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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sexism of David Eddings

Okay, so I am a huge fan of David (and Leigh) Eddings, but I’ve recently discovered some things about their work that has me outraged (and my personality loves it when I’m outraged, so here we go).

I’ve read almost everything by the Eddings’s (The Belgariad and Mallorean consisting of five books each, plus Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, The Redemption of Althalus, and more recently the four books of The Dreamers, so you can safely say that I’m a devout follower of their work).

Being a feminist ultimately means that I cannot avoid tearing apart popular culture—which means I annoy my boyfriend pretty much every time we see a movie or watch a t.v. show because I like to point out sexist and racist rhetoric. So I will now vent in a blog. Hooray.

Anyway, as much as I love David Eddings, I have been reading The Dreamers and have noticed a pattern with the Eddings’ work. His female characters are pretty much the same. Polgara, Ara, Dweia—they’re all the same, just different names and hair color. Oh, way to go on making characters unique. But it gets worse. Much worse. These women are the most powerful characters in the stories, but the stories are never about them because even though they’re powerful, they’re somehow limited so that they still need a man to fulfill some prophecy, win some war, or whatever. These women are just there to protect and raise the men (basically mother figures), but when it comes to the real fight or work, the men step in. But wait, there’s more. These women are all described as stunning—they’re beauty is so great that men are willing to do the hard work for them, but their beauty is always partnered with their cooking skills. They are goddesses, mothers of the universe, and powerful sorceresses, but nothing can match their power over food! Any time one of the male characters notes the woman’s beauty, it is almost always followed by another male character complimenting her cooking. And I would say these comments appear quite often—just about every time the female in question makes an appearance to alert the men that dinner is ready.

The women characters also seem to follow structured gender roles (or assumptions) in the way they speak or act. I love the stories, but I have to roll my eyes every time one male character whines about how the women get together and talk about clothes and hair. Really?? There’s major shit happening in the world: bad people are threatening the West, the world could be destroyed, and invasions of bug-people must be stopped. WHY WOULD THE WOMEN CHAT ABOUT HAIR AND CLOTHES????? I think what makes it worse is that David Eddings’s wife, Leigh Eddings, co-writes some of these books, and consults on all of them. I wonder if she just ignores these things, or if she’s the one that says, “Hmmm, the men are hungry dear. Better have that powerful and fearsome sorceress whip up some dinner. Can’t save the world without a hot meal, now can we?”

I just got to a part of the fourth book in The Dreamers series, where the army was moving too slow, so the most powerful woman (creator of the gods and goddesses and planets, and the whole freakin’ universe) went ahead of the army and lured them up the mountains with smells of her food. Why not conjure up a lightning storm and zap some motivation into their slow asses? I mean, in the previous book she sent a flaming tornado through a gorge to torch the entire opposing army of bad people!

So, I ask, is David Eddings sexist, or is he of that older generation that grew up with set ways that cannot be changed, and is his wife in the same boat?

I cannot deny that the Eddings’s have been very influential to me, since I’ve been reading their books for years, but I’ve reached a point where I read one of their books now and stop and think how I could make it better, stronger, less sexist, more empowering, and overall a story that carries more depth. As much as I love the stories, I feel that each one has the same characters (even the men follow the same patterns of tough leaders—and they all have the same voice and sense of humor—it gets really tedious after awhile. It’s similar to reading a Piers Anthony novel of Xanth; I mean, we all love the puns, but there are so many that we can’t help rolling our eyes after awhile). I’m certainly not trying to discourage anyone from reading these books, but please tell me I’m not the only person annoyed by this.

I just find it all irritating. Thank god for China Miéville, right? If there is sexism, I can’t tell. All his characters are individuals, and just when you think there might be a pattern, Miéville changes it up until you can’t predict anything. Now that’s a writer.

I have yet to read The Elenium, and I’m hoping it will redeem their credibility. I just wish they could break the mold, but so far they all follow the same formula.

If the writers most famous in the fantasy genre are ones with these sorts of gender roles, how am I going to survive? Piers Anthony is another one: in Zombie Lover the men are continually mesmerized by the power of boobs, usually to the point where they can’t speak until the boobs are concealed. Give me a fucking break.

Questions and comments are appreciated and encouraged. I’m stuck here and am dying to have an intellectual conversation with someone.

6 comments:

oak_and_linden said...

Since you have invited people to leave comments - even on old posts like this - I'd like to ask if you've since read the Elenium and the Tamuli?

FilthyGrandeur said...

yes, i did read the elenium, which i wrote about here: http://filthygrandeur.blogspot.com/2009/01/reality-in-fantasy.html

since each story is pretty much the same story and same cast, i don't really need to read the tamuli.

Drew said...

I'm nearing the end of book 3 of The Malloreon. I read the first series and immediately started this one. I just put the book down out of frustration after reading the part where the party comes across the demon worshippers preparing for the birth of the half-demon child. After spending every other page being a total badass, suddenly Velvet is all fragile at the scene and Silk says something about how, after all, she is 'just a girl'. BAH! I googled 'David Eddings is a sexist' and saw your blog. I knew these books were popular but never heard anyone talk about how poorly he treats his female characters. I attributed it to his age and the time period during which they were written. Thanks for writing about it, makes me feel like I'm not the only one annoyed at how much attention is given to Polgara's cooking or Ce'Nedra's love of frilly things or how off-put every other character is by Poreen's ability to strategize.

Anonymous said...

Ha, just had to comment because I did exactly what the previous commenter did. Came across a box of books from when I was in junior high and have been re-reading the Belgariad/Mallorean twenty years after I read them the first time. Immensely entertaining still, but oh my god the female characters! So, I also googled "David Eddings sexist" and here I am.

Ian said...

Haha, I'm in the same position as the previous two commenters.

It's been 10 years for me, and I must say that I didn't get as far as the Demon Lord of Whosits. My irritation started in Pawn of Prophecy, where Barak casually rapes his wife while drunk, then shurgs it off with a weak apology the next day in front of a sixteen year old boy (who is completely ambivalent about the whole matter). He (Barak) then promptly tells her to shut up when she miraculously forgets her trauma as soon as they (rather quickly) change the subject and she offers an opinion of her own about the new subject Garion interupted his 'apology' for... The best part(s) is(/are) that she's made out to be the villian in their marriage, she ends up pregnant with a son (which ends up being the bridge that finally repairs their marriage because the two daughters prior just didn't - two daughters who are pretty much never mentioned again I might add) and when Polgara (the strong female lead) finds out, she laughs at her. Then later still when she's finally in her right mind and accepts her cutesy wootsey, big, shaggy, alcholic, rapist, bear of a husband and is reflecting on how she could have been so blind, Polgara tells her "Some people just need to grow up dear."

Nice.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I know I'm late to this blog, but oh man, I feel your pain. My boyfriend has all of The Belgariad, and although he hasn't read them in years, they used to be some of his favourite books when he was younger.

So I decided to read them, and I noticed the exact same things you have in the first book... I'm halfway through the third one now, and although the story overall is good, I'm starting to get irritated. It got to the point where, as soon as they mentioned the treaty with the Tolnedran princesses, where I was like, "Watch... she'll they'll meet her somewhere, she'll be fiery and impetuous, and maybe have red hair..." and yep, there it was. And I, too, noticed that all the women cook and are mostly child-bearers, and even Polgara always does the cooking, advises on childbearing, delivers the baby horse... it's all so typical. Not to mention that all of Aldur's male sorcerers have "Bel-" attached to their name, but not Polgara. No special name for her, just Polgara.

And yes, most of the men have the same voice. It's like they've got a hive mind or something.

But the story itself seems to be alright.