Monday, July 22, 2024

Propaganda and Generational Cycles in Guardians of the West

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First published in 1987, Guardians of the West is the first book in the Mallorean. David Eddings’s second series stars Garion, Ce’Nedra, and all the characters we have grown to know over the first five books. However, this first book covers a lot of time, and it doesn’t pick up immediately after the death of Torak. By the end of the book, we’re over a decade after Torak’s death. Because of this temporal shift, the philosophy shifts as well. Eddings slowly moves from an adversarial position to a cooperative one. The first hints of that are shown in the cyclical nature, the generational shift, and the propaganda that suffuses this first and sixth novel.

Spoilers for Guardians of the West and all of the Belgariad.

What Happened?

Eddings makes it clear that this is a sequel series, as the prologue recaps the Belgariad. Then, we see the eight years passing from Errand’s point of view. We get snapshots of Polgara and Durnik settling into married life. We see Belgarath and Beldin discussing Urvon and Cthrag Sardius. Urvon is Torak’s last disciple, but Cthrag Sardius is a mystery. Errand sees Garion and Ce’Nedra weather marital problems. They had a fight regarding politics, and it devolved from there. Polgara helps them reconcile. While in Riva, Errand and Garion see the Orb of Aldur turn red. It tells them to beware Zandramas.

When we return to Garion’s point of view, we see him solve several problems. Garion and Ce’Nedra also struggle with fertility. For eight years, Ce’Nedra is unable to conceive a child. Eventually, with Polgara’s medical assistance, Ce’Nedra gives birth to Geran, the heir to the Rivan Throne. The Bear Cult, a religious organization, tries to assassinate Ce’Nedra. Garion discovers a hidden section in the Mrin Codex using the Orb, which then reveals the prophecy isn’t over.

Later, Brand, the Rivan Warder, is killed. Everyone initially thinks Anheg was complicit because of forged documents. However, it was an attempt by the Bear Cult to try and cause an Alorn civil war. The Alorn kings defeat the Bear Cult center of Jarviksholm. Meanwhile Geran is kidnapped by members of the Bear Cult, then they lay siege to the Cult stronghold of Rheon. After they capture Ulfgar, the Cult leader, they discover that it was Zandramas who kidnapped Geran. Ulfgar is Urvon’s underling. Ulfgar escapes, and Beldin pursues him. Then the seer Cyradis and her mute companion Toth show up. Cyradis reveals this is the last confrontation of the prophecies. Garion and his family embark on a quest to recover Geran.

A Promised End to the Cycles

No Rest for The Wicked

Or in this case, no rest for the heroes. We’ve talked before about how the nature of Edding’s universe is cyclical. How people couldn’t see an end to the Cold War and how that informs his works. However, 1987, and this new series marks a turning point.

But, it takes a great deal of time for this turning point to take effect. ‘Zakath, or Kal Zakath as this series introduces him as, is still a looming threat, even before Zandramas enters the scene. Kal is an Angarak title that means King and God. Kal Zakath in Guardians of the West is fighting against the Murgos and crucifies almost entire cities. This parallels Russia’s attack on Germany at the end of World War II.

Between this, and the cyclical nature of the universe, we start this series where the Cold War started. Belgarath even says, “I thought that, once Torak was dead, we might get a chance to rest.” (p. 31). This states, explicitly, for the first time in the series, how exhausting these cycles are. Belgarath has lived for seven thousand years, and he’s always been looking for the end. Waiting for the time when Torak was dead and he could have peace. But, even now, after the Dragon God of the Angaraks is dead, there is still work that needs doing.

The Orb of Aldur, Nuclear Weaponry, and Cthrag Sardius

It’s been established that the Orb of Aldur and the power that it wields is symbolic of nuclear weaponry. Thus, the fact that the orb glows red—the color of communism—when it gives it’s ominous warning about Zandramas is important.

“The soft blue light of the stone had suddenly changed to a deep, angry red. Errand could very clearly hear a strange sound. For all of the time he had carried the Orb, his ears had been filled with the crystalline shimmer of its song, but now that shimmer seemed to have taken on an ugly iron overtone, as if the stone had encountered something or someone that filled it with a raging anger. ‘Beware!’ … ‘Beware Zandramas!'” (p. 49)

Nuclear Weaponry, as you might expect, was a hot button issue during and after the Cold War. The Rosenberg Trial, where two civilians were convicted of conspiracy to commit treason and executed, is an exemplar of that. The Orb turning red, and the iron overtone (what villain used iron in this series as a major motif, oh yes, Torak and his pseudo Iron Curtain), makes this significant. This significance would be even more apparent to readers who lived through to Cold War.

In addition, there is the topic of Cthrag Sardius. Beldin talks with Belgarath about the Sardion, as it is also called. The remaining Grolims in Mallorea would do anything to get their hands on it. Belgarath points out it sounds like Sardonyx, a type of rock. Beldin recalls that Cthrag Yaska is what the Grolims called the Orb of Aldur. Their conclusions are enough to send Belgarath out of his pseudo retirement.

Again, people are reacting to thing the same way they did at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.

Cyradis and Consequences

Cyradis is the one that kicks off the true continuing cycle of Eddings’s universe. The Seeress of Kell shows up twice in the book, once in Errand’s point of view. She astral projects into the Vale of Aldur and speaks with Errand courteously. The second time is at the end of the first book, where she gives Garion the way to fulfill the prophecy.

She lists various people who can go with him, and says that one of his companions will die. This adds an additional sense of urgency to the already urgent message that this is the final confrontation between the two forces.

Cyradis tells both the reader and the characters that there will be an end, but tells them that there will be consequences. Admittedly, Durnik did die during the confrontation with Torak, but he came back. This was foreseen in the prophecy, where his title is the Man with Two Lives. He doesn’t have three, and we don’t know who will die in this iteration of the cycle.

But, we know that this will be the last cycle, which gives some sense of closure to the end of the novel. Geran is still missing; Zandramas and the Sardion are mysterious and powerful. There are a lot of things we don’t know, but we have this closure.

A Generational Shift

A Quite Literal Shift

As mentioned previously, the book begins with a prologue that recounts the events of the Belgariad. In previous books, the prologue had depicted events that occurred in the distant past. The prologue, then, functioned as a way of building up the history of the world. However, utilizing the Belgariad as the prologue serves two purposes. The first is simply a recounting so that the reader can understand and remember what came before.

But it also serves to cast the Belgariad as something that is over and done. Despite the cyclical nature of events, things don’t happen the same way through these cycles, which we will learn here. Putting the Belgariad in the prologue serves to distance the reader from those events. It’s history now.

This distance is also reinforced through the narration. Errand serves as our viewpoint character for the first third of the novel. Previously, Garion and Ce’Nedra were our only point of view characters. But Errand’s story, that of a boy growing up under Polgara’s care, distances us yet again from the Belgariad. Garion was a boy in Pawn of Prophecy, but Errand is more worldly than Garion was. He grows up in a magical world, rather than being hidden from it. This reinforces that cyclical yet changing nature of Eddings’s story.

Death and New Life

The first of four of the major deaths in Guardians of the West is King Rhodar of Drasnia. His queen Porenn asks Polgara to come and try to heal him. However, Polgara determines that there’s nothing she can do, though she and Errand do stay to make his passing more comfortable. Errand befriends Kheva, the Crown Prince, and spends a few idyllic weeks with him before his death. This is the first death that deals with a father passing his title down to his child, ensuring a next generation.

The second significant death is that of Emperor Ran Borune, Ce’Nedra’s father. She and Garion heard he was ill and dying and journeyed to Tolnedra to visit him. He chastised Ce’Nedra for not having any grandchildren yet, and Garion showed him his dead wife, Ce’Nedra’s mother. While Ran Borune died with only a female heir, he designated a lifelong friend and general his heir. This prevented a blood feud over the transfer of the imperial throne.

The last examples of important deaths in relationship to new life are the deaths that surround the birth of Geran. Garion and Ce’Nedra cannot conceive traditionally, so Polgara provides help. But, the troubles they have conceiving aren’t the end of it. The Bear Cult keeps trying to prevent any child from being born or surviving. The attempt before Geran’s birth kills Arell, Brand’s niece. The attempt afterwards claims Brand’s life. Brand is the last Rivan Warder, and his sole duty was to protect the Rivan Throne in lieu of the king. All of these deaths symbolically represent the death of the old and the rebirth and shaping of the new.

Hope for the Future

Geran serves as the quest hook for the sequel series. He provides the heroes the same motivation the theft of the Orb provided in the first series. However, because Geran is a baby instead of a rock, albeit one with nuclear potential, the implications of his kidnapping are different. Eddings used Geran specifically because the theft of a child is a common medieval literature trope. His whole motivation around the second series was showing that what happened to Garion and Ce’Nedra when they were adults, including their child, is a large part of that.

But, given all the death and succession discussed below, the fact that Geran is a child is especially significant. Geran is hope. Garion named him for the father he never knew. These characters, Brand and the other Alorn kings, had hoped for Geran for years. Brand considered an heir to the Rivan Throne important enough that he suggested Garion divorce Ce’Nedra, even though he considered her like a daughter.

Geran is hope and hope is gone. The significance of that, given the cyclical nature and the finality of this particular cycle, is immense. Every parent hopes for a better world for their children. Garion thought the prophecy was over and done with. But the world during the Cold War only had the prospect of potential annihilation to give their children. That’s why this generational shift is so important. It shows this great hope for the future, and then it steals it out from under the reader. But Geran isn’t dead, he’s just missing. Hope isn’t entirely gone, it’s just misplaced, and our heroes are going to find it.

Propaganda and Paranoia

Religious Propaganda

Half of the named deaths in this book come about because of the Bear Cult. It’s a group of rural Alorns who listen to Belar (the Alorn God) and his last instructions. “That they should lead the Kingdoms of the West against the people of Torak. It’s that word ‘lead’ that’s caused all the problems.” (p. 57). The Bear Cult interprets that word to mean that they should subjugate the other Western kingdoms and then go after the Angaraks. It’s several thousand years of religious propaganda distilled into the country’s people.

The Bear Cult’s influence on the plot grows because for the first time, the Bear Cult has a single unified leader. This is Ulfgar, Urvon’s disciple. He uses the existing propaganda against the other western kingdoms to turn the Cult against Garion and Ce’Nedra. Ulfgar succeeds in building a powerful base, able even to infiltrate several high ranking generals of the Drasnian army and intelligence services. He manages to bend people’s minds against the Rivan King, someone everyone had been waiting for for hundreds of years.

By using this, Eddings shows the power that propaganda can hold when applied to tense situations. The Bear Cult hates Tolnedrans, and Garion married Ce’Nedra. The Bear Cult wants to conquer, and Garion makes peace. That disconnect, and Ulfgar’s public speaking ability, is enough to band the Bear-Cultists together and against Garion.

Creation of Propaganda

After Brand’s death, all the Alorn kings gathered together to host the funeral and find who ordered his death. Many people blamed Anheg because the murderers were Cherek, and they carried a letter signed by Anheg. The people of Riva were furious, to the point where Garion sealed the quay after Anheg arrived. They tried to riot. Even Kail, Brand’s son, suspected Anheg. They later discover that the culprits had erased a message Anheg wrote to a deceased Earl that preserved the signature. When Kail apologized, Anheg said that he was at the point of suspecting himself, given the evidence marshaled against him. Through these scenes, Eddings shows the way that propaganda is created, as opposed to the effects of propaganda.

The Bear Cult blended truth and lies to create a false letter with a true signature. The murder was originally supposed to be the murder of Ce’Nedra and Geran, to “start a war between Riva and Cherek.” (p. 196). They counted on the emotions stirred by the murder and their propaganda to negate logic and provoke hatred.

The Cold War relied heavily on propaganda on both sides. Americans demonized communists and communism. The Soviet Union fed a distrust of Americans into their news programs. Between the propaganda and the emotional tensions regarding conflicting financial systems, the Cold War grew worse than it might have been.

Zandramas’s Propaganda

The greatest example of propaganda in Guardians of the West comes from Zandramas after her theft of Geran. She used a group of Bear Cultists to infiltrate the citadel and to get Geran out of it. She then left them behind so that they could spread the story she fed them. Zandramas claimed she was acting on Ulfgar’s orders, that she kidnapped Geran to raise him as part of the Bear Cult. The indoctrinated Geran would then be the real Rivan King that the Cult had hoped for.

This propaganda sends the Alorn armies against Rheon in an attempt to recover Geran. It’s only there that Garion and company discover that Zandramas fed the surviving Cultist this information to keep them off her trail.

Zandramas utilizes existing propaganda to misdirect people. While there are no direct examples of this correlating to the Cold War, the sense of misdirection and diplomatic tension is very similar. This propaganda and misdirection reveals the Angarak involvement in the West with Ulfgar, but hides Zandramas’s involvement until the very end.


David Eddings starts this series strong in the philosophical sense, but slightly weaker in the narrative sense. The casual reader might find all the simple problems Garion solves as Overlord of the West and Errand’s long introduction boring. To be fair, it is far less intense than the other novels, until the end. But Eddings’s choice to start slow and show us how these people’s lives progress is tactically important. It shows us the hope that Geran represents, so that when he’s born, the reader is as excited as the characters. It makes his kidnapping by Zandramas as traumatic as it is for Garion and Ce’Nedra. We can understand how important he is. Eddings’s choices enable the reader to see the effects of the cyclical nature of this universe. We can see how the generations shift, and we both fall for and unravel the propaganda as the characters do.

Eddings may not be widely recognized as an authorial genius, but his work with archetypes, and his metaphor, is unparalleled.

Image Courtesy of Del Rey Books

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