When I started this blog, I knew right away that one of the books I wanted to read for it was Eragon. I loved this book when I was fourteen, but I’m aware of all the terrible reviews it’s gotten. The main character has been called a sociopath, the overall story is said to be Star Wars with dragons, the writing’s been called proof that Paolini has access to a thesaurus. Now, it’s time for me to go back and see if any of that is true.
But before we go any further, let’s get the Star Wars thing out of the way right now. The first Star Wars movie (A New Hope) follows a classic monomyth structure. This is where a lot of familiar storytelling devices come from: the call to adventure, the wise old man, the first failure. The protagonist succeeds and fails, and finally wins the day and learns a lesson.
Eragon, inasmuch as I remember, follows the same monomyth structure. It’s not necessarily that it’s a rip-off of Star Wars, but that it follows the same story structure that has existed…probably for as long as stories have. Can you really blame a fifteen-year-old novelist, in his first book, for using a tried and true formula?
Well, yes, I suppose you could.
Enough of that, let’s jump right in!
“Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.”
Oh my God.
That’s the first line of this series.
That’s the first line.
If I spotted this in a bookstore today, picked it up, and read the first sentence, I would have slammed it shut so fast. I have a terrible feeling that the awful, corny sentence I just read is going to set the tone for the rest of this book.
But I loved this book as a kid. And it was really popular! There’s gotta be a reason why so many people enjoyed it! It can’t be all bad, right?
The prologue follows a “raven-haired” (groan) woman who is clearly on a mission, but we don’t know what that mission is. The first time I read this book, I was totally confused, and had no idea what was happening. Because I was an idiot, I took that as a good thing.
My reasoning was this:
1. The Similarillion is a great book.
2. I had no goddamn clue was was going on in The Silmarillion.
3. Therefore, if I didn’t understand what was happening in the long fantasy novel, and it had a lot of made-up words, it was good.
Now I know the opposite to be true. Confusing your audience is a good way to lose them pretty quickly. Case in point: I never actually read past the first chapter of The Silmaraillion.
Paolini tells us about a “Shade” and “Urgals” chasing our dark-haired beauty, without really explaining what they are. We can figure out that Urgals are just another flavor of orc, and a Shade is some kind of magician, presumably an evil one. I guess I can see why you’d want to use different terms than the norm when writing a book like this, but a rose by any other name still smells.
Anyway, the beautiful woman gets captured, but teleports a blue stone far away from her location. Anyway, the hero will eventually save her and–
They were right. They were right all along. This is just Star Wars.
No…I have to hold out hope. I have to believe that this isn’t just a a rip-off of a better, more beloved franchise. It’s just the monomyth structure! It’s just the monomyth structure!
Maybe if I say it enough, I’ll convince myself that it’s true.
It’s just the monomyth structure, it’s just the monomyth structure, it’s just the monomyth structure…