David and Leigh Eddings, The Rivan Codex: Ancient Texts of The Belgariad and The Malloreon (The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998)

The Rivan Codex is two books in one. Accompanying extensive background material on David and Leigh Eddings' epic fantasy series The Belgariad and The Mallorean (think Christopher Tolkien's editions of his father's notes, only shorter) is a plain-spoken manual on writing fantasy.

Let's look at the background material first. The Belgariad (Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit, Castle of Wizardry and Enchanter's End Game), The Mallorean (Guardians of the West, King of the Murgos, Demon Lord of Karanda, Sorceress of Darshiva and The Seeress of Kell) and their two companion books (Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress) introduce readers to a fascinating world populated with outrageous, endearing characters. The Rivan Codex explains where this world came from.

The Preface ("The Personal History of Belgarath the Sorcerer") is an autobiographical sketch of one of the main characters in the epic. The next section ("The Holy Books") explores the history of the world's various races through their own theology and religious life. In contrast, "The Histories" outline the history of each kingdom from the political point of view of one of them, Tolnedra. The annotations by their authors, the scholars of the University of Tol Honeth, show how the pragmatic Tolnedrans filter evidence of magic and mysticism to preserve their own world-view. The material in "The Battle of Vo Mimbre" is intended to explain Arendish society to Tolnedrans, who are culturally very different from the Arends.

So far, the material is written from the point of view of the "good guys." The next two sections ("A Cursory History of the Angarak Kingdoms" by the History Department of the University of Melcene and the five "Mallorean Gospels") examine events in The Belgariad and The Mallorean from the "bad guys'" angle.

The final section, "A Summary of Current Events" taken "From the Journal of Anheg of Cherek," returns to the good guys' perspective on events occurring between The Belgariad and The Mallorean.

The many footnotes throughout the background material point out places where the published books deviate from the authors' original notes and make other comments on the story. The background information (David Eddings' "Preliminary Studies") can stand on its own as a fascinating addition to The Belgariad and The Mallorean. However, I think that the most intriguing part of the book is Eddings' comments on how he used all the background information to write his epics. (David and Leigh Eddings collaborate on their writing, but the "how to" parts of The Rivan Codex are written in David Eddings' voice, so for grammatical simplicity I will refer to him as their author.)

In the Introduction, David Eddings offers a brief history of the epic fantasy genre, from Chaucer to Eleanor of Aquitaine to Sir Thomas Malory to Alfred Lord Tennyson to J.R.R. Tolkien. He explains the ten central elements of good fantasy: a theology, the quest, the magic thingamajig, the hero, the wizard, the heroine, the diabolical villain, the (male) companions on the quest, the ladies in attendance on these companions and the rulers and government officials. (No, I haven't just given away the key to fame and fortune — when you read the Rivan Codex you find it's all more complicated than that. After all, one of Polgara's recipes cannot be duplicated just from a list of ingredients.) Eddings then gives a few details on his own background and tells how he came to write fantasy.

About three-quarters of the way through the book, Eddings again addresses readers directly. The Intermission contains more straight talk on writing, as well as an explanation of why he needed background details on the bad guys to make them into complex characters instead of two-dimensional demons. Finally, the Afterward contains more practical advice on writing fantasy grounded in practical details that make it believable. It ends with a challenge to the reader to try Lord Dunsany's epic fantasies.

Eddings is depressingly frank about the work and preparation required to write good epic fantasy. Since many aspiring authors want to have written more than they want to write, this is all to the good. An author in any genre could do worse than to take his advice.

The Rivan Codex is illustrated with maps and sketches. No illustrator's name appears anywhere. I believe the maps are either by David Eddings or based on his originals, but I don't know who did the sketches.

All in all, The Rivan Codex is both a fascinating sidebar to a well-loved fantasy world and an intriguing insight into the creative process.

[Faith J. Cormier]

David and Leigh Eddings don't have an e-mail address or an official Web site, but www.eddingschronicles.com is a good starting place on the Web for information on them and their work. Besides the works referred to in The Rivan Codex, they have written the series The Elenium and The Tamuli and various stand-alone works. Their newest series begins with The Redemption of Athalus.