Sunday, May 19, 2024

Micro and Macro Narrative in Castle of Wizardry

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First published in 1984, Castle of Wizardry is the fourth book in David Edding’s Belgariad. As it says in his initial author’s bio, Eddings used to be a college literature teacher. His masterful use of narrative in this book is one of the clearest examples of this narrative mastery. Eddings uses micro scenes in this novel to build two macro narratives. This adds to the philosophical impact of the Cold War metaphor that has been previously expounded upon.

Spoilers for Castle of Wizardry and all previous book in the series.

What Happened

Picking up immediately where Magician’s Gambit left off, the novel begins with the party fleeing Rak Cthol. Belgarath, magically wounded from his duel with Ctuchik, collapses halfway back to Algaria. Garion takes the reins as they return to the Western lands. They collect Ce’Nedra from Ulgoland and bring all of the Alorn kings to the Isle of Riva. The boy Errand, who initially stole the Orb of Aldur gives it to Garion. Garion does not die, and replaces the Orb in the Sword of the Rivan King. This reveals him both to himself and the reader as the heir to the Rivan Throne.

Garion and Ce’Nedra are engaged and have several disagreements with each other. They simultaneously are falling in love. Garion learns that he needs to confront the god Torak to prevent a war that will last decades. He then decides to run off with Belgarath and Silk to confront Torak on his own. Ce’Nedra assumes the responsibility of unifying the forces of the West to make Garion’s passage easier. This sets the stage for the final book in the Belgariad.

Narrative and the Philosophy of Love

Over the course of this book, we see both Garion and Ce’Nedra, alongside several other secondary characters, fall in love. These romances, especially as distilled into micro narrative scenes, allow Eddings to present his own philosophy about how love works. Considering that he co-wrote the entire series with his wife, the view is both nuanced and simple, melding their ideas and ideals. It is above all, a profound statement that even in the rising darkness, both in fiction and in Cold War America, there must be light. You need to wield love as a weapon against the darkness, because without love, without joy, what is the point of living?

Relg and Taiba

One of the first discrete scenes in the novel is that of Relg rescuing Taiba from a collapsed cave. The religious zealot and the newly freed slave have several arguments about the nature of the world. Relg is afraid of Taiba considering that one of his deepest doubts about himself is his ability to withstand lust. His entire character is bent on avoiding sin, in all its forms. Taiba, who will occasionally use her sexuality as a weapon, is the antithesis of everything that Relg believes. Her entire life has been one of suffering, trapped in the darkness with no control over her circumstances. Her response to this has been to find joy in everything. This includes occasionally upsetting Relg’s worldview, and then debating philosophy with him.

Their different opinions about love, sin, come to a conclusion at Riva. Garion overhears a conversation where they talk about the morals of sex, duty to their respective Gods, and the God’s duty to man. It concludes when Taiba says, “If our Gods really loved us, they’d want our lives filled with joy, … Joy is not sin, Relg; joy is a kind of love, and I think the Gods approve of it – even if you don’t.” (211). This overheard debate is the most important of their scenes to the overarching narrative.

After overhearing that conversation, Garion talks with the voice of the prophecy. He questions why they’re drawn together, and the prophecy responds that it’s because of necessity. The prophecy continues and says that, “they’re both going to be very happy. Obedience to necessity does have its rewards after all.” (212). Those dry sentences prove the validity of Taiba’s statement to Eddings’s universe. It also is one of the central tenets of this unfolding philosophy.

Lelldorin’s No Good, Very Bad Week

One of the next central tenets of this philosophy of love unfolds in a particularly amusing narrative. When Garion and company arrive at Riva, they are reunited with Lelldorin, the feckless Arendish archer. He had been left behind in Queen of Sorcery because of a grievous injury. He fell in love with Ariana, the sister of the lord that took him in, who nursed him back to health. When he received Polgara’s summons to Riva, she told him in suitably dramatic fashion that she would die if he left her behind. In the span of a week, he manages to

  1. Almost kill a guard leaving the castle.
  2. Re-break the leg of Ariana’s brother.
  3. Kill several of the knights accompanying said brother.
  4. Hit and threatened a priest when he refused to marry the two of them, for propriety’s sake of course.
  5. Ran his cousin through the leg “just a little bit.”
  6. Had a price put on his head by the crown and declared an outlaw.

All of this happens in the span of a week. It is one of the most humorous exchanges in the entire book, as Lelldorin reveals the escalation of this mess to Garion. Afterwards, when Garion meets Ariana he, “had some hope for his impossible friend. … The look she directed at Lelldorin, however, immediately dispelled any hope. … the total lack of anything resembling reason … Ariana would not restrain Lelldorin as he crashed headlong into disaster after disaster, … she would cheer him on.” (140). The lack of reason and rationality in the romance between the two of them is commented on several times.

Their relationship forms the second tenant of Eddings’s philosophy, by providing a counter example. That when you love someone you should support them, but gently steer them away from their reckless habits.

Garion’s Initial Opinion

Garion makes several mistakes in his initial courtship of Ce’Nedra and his handling of their relationship. Shortly after Ce’Nedra meets Lelldorin and talks about his stupidity, Garion talks about what he thinks love is. “They’re in love,’ Garion said, as if that explained everything. … ‘As soon as somebody falls in love, all the wits seem to dribble out of the bottom of his head,” (142). He then goes on to compare love to a disease. Ce’Nedra, who realized that she was in love with Garion while in Ulgoland, takes this sentiment badly.

Garion’s narrative arc in this novel and in the series is a coming of age story. He learns his mistakes are in fact mistakes, and does his best to fix them. His growing maturity in what love is showcases this quite well. After he finds out that Ce’Nedra and he are engaged because of an ancient treaty he talks with Ce’Nedra. Despite the fact that Ce’Nedra loves him, she isn’t enamored of the situation because Garion now outranks her. Garion stops this issue by granting her equal authority to him once they’re married. They also have several other arguments caused by lack of communication, and they endeavor to solve them.

His initial worldview on love is understandable given his only model at this point is Lelldorin. Once his horizons broaden however, he is better able to understand what love is and how it works.

Garion’s Final Understanding

Garion’s final moment of understanding of what love is comes later in the book. Eddings once said that he wrote sheltered protagonists, so you could explain the fantasy worldbuilding to them and the audience at the same time. Philosophy joins the world building here. After Garion, Silk, and Belgarath leave Riva, they travel through the Drasnian fens. There they meet Vordai, a witch, who adores the semi-sentient fenlings. She wants them to learn how to talk so that humans won’t hunt them anymore. She forces Belgarath to use his magic to do so, in exchange for letting them pass. Belgarath does so.

As they leave the swamp, Garion asks why they didn’t just go through anyway, because Belgarath is more powerful than Vordai. Belgarath responds that he felt sorry for Vordai. Vordai was driven away from humans because they feared her powers. She lived alone, save the fenlings, for centuries, and she was dying.

Belgarath’s explanation prompts a revelation in Garion. He thinks, “that compassion was a kind of love – broader and more encompassing than the somewhat narrow idea he had previously had … The word love seemed, as he thought more deeply about it, to include a great number of things that at first glance did not have anything whatsoever to do with it.” (270). No more thinking of love as a disease for Garion indeed.

A Summation

A large amount of this novel is an exploration of how the world reacts on the brink of doom. It’s the deep breath before the storm. The first act of the narrative, recovering the Orb, is over. Now they need to prepare for a final confrontation, where a king will fight a god for the fate of the world. It’s no mistake that this is the book where love becomes a central factor. You need compassion and you need joy to make life worth living. To make a world worth fighting to save. In the depths of the Cold War, that attitude is especially powerful and necessary.

When the world is walking the edge of nuclear decimation, you need to understand your enemy. You need to have compassion for them. That’s why various letter writing campaigns connecting children on both sides of the conflict existed. Compassion, joy, and love are necessary for humanity, even what feels like their darkest hours.

Garion’s and Ce’Nedra’s Narrative Journey

As mentioned previously, Garion’s journey is a coming of age story. He finds out about his family’s history as kings, and he prepares to take the throne himself. The prophecy that speaks to him occasionally prompts his journey to fight Torak. Garion’s narrative arc is in many ways a rejection of Cold War philosophy. Ce’Nedra’s is a narrative that is more accepting of Cold War politics, but that delves into the consequences of it. The thread that ties these two arcs together is the question of who faces the trials?

Garion and Leadership

In all three novels before this one, Garion never was a commander. He followed Polgara and Belgarath’s orders, though he occasionally argued with them. He keeps growing more independent through the previous three novels. Garion gets his first experience of leadership in this novel. Belgarath collapses after his fight with Ctuchik. Polgara is initially in charge, but eventually she has to ward off the magical attacks of the Grolim Hierarchs.

This leaves Garion in charge for the first time. He initially struggles with decisions, but he grows into it as they run towards Algaria. When Belgarath regains consciousness, Garion relinquishes his leadership. In another micro scene, we see Garion talking with Silk afterwards about the impact of leadership. “Power can be very sweet for some men, and you never know how a man’s going to handle it until you give him the chance to try.” (50). Eddings enjoys using archetypes in his writing, and one of those cliches is that power is best in the hands of one who doesn’t want it. Garion fulfills that archetype here.

After he takes the throne, Garion has a very steep learning curve. He has some blunders about leading, but shows great promise according to his fellow kings. Garion is the Rivan King, and one of his titles is the Overlord of the West. It’s a title that crosses the line between literal and symbolic. Garion is a figure of prophecy, destined to fight Torak. As such, he has some extra leeway when dealing with his fellow Western kings, and has the power to summon his allies to fight Torak. However, he is also only the king of a small island. This is similar to America as the first country with nuclear weapons in the United Nations, facing off against the Soviet Union.

Garion and Personal Responsibility

The central decision that Garion makes in this series, is how he is going to fight Torak. Garion has three choices. He can fight Torak’s forces and try to maneuver a final battle situation. This is the traditional fantasy archetype. His advisors disagree with this option vehemently. The second option is a series of battles, a war that could last for decades or a century. Two sides locked into a combat based on opposing ideologies. This is a more literal depiction of the Cold War. The USSR and America fought in both politics, and in other countries.

Garion is terrified of this option. This is the point where Garion is offered the third option. The prophecy guides him to a literal prophecy called the Mrin Codex. It details the fight between the Child of Light and the Child of Dark. “Everything will be finally decided when you meet [Torak].’ … If I take an army, I’ll just get a lot of people killed, … in the end it will just be you, [and] Torak.” (233). Garion chooses to fight Torak one on one. A direct confrontation rather than pointless fighting through proxies. The central battle is ideological, whether or not one ideology or another wins.

This is as close as Eddings comes to an explicit rejection of Cold War politics. He demands that his protagonist, his leader, fight his opponent directly. Ultimately it’s a war between ideals, and Eddings’s narrative here suggests that those ideals shouldn’t involve the world. They will always clash, because that is their nature. But that clash shouldn’t consume a generation of lives in an endless war. We’ve talked about how the unseeable ending of the Cold War impacted Eddings’s writing before, but this is the central example of that impact.

Ce’Nedra and the Narrative Reconciliation

Ce’Nedra’s arc walks Eddings back from that rejection. While Garion’s third option of fighting one on one with Torak is morally strong, it’s not especially effective. Thousands of Angaraks stand between him and Cthol Mishrak, Torak’s seat of power. In order to get there, the Angaraks need to be drawn out of position. That is the role that Ce’Nedra assumes.

Ce’Nedra unifies the West for war. She re-enters Edding’s symbolic settings of disunity and capitalism, Arendia and Tolnedra. She uses oratory to inflame each people to her cause. Ce’Nedra uses the Red Gold of the Angaraks to inflame the Tolnedran legions into joining her cause. She unites the Arends by appealing to their honor.

Ce’Nedra is aware of how much this war will cost. She receives an amulet that lets her eavesdrop magically as a betrothal gift from Garion. Using it she overhears the other kings talk about how this war is futile. They predict it will cost all the lives of their men, as the Angaraks vastly outnumber them. Ce’Nedra thinks, “If she perpetrated this horror, the rest of her life would be spent in an agony of self-loathing. … She had no choice but to continue [to protect Garion]. … And so it was that the Rivan Queen drew herself erect and bravely lifted her chin – even though her heart lay like lead in her breast.” (330).

That thread of hopeless war, and Ce’Nedra’s fear and regret continue through the rest of the novel. Through Ce’Nedra, Eddings doesn’t fully reject Cold War politics. However, he still maintains a healthy awareness of what it will do to the world. It’s not as nuanced as other authors’ depictions of war’s horrors. However, it is sufficient for the metaphor he is working through.


David Eddings uses his narrative decisions in Castle of Wizardry to draw out several philosophical questions about the nature of the world. Both the one he created and the one he lives in. He uses micro scenes to assemble these philosophical arguments. Through countless characters he talks about the nature of love, and how it’s joy and compassion, and necessary to sustain a person in the horrors to come. He debates different approaches to conflict. Eddings ultimately winds up rejecting the morals of the Cold War, while appreciating their effectiveness. Castle of Wizardry is an incredibly powerful book, and one whose message we may need more in the coming year.

Image Courtesy of Del Rey Books

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