The Belgariad and the Malloreon: The Dream Cast

Last month her Ladyship attempted to cast The Moonstone; this month she’ll be following a tribute to David and Leigh Eddings with some imagine-casting of The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Though it was the wish of David and Leigh that their work never be adapted, many fans find it hard to resist fooling around like this at least once. Her Ladyship sets herself the additional challenge of having only one sentence in which to defend each proposed cast member.

Garion.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

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If the producers want to avoid jolting the audience around with multiple actors playing Garion at the different stages of his life, Brodie-Sangster is the actor they should pick: he’s capable of being sweepingly charismatic, adorable and everything in between, which should be of considerable help both with portraying Garion’s destiny and his eminently practical personality.

Asa Butterfield.

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He’s been taking on simultaneously complex and movingly simplistic roles since he was nine, from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to Hugo, making this already-eminent soon-to-be former child actor a formidable potential Garion.

Belgarath.

Gary Oldman.

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Yes, he really is that old now: Oldman’s done a lifetime of powerful flamboyance and weirdness mixed up with career-defining and moving performances in Immortal Beloved and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which, together with his expressive face and quietly dominant presence, would have no trouble in showing us how Belgarath effortlessly commands simply by slumping down a flight of stairs.

Rupert Graves.

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Having played every mood from hyperactive in A Room with a View to paranoid schizophrenic in Law and Order: UK, the naturally charismatic Graves would easily capture Belgarath’s wit, cheek and sarcasm as well as his power, wisdom and grief.

Polgara.

Eva Green.

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Apart from being almost supernaturally beautiful, her allure and acting style are both very mature and very youthful, two contradictions that embody Polgara’s condition as an immortal.

Emilia Fox.

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A brilliant and endearingly lovely actress, her work on Silent Witness was highly psychological (indispensable when playing an immortal character) and she has experience playing a mother figure thanks to her work on Merlin.

Lara Pulver.

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One of the most effortlessly photogenic and inexplicably alluring actresses out there, she’s brilliantly played a dominatrix concealing sentimental tendencies in Sherlock and a single mother juggling parenthood with MI5 in Spooks; both of these representing aspects of Polgara’s personality.

Durnik.

Kevin McKidd.

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While he perfectly embodies Durnik’s ‘look’ as an unexceptional, ordinary person, McKidd is also blessed with great acting skills, subtlety and a vivid mastery of facial expression that could only succeed in bringing to life Durnik’s journey.

Barak.

John Rhys Davies.

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Through his work on The Lord of the Rings and the Indiana Jones movies, we know that he can play tough and battle-hardened extremely well, together with the surprising gentleness and sentimentality that crops up in Barak’s character – suits Barak’s look, but might be too old.

Silk.

Emun Elliott.

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A relatively unknown actor gifted with charisma that makes the corners of your mouth turn up, his work on The Paradise and his brief appearance on Game of Thrones have shown us that he can do flamboyant sarcasm as well as profound grief: too good-looking for the part, but that can easily be rectified.

Hettar.

Rupert Friend.

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His work on Chéri has proved that he’s capable of doing cruel, his work on The Young Victoria that he can also act the lover: these would both be indispensable in Hettar’s bloodlust for Murgos and relationship (or whatever it was before they got married) with Adara.

Ce’Nedra.

Georgie Henley.

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The Narnia films and her striking cameo in Jane Eyre have proved to us that this is a dazzling, expressive actress who acts straight from the soul; the fact that we haven’t seen her since either of these productions may have blinded us to the fact that she is now a gorgeous young woman who could play Ce’Nedra in her sleep.

Lucy Boynton.

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Her delightful and funny performance as feisty tomboy Margaret Dashwood in 2008’s Sense and Sensibility, together with her elven features, suggest that she’d be able to portray both Ce’Nedra’s charm and her many annoyances.

Beldin.

Toby Jones.

010CRE-Toby-Jones-001In addition to having the right look and the approximate right height, Creation and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy reveal Jones’ skills at playing intensely angry and crotchety, Titanic (2012) his ability to be heartbreakingly human: perfect!

Mandorallen.

Rupert Penry-Jones.

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Despite being a great actor, Penry-Jones has a kind of natural gravity about him no matter which role he plays: the former would lend weight to Mandorallen’s exasperating chivalric philosophy, the latter would be useful when the greater subtleties of the character begin to be exposed.

Lelldorin.

Lee Williams.

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Something tells me Williams would do well as an enthusiastic young idiot, and the moving expressiveness of his performance in The Forsyte Saga means that he could easily cream the awful moment when Lelldorin loses his cousin Torasin in battle.

Relg.

Adrien Brody.

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An actor of astounding versatility, it’s mainly Brody’s role in The Brother’s Bloom that made me imagine him as Relg: sullen, melancholy and with huge eyes, you can easily imagine him crapping on about sin and portraying Relg’s (slow) psychological transformation once he meets Taiba.

Sadi.

Timothy Spall.

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Spall has spent a lifetime playing slightly odd, eccentric characters that are also human beings: this makes him perfect for Sadi’s transformation from perpetually-high and powdered eunuch to clear-minded joker and master poisoner.

Zakath.

Nathaniel Parker.

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We’ve seen from Merlin that Parker, who suits the physical description of Zakath almost perfectly, is more than capable of playing ruthless, bloody and frightening; we’ve also seen from Stardust that he’s equally good at playing soft-hearted and vulnerable, and packing a big emotional punch in a short space of time.

Cyradis.

Adelaide Clemens.

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A brilliant young actress starting to come into her own after Parade’s End, Clemens is excellent at being sweet and innocent, but also at taking no shit, something that comes in handy for Cyradis on many occasions, however polite she may be.

Liselle.

Karen Gillan.

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In Doctor Who, Gillan is endlessly entertaining at being charming, cheeky and sexy, which should provide hours of fun in her many exchanges with Silk and her fewer, though equally naughty ones with Zakath.

Salmissra.

Fanny Ardant.

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While not as young-looking as the Salmissra of the books, Madame Ardant is brilliant at playing the sultry temptress: I also think Garion being tempted by a sexy older woman would be very refreshing.

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A Tribute to David and Leigh Eddings

 

‘On a quiet hillside some distance from the struggle taking place on the north bank, the simpleminded serf boy from the Arendish forest was playing his flute. His melody was mournful, but even in its sadness, it soared to the sky. The boy did not understand the fighting and he had wandered away unnoticed. Now he sat alone on the grassy hillside in the warm, midmorning sunlight with his entire soul pouring out of his flute.

The Malloreon soldier who was creeping up behind him with drawn sword had no ear for music. He did not know – or care – that the song the boy played was the most beautiful song any man had ever heard.

The song ended very suddenly, never to begin again.’

                                                                                                           – David and Leigh Eddings, Enchanter’s Endgame.

It is now almost four years and six years respectively since the deaths of David and Leigh Eddings, the formidably imaginative, articulate and talented husband and wife team (though they preferred the term ‘co-conspirators’) that brought us such great fantasy epics as The Belgariad; The Malloreon; their two prequels; The Tamuli, The Elenium and The Redemption of Althalus. Through a discussion of The Belgariad and The Malloreon, the two works with which she is the most familiar, Her Ladyship pays tribute to the Eddingses’ inestimable contribution to the world of fantasy literature and mourns the gaping hole they have left behind.

Reading The Belgariad and its sequel The Malloreon is an unforgettable imaginative experience; the descriptive style of the writing appealing so vividly to the senses that when crossing the perfectly flat, never-ending grass plains of Algaria, you feel the wind as it hits your face from the force of travelling across all that open space. In the Vale of Aldur, you listen to the silence broken only by the sound of trees, and feel peace wash over your entire being as you comprehend Aldur’s presence in this place. In Riva, you smell rock, the sea and salt; in Cthol Murgos you feel your retinas popping out at the garishness and just plain ugliness of the architecture, and in the swamps of Nyissa, you curse at the humidity and swat at the insects before realising that the whole world is beautiful: ‘you just need to know how to look at it.’

David and Leigh Eddings were the best world builders since Tolkien, and no contemporary fantasy writer has equaled them yet. While their world is every bit as complex as those of Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin, for example, there is none of the exhausting and often exasperating voluminousness of these last two: the Eddingses are capable of expressing what they wish to express in a quarter of the page space that Jordan or GRRM would take, and on top of this, they do it better. National traits, tendencies, industries, likes and dislikes are so well integrated into the story through plot and especially through character that even the most casual Eddings fan will be able to tell you, when asked, that Alorns would chop an enemy in half without blinking an eye but would never dream of poisoning him; that Arends are not to be trusted with anything and I mean anything that would require even a sparkle of brainpower; that one should never ask a Tolnedran for a favour unless you’re willing to pay (a lot); and that trying to keep a secret in Drasnia is completely and utterly impossible. You’re very likely being spied on by spies who are being spied on by other spies. The Eddingses spread this gorgeous complexity across northern and southern hemispheres and an entire world map; each separate kingdom, culture and people completely unique. Who could forget the marble majesty of Mal Zeth, spreading as it does across an entire valley, or the opulent, artificial beauty of Melcena, where even the mountains are manicured? Think of the gorgeous, impossibly huge natural mountain loveliness of Kell, the mournful ruins of Vo Wacune and the towering castle walls of Vo Mimbre. Think of the immense subterranean labyrinth of caves where the Ulgos sing a constant hymn to their God UL, their song reverberating off the walls forever, travelling from one network of caves to the other. These are the Kingdoms of the Alorns and the Angaraks, and their intricacies and subtleties are infinite.

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It takes impressive characterisation to accomplish such a melting pot of cultures in such a short space of time (well – if you can call twelve books a short space of time), and the Eddingses’ characters are unique in that almost all of them are traditional fantasy types that have been transformed into thinking, feeling, three-dimensional human beings.

Belgarath, the saga’s mighty wizard, is a case in point. Though portrayed in much Eddings cover art to be a cardboard cutout of Gandalf, right down to the white robe, he’s actually a superbly original departure from stereotype. At approximately 7000 years old, he’s past caring about a lot of things. This is exemplified by his continual sporting of an ancient tunic spotted with last century’s grease, which he ties with a bit of rope, and, having been unable to find a single pair of shoes that is adequate to his needs, mismatched boots. He is also partial to large quantities of ale at all hours of the day and night, and to ladies seeking to provide recreation in exchange for money. He’s crotchety, cheeky to kings and peasants alike, and a ruthless, sometimes cruel enemy. On the surface, he’s comical, rude and extremely useful in a tight spot. Only those close to him know of the suicidal depression he suffered after the death of his beloved wife Poledra and how it caused him to initially neglect his twin daughters Polgara and Beldaran, causing him suffering and guilt that persist to this day and that he hopelessly attempts to ignore. The great wizard is thus a human being who suffers like other human beings and loves like them too: he doesn’t waste time hanging around attempting to look wise.

Another feature of the fantasy epic is the light-footed master of humour and sarcasm. Function: comic relief, thievery and fighting. When inserted into one end of the Eddings imaginative machine, this stereotype is spit out at the other end as Silk, whose name should appear on every ‘greatest fantasy character ever’ poll in existence. A Drasnian prince who discovered an early affinity with his kingdom’s national industry (spying), as well as the emptiness of titles and honours, Silk is arguably the greatest spy alive. Capable of changing identity as well as his facial features and voice at a moment’s notice, he can talk himself in and out of any situation and place, cannot be held by any prison for a great length of time (well, there was that one time when we started to get worried); is a master observer (and consequently a great cheat at dice), a deadly fighter, a financial genius (from street level to corporate level) and can blend into any crowd or group of people like a ghost. He also enjoys irritating his friends to distraction (and his enemies to worse) with his biting wit and relentless sarcasm, and has become so confused by the vast number of identities he’s assumed over the years that he often doubts who he actually is. All of this is fairly standard fantasy, and indeed fairly standard fiction, stuff. But like Belgarath, a significant portion of his life has been dominated and marked by tragedies and disasters. Not only is he under the obligation to lie constantly to his mother about the extent of the horrific disfigurement and blindness she suffered during a plague, he also (in The Belgariad) has the misfortune to fall deeply in love with his uncle the King’s young wife Porenn, a fact that is so awfully obvious in his consistently sarcastic behavior towards her that none of his friends can bear to mention it. The scene in which Silk, dead drunk and alone following one of his dreaded visits to his mother, cries like a child in Porenn’s arms, is possibly one of the saddest things ever written. So while Silk may have grown out of a fantasy type, his character is far from stereotypical.

Ce'Nedra artwork by moonstruckmusings on tumblr

Ce’Nedra artwork by moonstruckmusings on tumblr

The sagas’ female characters are also portrayed with great subtlety and allure, the Eddingses poking continual fun at the subservient position they occupy in Alorn and Angarak society by providing us with a stream of powerful women that make some of their male ‘superiors’ (notably the otherwise enlightened King Anheg of Cherek) froth at the mouth at the use of ‘powerful’ and ‘woman’ in the same sentence. There is, of course, the eternally resilient and beloved Aunt Pol, whose renown and power transcends her gender; there’s Porenn, the Queen Mother and Regent of Drasnia, a political genius and of appropriate shrewdness for the ruler of a nation of spies; there’s Cyradis, the fragile young Seeress whose choice will determine the fate of the universe; and of course, Liselle, who possesses equal skills in combat and espionage to Silk and rather charmingly specialises in strangulation. One notices that Liselle is the only one of these formidable ladies who knows her way around a sword, and though others like her exist (like Garion’s cousin Adara), the vast majority of Eddings women find a way to transcend gender roles that do not involve sword play, and stay ordinary women for most of the time. Aunt Pol has lived large sections of her life in a state of permanent domesticity as she guards the bloodline of the Rivan king in obscurity, something that she has come to cherish just as much as the ideals that motivate her in the fight against Torak. Lady Tamazin, one of the wives of the psychopathic Murgo King Taur Urgas, overcame her terror of her husband for one night to be with a person she felt a profound connection with: Silk’s father. And let’s not forget about Ce’Nedra, who liked to scream, cry, go shopping and count money, activities which she briefly suspended to raise an army, wear armour and win a war without fighting in it, before going back to screaming, crying, shopping and counting money. Notwithstanding this rather original approach to feminism in fantasy, which advocates the importance of ordinary people during extraordinary times, Eddings women are also portrayed with astonishing realism and insight as to how women really think and feel, a quality that is considerably lacking in conventional fiction, both at the time The Belgariad and The Malloreon were written, and today. Wikipedia assures us that we have Leigh Eddings to thank for this aspect of the sagas’ narrative strength, which makes me only too happy that her considerable contribution to David Eddings’ work is now being recognised by printing both their names on new editions of their work (though getting photographs of her online is apparently impossible).

The Belgariad, The Malloreon and their two prequels Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress are magnificent and awe-inspiring testaments to the heights to which imagination can soar, to the detail it can acquire and to the way in which great writing can bring a reader into that vision, so that they don’t just see it: they touch it and feel it as well. The many kingdoms of the fantasy genre are somehow smaller without David and Leigh, veering like some huge pendulum between the mythological and the modern. The Eddingses’ works are unique in that they strike a perfect balance between the two. They’re consequently epic beyond description, moving, eccentric, despondent and very, very striking, as much a cinematic experience as a literary one.

Sansa, Arya and creepy older men: why people need to calm the fuck down.

If A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones have taught us anything, it’s that one can never truly define or anticipate the complexity of human relationships, or what one person means to another. In Westeros, as in life, affinities spring up between the unlikeliest of people, and this chemistry, which causes many fleeting meetings of eyes, moments of sadness, thrills of horror and small smiles of recognition, is often so powerful and so interesting that we can’t wait to get these people alone together to observe like scientists what sort of things they’ll get up to. Game of Thrones abounds with relationships like this, but the ones that simultaneously cause the most controversy and the most swooning are without doubt those that stem from Sansa and Arya’s odd propensity to experience intense chemistry and identification with creepy, oddly magnetic men that are much older than either of them. For Sansa, it’s Sandor and Littlefinger, for Arya, it’s Jaqen. But here comes the problem: readers and viewers who oppose these relationships aren’t so much concerned with the fact that our heroines are associating with amoral killing machines, amoral sociopaths or amoral Faceless Men, only with the fact that they’re experiencing these feelings in spite of a huge age gap. Don’t the Stark girls have more important things to worry about? Let’s appeal to the mother grundies to calm the fuck down, and take a better look at why hurling accusations of inappropriateness and paedophilia around does nothing but make mountains out of molehills and sling mud at beautiful things.

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Game of Thrones -  The Ghost of Harrenhal - Arya

Medieval history and the fantasy genre both abound with significant age gaps between men and women, none of which lead to much disaster.

During the Crusades, for instance, Frankish nobility, particularly girls, would often marry as young as nine or ten (consummation not allowed), with fourteen to sixteen being the norm. Many of these political marriages to significantly older men were terrific successes: men of thirty or forty would fall passionately in love with their young brides, and the marriage would often come to resemble the relationship that exists between modern couples who have known each other since infancy. Men would see their wives as incarnations of youthful optimism and innocence, and women would see their husbands as father figures that would protect them and that they could look up to. Suggesting to such a couple that their relationship is indecent on the grounds of an age gap would probably get you drawn and quartered if you were lucky. For once, incredibly, the Crusaders are right: there is nothing indecent about this kind of love. If anything, it is more profound than many modern relationships.

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Then there’s the question of age gaps in the fantasy genre. In more classical fantasy novels, notably the works of David Eddings, there exists a healthy quantity of teenagers falling in love with teenagers, but also a fair amount of very young women in their late teens to early twenties beginning relationships with middle-aged men, with great success. The Malloreon is perhaps the best example of this. The Margravine Liselle, an ingenious and witty young spy, falls in love with the infinitely but adorably devious spy and reader-favourite Silk. Now middle-aged, he used to amuse himself with chasing her and pulling her braids when she was still a little girl, and consequently has trouble with the decidedly adult feelings that he now cultivates towards her. But in all ways, they’re a perfect fit: they’re an ideal intellectual match and brilliant at their shared profession, the depth of their feelings often concealed by a constant witty repartee that becomes part of their daily life. There’s also the moving case of Zakath and Cyradis. A powerful and ruthless Emperor in his mid-forties, Zakath is possessed by a horrifying guilt and anger brought on by his having executed the woman he was in love with for a treason she did not commit. He spends most of his life paying the world back by drowning it in blood. Cyradis, on the other hand, is a young Seeress defined by her delicate archaic speech and a vulnerability caused by the blindness she must adopt in order to maintain the power of prophecy. Each is inspired by instinct to protect the other, so that each becomes the refuge and the peace of the other. So: are you honestly going to tell Liselle, Silk, Zakath and Cyradis that their feelings are indecent? Liselle, Silk and Cyradis might even let you live. Zakath would simply crucify you.

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BUT! I hear you say. We don’t want Sansa and Arya to stay away from Sandor, Littlefinger and Jaqen because they’re older than them! It’s because they’re dangerous company for anyone. Yes, this is also a good argument. Boring, but good. But if we object to Sansa and Arya hanging out with such dangerous people, then why do we fixate so constantly about an age gap that isn’t actually relevant to how dangerous these men are? Maybe it’s because chucking a word like ‘paedophilia’ into an argument is a sure-fire way to get your opponent to back down.

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BUT! I hear you say. You’ve talked about ages fourteen to sixteen being normal in the Crusades and late teens, early twenties being normal in fantasy. In the books, Sansa and Arya start out as eleven and nine respectively, in the TV series as thirteen and eleven. It’s not okay for girls that young to be romantically involved with older guys, is it? No, it definitely isn’t. Except that Sansa and Arya aren’t ‘romantically involved’ with any of these men. They simply feel a connection with them, an attraction to them that they can’t really account for (and don’t forget that Sansa rejects Littlefinger’s advances). And it’s not like you need to be grown up to feel a connection with someone. All this ‘shipping’ that some people find so disturbing is simply in anticipation of something truly great that could occur once the girls hit an acceptable age. For both of them, but for Sansa in particular, that deadline is not far off.

Human relationships, and especially human feelings, are intense and complicated. We find ourselves watching others, listening to others, trusting others, without knowing why. This is called chemistry, and it exists in any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise. This is an ageless truth, and living as we do in a modern age often makes us forget that things that harken back to our past, even in as indirect a way as fantasy, should be understood as they were in that past. In the Crusades and in classical fantasy, a fourteen year old is a woman grown: in reading A Song of Ice and Fire and watching Game of Thrones, that should be our attitude too.

(featured image is by game-of-thrones-confession on tumblr)