Note: this is a particularly disturbing story and I advise caution before proceeding
Last year a story broke in a few corners of the fantasy community which seemed to vanish almost immediately, which is surprising given how startling it is. Certainly I did not hear about it until this week. The story confirmed that fantasy author David Eddings and his wife Leigh were jailed for a year in 1970, having physically imprisoned and mistreated their adopted son and mentally traumatised their adopted daughter.
David and Leigh Eddings were the co-authors of the Belgariad, Malloreon, Elenium, Tamuli and Dreamers fantasy series, which cumulatively have sold almost 20 million copies. The Belgariad, in particular, is often hailed as a formative post-Tolkien fantasy series, serving as a frequently-recommended gateway book for new and younger readers to the genre.
The Eddings married in 1962. They adopted a son in 1966 and a daughter several years later. In 1969, alerted by neighbours to the sounds of mistreatment at their South Dakota property, police arrived to find the adopted son locked in a cage in a dirty basement (the basement shared with several animals) and being beaten by his parents with a belt. The Eddings were arrested and the children removed into protective custody (subsequently their adoption of the children was revoked). During the subsequent trial, exacting details of physical and emotional abuse emerged, with the children imprisoned in the cage for the slightest perceived disobedience and corporal punishment being regularly administered. Both children were traumatised by their experiences.
David and Leigh Eddings spent a year in jail in 1970, during which time they lost their jobs and relocated on release to Denver, Colorado. David Eddings tried to make a career as a writer, but his early attempts at contemporary fiction bombed. It was only when he saw a paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings on sale in the local grocery store that he realised fantasy was a big thing and began work on The Belgariad. Lester del Rey, hungry for more fantasy after the huge success of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and the first Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen Donaldson, snapped up the series and began publishing it in 1982.
It should be noted that the Eddings never made any mention of their time in prison at any point during their careers in the public eye, with David Eddings sometime joking about voluntarily quitting academia and getting a job in a grocery store because the pay was better.
Leigh Eddings passed away in 2007, David Eddings following in 2009.
This is a particularly unpleasant and sad story. Like many fans of fantasy fiction, The Belgariad was one of the first fantasy series I ever read in the 1990s. I never rated it quite as highly as others (I'd already read Pratchett and Tolkien by that time), but it was certainly a reasonably fun, early fantasy series. I disliked the sequel series and his later work, which felt massively derivative of what came before. I know there's a lot of people out there who are much bigger fans of Eddings and this is sad news for them. Along with the (even more disturbing) revelations several years ago about Marion Zimmer Bradley, it merely reinforces that authors are still people and sometimes extremely flawed and even criminal ones.
Both of their formerly adopted children appear to be in good health, which is good news. The beneficiary of the Eddings Estate is Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where proceeds from legacy sales of their books help educate students.