Menu Home

Feminist Quibbles with the Belgariad

Arthur has almost finished reading David Eddings’ The Belgariad aloud to me. I’ve loved this ‘sword and sorcery’ fantasy series since I was a teenager. They’re not particularly well-written fiction (seriously, every wind is a ‘gusty wind’!) but they’re still a rollicking good read with lively characters, witty exchanges and a grand quest. 

The main character is a little boy, Garion but he’s surrounded by strong women. There’s his Aunt Pol, a sorceress who is both the most beautiful and powerful woman in the world. And his queen-to-be, Ce’Nedra whose power of manipulation sees that she always gets her way. Then there are the Queens who pop up. My favourite is wise Queen Porenn who fell in love with old, fat King Rhodar and is heavily involved in running his spy network, all while she nurses her infant son! And even though all the gods are male, there’s a profound respect for ‘the universe’, an even more powerful entity than they are, and she’s referred to as ‘Mother’.

Maybe it’s because I was enjoying these characters so much that I never realised what a terribly conservative note the books end on. *SPOILERS AHEAD*

OK, so the whole gang is at Cthol Mishrak, Garion’s just topped Torak and Pol’s willing to give up her power to see Durnik brought back to life. That last bit unfolds according to the god Aldur’s reasoning:

Aldur: Marriage must be a joining of equals, my daughter. How could this good, brave man be husband to thee so long as thy power remains?

To Garion’s astonishment (bless him!) that message is reinforced by Belgarath:

“No marriage could survive that sort of inequality.”

Look, I’m all for marriage being a joining of equals, but let’s just consider whether sorcery is an adequate measure of that power. Garion’s a sorcerer and yet, it’s fine for him to marry Ce’Nedra, whose powers, effective though they may be, are quite ordinary. No, apparently there’s no inequality if the man in the relationship has powers his wife doesn’t have. The only problem if it’s the other way around. Marriage can’t survive a powerful woman, it seems.

Moving on to the second problem. Belgarath considers how different life will be without his daughter by his side:

Polgara’s been almost like a son to me but perhaps it’s time that I let her be a woman. I’ve denied her that for too long.

Take a deep breath, because this has problems on multiple levels. First of all, how can it be that it will be marriage to Durnik that will finally mean Polgara is a woman? Up to this point, she’s been described as the most beautiful woman in the world (and used that to her advantage) and was charged with protecting and nurturing a family line for 1000 years. However conservative your definition of femininity, she fits it! But secondly, why is it that her role as Belgarath’s partner in sorcery is the role of a son, not a daughter? Is it unnatural for women to be powerful or to have a career or to care for their fathers? How are any of those things contrary to what is means to be a woman?!

It is a little disappointing to see Eddings tie up the loose ends in such neat little bows, as if he can allow his powerful female character some leverage, as long as eventually, she conforms to traditional notions of femininity. Not that that will keep me from reading and re-reading these old favourites. Dare I say it’s a woman’s prerogative to be irrational?!

Categories: Book Woman Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

3 replies

  1. So I take the points about Pol, but I can’t help wondering if you’re over-reaching just a tad on the Garion / Ce-Nedra dynamic. It seems to me that there was a fair amount of discussion about power and equality in their relationship too. In fact, Ce-Nedra was pretty snooty when she worked out that Garion as “Overlord of the West” outranked her. And then when he made her join Overlord/Lady, she outranked him. I know he still has magical powers that she doesn’t have, but it seems that the issue of him being less powerful than her was also on the cards.

  2. I agree that Ce’Nedra is powerful in her own way but my point is that she’s not powerful in the terms that Aldur sets out – magical power. If the problem was just generic power, we could have a discussion about Durnik’s quiet dignity or perhaps his ability to influence people through his uprightness. But character and other types of power are not even on the agenda here…

  3. But in the end doesn’t Durnik get powers instead of Polgara giving hers up? But I do see your point. Also, that isn’t where it ends. There’s the follow-up Mallorean series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: