I need to discuss one thing that has bugged me for a long time.
Why is it always stew?
As Dianne Wynne Jones wrote in The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land:
Stew is the staple food in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time. Given the disturbed nature of life in this land, where in camp you are likely to be attacked without warning, and in an inn prone to be the centre of a tavern brawl, Stew seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak. But it is clear the inhabitants have not yet discovered fast food. The exact recipe for Stew is of course a Management secret, but it is thought to contain meat of some kind and perhaps even vegetables. Do not expect a salad on the side.
William Goldman also captures this wonderfully in The Princess Bride:
This was after stew. But then, so is everything. When the first man crawled out of the slime and went to make his home on land, what he had for dinner that night was stew.
Okay, stew is great if you’ve got tough meet or vegetables, but you’ve also got to have time to cook it. In this one situation it might be acceptable, because Eragon’s been unconscious for two days, so I’m sure that Brom had plenty of time to hang out for eight hours and make a stew. And while I’ve been praising Brom for generally being smarter than his charge, he and Saphira just pulled a serious bonehead move. Namely, leaving his unconscious charge alone at camp while he and Saphira go Urgal hunting. If that wasn’t bad enough, Eragon can’t get in contact with Saphira, so he has no idea where they are or what’s going on. So he just hangs out and eats his goddamn stew.
But, seriously, Brom. You’ve made it abundantly clear that Eragon is in danger and a lot of people are after him. Why the hell would you leave the obviously prone Dragon Rider alone, never mind out of reach of his dragon?
When Brom and Saphira return, Brom explains that he was hunting down the Urgals Eragon had encountered earlier, and he’s rightfully pissed.
‘[T]hat piece of magic nearly killed you! You’ve been sleeping for two days. There were twelve Urgals. Twelve! But that didn’t stop you from trying to throw them all the way back to Teirm, now did it? What were you thinking? Sending a rock through each of their heads would have been the smart thing to do. But no, you had to knock them unconscious so they could run away later. I’ve spent the last two days trying to track them down. Even with Saphira, three escaped! [. . .] You don’t even deserve to be called a Rider after this, boy.’
Why the hell would Eragon even bother keeping the Urgals alive? He could have dispatched them from the safety of Saphira’s back, or at least had her attack them, not land in front of them and try to talk to hostile enemies. Just…ugh. I know that main characters have to make mistakes, but our designated hero is just so beast-headed I’m having a hard time feeling sympathetic for him at all.
As much as I love pissed-off Brom, it’s not enough to off-set the disappointment that comes at the end of the chapter. Brom starts drilling Eragon with different combat scenarios, but we don’t get to actually hear what Eragon’s ideas are. I’d have liked to hear at least once of the scenarios and Eragon’s answers, but readers can’t have nice things.
Moving forward, the next chapter might be the most cringe-worthy one yet, because this is where Eragon truly begins his descent into Mary Suedom.
The chapter begins with Eragon scrying on Arya–sorry, the raven-haired elf maiden–and she not only knows that she’s being scryed on, but also is able to acknowledge Eragon. Does this ever get explained why she can do this? I really don’t remember.
The explanation might just be, “because she’s an elf”. Or, as Brom explains,
[I]f you ever have the misfortune to fight and elf–trained or not, female or male–expect to lose. They, along with dragons and other creatures of magic, are many times stronger than nature intended. Even the weakest elf could easily overpower you.’
Elves are a race of goddamn Mary Sues. Whatever you do, they will always be better at it, and be prettier than you. In the sequel, Eldest, Eragon lives among the elves, and I remember hating them. With the exception of maybe Eragon’s new mentor, I found most of the elves to be haughty and completely insufferable. Remember that pretty blond girl at school who was popular and got good grades and was gifted in a million different ways? And was really mean? The elves in the Eragon universe are just mean, pretty high school girls repeated a million times. Even Arya is hard to like in Eldest.
Of course, elves aren’t the only Sues to be accounted for. I’ve tried to give Eragon something of a pass on this, because sometimes plot demands that a main character have traits associated with Mary Sues. He’s also made enough dumb choices so far to help keep him out of that category. But then he had to go and break his wrist, and Brom makes him continue learning swordplay using his left hand instead of his right. He becomes adept at using his left hand, eventually beating Brom when they spar.
Brom shook his head. ‘I can teach you nothing more of the sword. Of all the fighters I’ve met, only three of them could have defeated me like that, and I doubt any of them could have done it with their left hand.’ He smiled ruefully. ‘I may not be as young as I used to be, but I can tell that you’re a talented and rare swordsman.’
Yep. Then that happened. I don’t think he’s an irredeemable Sue yet, but he’s getting there.
I made a note to discuss the overly-complicated rules of a wizard duel as well, but I’d rather talk about the one saving grace in this chapter.
Saphira. It’s Saphira. If not for her, I probably would have thrown this nonsense across the room long ago. I’m beginning to suspect that Paolini made Saphira’s scenes so enjoyable so that readers would forget about the rest of the pitfalls in the story. In this chapter, Brom, Eragon, and Saphira arrive at Dras-Leona, which is on the banks of Leona Lake. Eragon and Saphira go for a swim, diving from the air into the cold water, leaping into the air from the the water…it’s kind of magical.