The month of June has been a night-shift riddled pit into which it has been utterly impossible to pour any sort of light; The idea of turning my poor, jet-lagged little mind to anything resembling an original idea has been far too much to ask of it. Enter ‘The Comfort Book’ stage left.
The Comfort Book is that familiar old friend that you turn to when you are feeling rubbish, just looking for a safe haven to curl up in and a bit of relief from reality without any surprises. I have a great range of comfort books – enough those first frantic months of covid I managed to happily rotate through them without repeating myself at all. They were a large part of the drive behind my reading challenge this year actually – trying to move me beyond my comfort zone to something a little more exciting.
This particular Comfort Book is not simply a book – it is a series. I would like to introduce you all to The Belgariad by David Eddings.
I was introduced to The Belgariad series as a teenager by a friend of mine with impeccable taste in books. I worked my way through her library with an unsurpassed greed, moving past the Belgariad to the next marvel and regretting later when she went to university (taking her books with her) that I did not have my own copy. On searching for a copy in bookshops my dad’s partner at the time simply gave me all twelve of her books from the series, happily rehoming them without a backwards glance. And thus I had a shelf-full of comfort book to revel in.
The thing that I love most about this series is the inter-character banter. The quips, the running jokes, the cheeky asides – they all combine into a rolling micky-take which follows a handful of characters firstly through the initial 5-book series, and takes several of them further through the second 5-book serires. The characters are florious by themselves, but combined they are both formidable and hilarious.
My personal favourite absolutely has to be Silk. Silk is presented as a thief and a spy with few redeeming qualitites, but he is my absolute hero in this book simply for the level of jabby humour that he brings to the group. I actually borrowed Silk as a character for a D&D campaign several years ago and it was one of the best decisions that I made. He is so outrageous, so flamboyant, so willing to play with people that he was an absolute joy to play.
The best thing about playing Silk was that everything I did needed to have a dual-purpose, a secret hidden intention; with Silk I got to be SNEAKY. Stealthy humour, double-meanings and sly innuendo were the name of the game and I absolutely loved him. Everything was about the Game, and it was SO much fun. I strongly recommend taking your favourite book character to a D&D game and letting loose – it’s great.
After Silk I think my favourite character had to be Polgara. She is has simply the driest comebacks and regularly absolutely obliterates an ego or an argument with a barbed quip or a sickly-sweet admiration that dries up the braggarts and muppets in any hearing range. She is regal and humble, practical and glorious in a marvellous mix of sorceress and mother-figure, with a ready flow of wit running silent interference on any silly schemes or irritations that she doesn’t feel like indulging in.
The final book on this particular set of characters is actually written from the point of view of Polgara, following her life from birth to the beginning of the first book, and it give wonderful insight into a lot of her motives and prejudices through the series (interestingly David Eddings credits his wife as co-author in this book). She is given the platform necessary in that book to really enjoy her sense of humour, shedding a slightly different light on any number of interactions through the series. I am guilty of having stolen some of her better lines over the past few years and I’m not sorry.
Garion is the main character in the two series (with the two stand alones following Polgara and Belgarath). He starts the series as a child looking on as big events unfold around him and the author did a brilliant job of leaking just enough information around him that both he and us the readers have a decent outline of what is happening but with just few enough details that both his and our curiosities are aflame from the beginning. As events unfurl one by one and the plot becomes both clearer and murkier Garion grows in the pages in front of us and begins to become more of a player rather than just an observer.
He begins to pick up on the banter around him and acquires some of the more interesting skills and habits of his companions, becoming more and more interesting as the series progresses. He is a good person, with a strong sense of right and wrong inherited from both Polgara and the solid, dependable Durnik who accompanies them. He also has a charming way of simplifying quite complex notions and events to a sentence or two, and ignoring the confusion surrounding a matter to see into the heart of it. It’s a trait that serves him well later in the series. By the end he has inherited much of Polgara’s dry manner, but without quite the same devastating effect.
It would be difficult to discuss the strong characters of this series without touching on Belgarath. He is the legendary leader of this adventure with both a towering and disreputable reputation worldwide. He is a scholar and a drunkard in (sometimes) equal measures, with several questionable habits, the wisdom of eons and the blessing of a god. He is cheeky and harsh and no-nonsense with a sense of humour that comes and goes depending on who is the butt of the joke. He is indispensible as a character as he pulls together the group and provides the necessary direction for the story to move forwards. Without him it would just generally be a romp, which although probably highly amusing to read probably wouldn’t have made a fantasy epic in the way that this series has worked out.
The one thing that I find bewildering about this series is how few people I hear talking about it. It was first published in 1982 which means it’s not exactly recent news but then neither is Lord of the Rings or the Narnia series! While it hasn’t recieved the same wide following I regard this series to be my favourite fantasy series, especially in filling the Comfort Book requirement, helped by its easy reading style and undercurrent of humour and humanity. It’s able to be read by children and adults alike, and I simply cannot recommend it any higher.
Please do yourself a favour and find a copy.
For those interested, here is a link to the GoodReads site – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44659.Pawn_of_Prophecy