Friday, April 19, 2024

Queen of Sorcery and Setting

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David Eddings uses setting an interesting way in his second novel of The Belgariad. As we covered in the first article, Eddings is writing about the Cold War through a fantasy metaphor. Published in 1982, the same year as Pawn of Prophecy, the second novel continues expanding the Cold War metaphor in different ways. Here they are expressed more through setting—we travel through three different countries over the course of Queen of Sorcery—and character than in discrete events and thematic expressions.

Spoiler Warning for Queen of Sorcery


In Pawn of Prophecy Garion journeyed away from the farm where he grew up and began his coming of age story. Queen of Sorcery by contrast, is the story of Garion’s journey through three discrete settings. He develops his moral code as he moves through all three, agreeing or disagreeing as he encounters different viewpoints.

The story begins in Arendia. Since the beginning of time, Arendia has been torn between three and then two different duchies. The Arendish civil war began in the far reaches of time, and continues, although subdued to this day. Technically the county was unified, but very few actually behave as if it had been. Garion befriends Lelldorin, an Asturian noble and revolutionary. He meets Mandorallan, a Mimbrate knight of great renown. Garion also succeeds in foiling a Murgo’s plan to start a civil war in Arendia.

We then see them travel to Tolnedra. Tolnedra is an empire that very much draws on the Roman tradition, togas and mantles and all. It is also the most capitalist and the most corrupt country that we have physically visited so far. It is in the midst of a secession crisis, and people are poisoning each other in the streets. They acquire a new traveling companion, Ce’Nedra, Imperial Princess of Tolnedra, who runs away from her father in protest of his restrictions on her life. Garion kills Asharak, who is revealed to be a Grolim priest, and the one who killed his parents. Garion kills Asharak using sorcery, burning Asharak alive.

Then everyone except Belgarath goes to Nyissa, while Belgarath follows the trail of the Orb of Aldur. Queen Salmissra kidnaps Garion when they arrive. She drugs Garion, but Polgara rescues him.

The Arendish Setting

The first images that we see in Arendia is of a broken castle, a fallen tower. Polgara also speaks about its grand past, and how she could not prevent it’s fall because of her greater duty, a grander scheme. The imagery and the grander scheme show how David Eddings expresses the Cold War in Arendia. We first see the specific imagery that aligns with the Cold War, and then the greater overarching elements.

Specific Images of Poverty

After Garion leaves the broken castle, he goes for a walk. He then overhears a conversation between two Arendish serfs. One of them asks how the other, from a different village, is doing. He responds, “We’re hungry. The taxes took all our food.’ ‘Ours too. We’ve been eating boiled tree roots.” (17). There is a great deal of poverty and starvation through the kingdom. The plight of these serfs moves Garion to one of his first great moments of empathy in the series.

Lelldorin has a similar moment of empathy for the serfs’ plight. Their company travels through a poor serf village and stay there overnight. The experience evokes the same pity from Lelldorin as the earlier conversation did for Garion.  Lelldorin offers to give up all his wealth and share their misery. When Garion points out that this will not improve their lives, Lelldorin changes his mind. “I’ll lead them in a revolt. I’ll sweep across Arendia with an army of serfs at my back. … “Why is that your first answer to everything Lelldorin?” (65).

It is no  secret that the USSR did not live up to the strictest ideals of communism. The communist revolution did not generate total equality; there was a high concentration of wealth at the upper levels and it was rather scarce at the lower. It is no secret either that the situation for the common people was no picnic even before, under the Bolsheviks.

In these two conversations, Eddings evokes these events. The conversation with the serfs acknowledges the pressures that lead to the communist revolution in the first place. Garion’s negation of Lelldorin’s revolutionary tendencies shows us Edding’s sympathies. Eddings argues that the communist revolution did not fix the poverty in Russia, and expresses it in Arendia here.

Specific Images of Rebellion

Lelldorin is an impetuous Asturian noble. The first physical detail that Garion notices about him is that he has red hair. This is significant because in the first book, Eddings used the color red to signal the Communist side of the USSR. Eddings broadens his use of the color red in this Queen of Sorcery. Now, red signals that the reader should take careful notice of the character and their surroundings because that character invariably has an important connection to the Cold War.

Lelldorin is involved in a plan to assassinate the Arendish King. “We’re going to ambush him on the highway.’ … ‘in the uniforms of Tolnedran legionnaires.” (41) They plan to wear disguises so that the Mimbrates will believe the Tolnedrans killed their King. This will cause the Mimbrates to declare war on Tolnedra. Tolnedra a country famous for their powerful military, will undoubtedly crush the Mimbrates. This will allow the Asturians to declare their independence. Nachak, a Murgo, suggested and funded the plan, and it is through his influence that the plan is going forward.

Garion explains to the hapless Lelldorin that this plan will not work. Even if they manage to kill Korodullin, it will cause massive chaos in Arendia and the rest of the Western countries. Chaos that the West cannot afford, with the Murgos and the rest of the Angaraks preparing for war.

This is evocative of the Vietnam war. The Vietnam war, strictly speaking, began after the coup that lead to martial law in Vietnam. There was already tension on both sides, as in the novel. After the death of the president, the country went up in flames and drew in outside military forces. If Lelldorin’s revolution had actually occurred, there is a good chance the war that followed would have been much like Vietnam, perhaps even worse. The Murgo involvement only solidifies this claim, as we’ll see.

Greater Images of Division

Arendia has been in a constant state of civil war for centuries. It is difficult to pinpoint a time in the history of the country where it was not feuding with itself. There used to be three feuding duchies; now there are just two. Two that were technically united after a historic war whose history is related in the prologue. Technically is the key word here. The Asturians dislike their Mimbrate counterparts, and the Mimbrates feel the same. There are frequent assassinations of Mimbrates; Asturian advancement is nonexistent. It’s all a jumbled mess.

Arendia’s problem is that it has two different historical leaders, each with different politics. This is incredibly reminiscent of the conflict that took place in the various places where the Cold War took place. See, the Cold War was never a true war between America and the USSR, it was fought by proxy. Specifically, in Korea and in Vietnam. Both the Soviet Union and the United States would back the people or groups in those countries that expressed their ideology. After a period of pronounced tension, war would break out between the two. North would fight South, and it would always be long and ugly.

Eddings puts in best when Garion and Lelldorin travel through a forest filled with the dead from in the various wars. “The floor of the forest is carpeted with old bones … ‘Why?’ ‘…At first for pride – and honor,’ Lelldorin replied. ‘Later for grief and revenge. Finally it was simply because we didn’t know how to stop.” (66). In some places in Arendia, it still hasn’t stopped.

Greater Images of the Great Game

Lelldorin asks Garion to alert the King to his revolutionary plans in order to stop it before it starts. When Garion is in the throne room wit his companions, he thinks about repeating patterns. First he stopped the overthrowing of King Anheg of Cherek. Now he’s trying to stop the overthrow of King Korodullin. He thinks.

“It seemed all at once like some elaborate game. The moves on the board were almost identical, … He felt oddly powerless, as if his entire life were in the fingers of two faceless players maneuvering pieces … on some vast board in a game that, for all he knew, lasted for eternity.” (123).

As mentioned, Cold War was fought by proxy. Add to that the “Great Game” imagery in political conflict between Britain and Russia at various points. Put these two points together and you get an answer on a Watsonian and Doylist perspective that lets you know this setting is highly related to the Cold War. Eddings published Queen of Sorcery in 1982, when the Cold War was winding down, but not quite finished. It had been raging for all of his adult life. From that perspective, it might seem never ending.

The mythology of Eddings’s universes has to do with the fact that patterns always repeat. Eddings was born in 1931, was a teenager during World War II, which followed up on tensions in WWI in multiple ways. He lived through Vietnam, then through Korea, two wars that, once again, echoed each other. He then lived through the McCarthy era, which echoed the first Red Scare.

For someone like Edding, the real conflict was always between Capitalism and Communism. They’d have physical manifestations in the presidents and unofficial leaders of the USSR. But they would never be permanent. All that there was were the two ideologies facing off against each other in an endless political game. That’s Arendia in a nutshell.

Tolnedra’s Setting

At first blush, Tolnedra is very much the Roman Empire. It has legions of soldiers, a complex road system through various countries, a senate, and feuding families. But, when you look at Tolnedra through the lens of the Cold War, you see something different. Tolnedra’s setting is a way for Eddings to explore capitalism and its downfalls.

 Capitalist Corruption and Setting

We are first introduced to Tolnedra with a corrupt customs officer. He receives a bribe from Silk and talks about the upcoming election. The emperor has no sons, so the dynasty is going to change quite soon. In typical Tolnedran fashion, it involves a great deal of money. “The selection … is in the hands of the Council of Advisers. … You wouldn’t believe the size of the bribes some of those men are asking for their votes,” (147). He talks about millions of dollars being raised to buy a councilor. Then, he says that people are killing the councilors so the different families keep needing to raise money to buy new ones.

Tolnedra is a nation that is heavily invested in trade. Silk reinforces this when he says, “It’s good to be back in Tolnedra again, … I love the smell of deceit, corruption, and intrigue.” (148) Recall that Silk a morally grey hero. He’s a spy and a thief who enjoys cheating his fellow merchants, when he’s disguised as one. His approval of Tolnedra’s nature condemns them both.

But our characters do not blindly accept the morals of Tolnedra of their own; they remain in their sensibilities. Thus, Eddings uses this setting to explore a communist’s view of an incredibly capitalist country. Tolnedra is a communist’s nightmare by design. The lust for money is even present in their religion.

In some ways, the country that Tolnedra most resembles is obvious. However, Tolnedra is not America, and is not intended to be so. Eddings’s America is very much a result of the New Deal, the most socialist legislation ever passed. In addition, every character except Silk expresses some disgust with Tolnedra at one point or another. While America may currently be leaning more towards being Tolnedra-ish, it was not entirely so when Eddings wrote Queen of Sorcery.

Ce’Nedra as Saving Grace

Ce’Nedra is the most important character from Tolnedra. She is emblematic of the country, and she also has red hair. While Ce’Nedra has flaws, being spoiled, short-tempered, and obsessed with her own ‘cleverness’, she’s also how Eddings salvages Tolnedra.

Ce’Nedra’s sheltered upbringing allows her to escape from the worst of Tolnedran vices. She is oblivious to the real nature of Tolnedra. She ran away from her father. But, when she overhears a relative conspiring to turn her over to a political rival for money, she is furious. Silk says, “A Tolnedran’s greatest loyalty is to his purse. … I’m surprised you haven’t discovered that by now, your Highness.” (214). Her naivete leads her to believe the best in people. She believes that people are more motivated by their family ties than by their funds.

Anther way in which Ce’Nedra is important in the Cold War metaphor is that she serves as Garion’s love interest. When Ce’Nedra ran away from her father, she died her hair black. When she returns it to it’s natural shade, and thus her significance to the metaphor is restored, she immediately begins flirting with Garion. “Garion’ … ‘Would you like to kiss me?’ Garion’s heart started to pound. ” (222). The flirtation, and the reciprocation, is incredibly significant.

As we have established, Ce’Nedra largely escapes the pitfalls of capitalist, corrupt Tolnedra as a whole. However, she is still highly tied to a capitalist mindset. In her flirtation and budding romance with the protagonist, Eddings uses her as a symbol. Ce’Nedra and her romance with Garion reties the narrative to capitalist ideals, though the better capitalist ideals. If Ce’Nedra had not been in the story, we would have simply hated Tolnedra. But because she is present, Tolnedra, and thus capitalism, are reaffirmed as central to the story.

Nyissa’s Setting

When talking about Nyissa, one invariably winds up talking about Orientalist stereotypes. Because of said stereotypes and the overarching metaphor, Nyissa is tied inextricably with Vietnam. The setting and geography of both are very similar. Vietnam has mangrove swamps; Nyissa has, “a vast, reeking pool of stagnant water. … great gnarled roots twisted up out of the ooze along the banks,” (264). The geographic parallels are quite obvious, both here and elsewhere. Before I move on, details on the Vietnam war and the military coup mentioned both below and above can be found here and here if you want to read more yourself.

The Vietnam Coup and Salmissra’s Fall

Upon entering Nyissa, Garion’s companions attempt to stay undercover. However, this fails when Garion attempts to rescue a Nyissan slave from a leech infected river.

Salmissra organizes the kidnapping of Garion through one of her eunuch servants and a crook for hire. Salmissra then drugs Garion so that she can control him. Afterwards, Salmissra hears a Murgo ambassador from Ctuchik, the head Grolim priest. She says, “My terms are very simple … I’m not afraid of Polgara…Tell Ctuchik that upon the day that I am wed to Torak, Belgarion will be in his hands.” (301). Belgarion is another name for Garion, and the name change is important for the prophecy that drives the story.

In the metaphor, Salmissra represents the Vietnamese public opinion that was swayed against capitalism by the policies of president Diem regarding the Buddhist protesters. This is appropriate as, in the text, she emphasizes her religious power. Salmissra is not just the Queen of Nyissa, she’s the high priestess and one of a series. Each Salmissra is chosen for similarity in personality and physicality to the original Salmissra.

Polgara then rescues Garion, and the drugs are purged from his body. Polgara says, “I’m going to solve the problem of Salmissra once and for all.” (311). She then proceeds to turn Salmissra into an immortal snake. This event represents the coup against president Diem. While Diem opposed communism, the circumstances surrounding the event in the novel make the connection concrete. Garion is a close allegory to president Kennedy. While Kennedy eventually supported the coup,  it was first proposed by one of his advisers. Polgara is the one that transforms Salmissra into a serpent, which similarly displaces her from her position in politics.

Finally, at the same time as this, a volcano explodes. This signals the coming reemergence of Torak, the Sleeping God. Just as the military coup led to the Vietnam war, the displacement of a leader invariably leads to war in Edding’s metaphor.


In Queen of Sorcery, Eddings draws on three different settings for effect. Arendia is a setting that sympathizes with the conditions that drove Russia to communism. However, Arendia is also a place that eventually rejects rebellion and division. Tolnedra is a communist’s worst nightmare in a country. Ce’Nedra’s absorbance of only some of her countries morals saves Tolnedra and reties the story to a capitalist perspective. The setting of Nyissa and Salmissra’s turning into a snake draw very heavily on the events surrounding the start of the Vietnam war.

Thus, Eddings uses setting to express his metaphor. Sometime he uses more nuance (Arendia) and sometimes less (Nyissa). However, all of his settings in this novel drive the Cold War metaphor forward, as all the subsequent books will do in different ways.

Image Courtesy Del Rey Books

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