Thoughts After Re-Reading “Polgara the Sorceress”

“Polgara the Sorceress” isn’t as good a book as “Belgarath the Sorcerer” was. And I think there are a number of reasons for why this is:

1) Most of the really big events were covered in at least historical detail in Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, all there really is for Polgara the Sorceress to do is fill in Polgara’s personal impressions and situation. But this means that we’re going over events that we’ve already gone over in detail again — and again, in some detail — just to add Polgara’s personal impressions to them. But unless you’re a huge Polgara fan, it doesn’t add that much to them. Things get a lot better when they start filling in the details of the things Polgara did while Belgarath wasn’t around — like what happened in Vo Wacune and Arendia — but those segments are too short and too few and far between to save the book. And this is a worse flaw because the two books aren’t really standalone. The framing of Polgara the Sorceress is that Polgara is filling in the details that Belgarath the Sorcerer left out — and often Polgara pokes at Belgarath for simply leaving details out. But despite having read the two books pretty much one right after the other I didn’t really notice any glaring omissions except for the things that Belgarath himself didn’t know. Thus, the framing is both underused and guarantees that everyone will remember the other book first and pretty much note that they should read it first before reading this one. I’m not certain, but I think that there will be places where a reader is confused or feels that something has been left out if they read Polgara the Sorceress before Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, you can’t just read Polgara the Sorceress, but reading Belgarath the Sorcerer first will make Polgara the Sorceress seem ponderous and repetitive.

2) The book actually damages Polgara’s character as described in Belgarath the Sorcerer, particularly with how it uses Poledra. In Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara was gifted and had a mind that worked in a certain way that allowed her to do certain great feats. In Polgara the Sorceress, much of the time that great skill came from Poledra tutoring her on it secretly. Thus, she didn’t pick it up quickly, but instead had already learned it by the time it came for her to be taught it. At the Battle of Vo Mimbre, the long-standing idea that Polgara had managed to resist Torak’s will which impacted him greatly had nothing to do with her, but was instead only Poledra. If it had been the case that Polgara herself screamed in defiance but that she needed the intimate connection with Poledra to buttress her will and allow her to not have to face Torak “alone”, that would be one thing, but instead Poledra shuffles Polgara out of the way and takes over herself. This makes Polgara a spectator in her most famous event and removes the strongest display of her character in the entire series. After the fall of Vo Wacune, Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that Polgara fell into a great and angry despondency, similar to that of Belgarath when Poledra “died”, which provided an interesting parallel and gave them something in common, a common experience that they could at least arguably build on. Instead, she was pretending to be that way while secretly planning her revenge an organizing the war back in Sendaria/Erat. This a major plot hole because if Belgarath and the others because she acts as if she had to hide that from them, but if they really cared they’d have almost certainly been able to detect her scheming or at least would have paid attention to what was happening back in Arendia and noted her influence. So either they didn’t really care — at which point she didn’t have to hide it — or they did care but then didn’t bother to keep track of her well-enough to catch her influence (and Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that their greatest concern was that she didn’t try to will herself out of existence). But on top of that, Polgara had lost a city that was very important to her and, as she thought at the time, the love of her life … and she’s able to plan an elaborate deception of her father and uncles while coordinating a brilliant battle plan to get revenge? Doesn’t seem like she cared all that much about them, did she? Over and over, events make Polgara less skilled, less complex and less interesting a character.

3) All that there really is to the book is Polgara’s personal impressions, but Polgara isn’t all that interesting a character. Most often, she’s an opinionated bully. Sure, Belgarath is a bully, too, but for him most of the time he bullies people to get the job done so that, mostly, he can get back to doing the things that he really, really wants to do. He admits that he’s lazy and unscrupulous and has numerous flaws, and in general is a more interesting and humourous character to follow. Polgara is often dreadfully serious and seems to have no actual serious flaws, and never really seemed to grasp the import of the Events except perhaps when she was raising the heirs … which is given fairly short shrift in the book. Polgara and Ce’Nedra are both always described as characters that the others make a strong effort to avoid offending, but lots of people are willing to offend Belgarath all the time. Thus, she comes across as a full-on bully: do what I want or else. That’s not an interesting character to follow, and especially when we already know most of the historical details and so there’s little new there to discover. ‘Grat is not nice, but he cops to it. Polgara doesn’t.

At the end of the day, the book wasn’t a waste to read, but reading it right after Belgarath the Sorcerer really, really hurts it, as it has nothing to offer but Polgara, who is not that interesting a character to start with and is undermined by the work itself. For the most part, you could stop after Belgarath the Sorcerer and not really miss much.

Next up: The Elenium and The Tamuli.

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