.

So What?

As mentioned in the beginning, King of the Murgos was published in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall fell. It was a period of massive unrest, and of anticipation. People anticipated the change from a world at war (albeit a cold one) to a world at peace. The changes that Eddings makes in this novel reflect that.

When people fight for generations, it takes an immense amount of time and trust to make them at ease with each other. With King of the Murgos, the Eddings’s show their characters that their perceptions of things can sometimes be wrong. The Murgos, once removed from the toxic structures of the church of Torak and the Dagashi, are people our heroes can relate to. Urgit is literally the brother of one of the heroes we’ve known for years, and we see him change from a bad king to a good one under Garion’s influence. People can change, and we shouldn’t be afraid to accept them once they have proven themselves allies.

Cyradis and the information that she provides Belgarath promises an end to the warring, which is why her betrayal at the end is such a shock. It is also the subject of much conversation in the next book. The Eddings’s message is that people can change, and we should accept allies, even from those who were once our enemies. Cyradis qualifies this message and demands consistency and knowledge of why a person changes. Her impenetrability and lack of knowledge make her changes frustrating instead of understandable. It’s why we have more to discuss about Cyradis and her importance in the next three books.

But, despite the qualification of Cyradis, the point remains. Sometimes the people you’ve been fighting with for generations can become your allies, can become family.

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