Eragon 48-49: Dithering Without Empathy

I think this chapter was written so we would stop liking Murtagh. And to that effect, it backfired terribly. At least, for me. It starts when he gets called “emotionless”, which is supposed to read like Murtagh’s a cold, bad dude, but he and Eragon both have so little established personality, it doesn’t really distinguish them in any way.

But the real conflict comes when Eragon and Murtagh encounter a group of slavers, and I can’t figure out just why the slavers are here. They’re outside the Empire now, and we haven’t seen any evidence of human life beyond its borders, besides our heroes. Why are they searching out here, and who are they going to sell any captured slaves to? Or would they trek them back across the desert? This has to be the most inefficiently run business on the continent.

Eragon and Murtagh dispatch the slavers without much trouble, save one: Torkenbrand. He’s injured and unarmed, and Murtagh kills him before giving him a chance to surrender. No, it’s not exactly a heroic thing to do, but there weren’t a lot of options, either. Torkenbrand had already seen Arya, knew she was an elf, and even if he couldn’t capture them, he would certainly be blabbing about them. Maybe pick up a nice reward from the Empire for information about the people that they clearly want captured.

Eragon, however, doesn’t really understand this, and he’s pissed that Murtagh killed Torkenbrand before giving him the chance to surrender. Which also begs the question, what would they have done with him, had he surrendered? Keep him as a prisoner while they ride to the Varden? Or send him running off, so he can tell everyone about Arya?

This leads into the cringiest dialogue I’ve read in awhile.

‘I’m only trying to stay alive,’ stated Murtagh. ‘No stranger’s life is more important than my own.

‘But you can’t indulge in wanton violence. Where is your empathy?’ Eragon growled, pointing at the head.

‘Empathy? Empathy? What empathy can I afford my enemies? Shall I dither about whether to defend myself because it will cause someone pain?’

Yes, please continue this ham-fisted dialogue that just really drives home how morally superior Eragon is to Murtagh.

To Eragon, the world is black and white. You are good, or you are evil. There’s no in-between. But he’s also a Dragon Rider, and his life is going to be filled with hard decisions, where there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer. It would have been interesting to use this moment to show him grappling with morality, to try to see that Murtagh could be a killer, and also his friend, or to wonder if the end truly justifies the means. And he does, a little bit, when he tells Saphira he’s confused. But by the time morning comes around, he decides that killing Torkenbrand was murder, and that Murtagh was in the wrong.

As the serious progresses, Eragon does go on to do some rather morally dubious things. In Brisingr, he and Roran rescue Sloan (hey, remember Sloan?) from the Ra’zac, who have tortured him to the point where he lost his eyes. However, Eragon decides that this isn’t punishment enough for the butcher, as he betrayed Carvahall to the Ra’zac. So, naturally, Eragon decides to tell the only person Sloan cares about, his daughter, that her father was killed. He then leaves Sloan in the desert, after essentially having cursed him to never be allowed to contact his daughter again.

Eragon does this because he can’t bring himself to kill Sloan while he’s so helpless, even though he acknowledges that killing him would be the merciful thing to do. Instead, Eragon makes Sloan’s life infinitely more difficult and painful. You know, after he’s already been tortured for months.

Our hero, everyone.

Maybe I shouldn’t be judging Eragon’s actions two books from now, or point out his hypocrisy for things that he hasn’t done yet.

Too bad. I did it anyway.

At last Saphira understands moral ambiguity, and discusses it with Eragon as the next chapter opens.

‘It was a hasty deed and ill considered, but Murtagh tried to do the right thing. The men who buy and sell other humans deserve every misfortune that befalls them. If we weren’t committed to helping Arya, I would hunt down every slaver and tear them apart!’

‘Yes,’ said Eragon miserably, ‘but Torkenbrand was helpless. He couldn’t shield himself or run. A moment more and he probably would have surrendered. Murtagh didn’t give him that chance. If Torkenbrand had at least been able to fight, it wouldn’t have been so bad.’

‘Eragon, even if Torkenbrand had fought, the results would have been the same. You know as well as I do that few can equal you or Murtagh with the blade. Torkenbrand would have still died, though you seem to think that it would have been more honorable in a mismatched duel.’

‘I don’t know what’s right!’ admitted Eragon, distressed. ‘There aren’t any answers that make sense.’

‘Sometimes,’ said Saphira gently, ‘there are no answers. Learn what you can about Murtagh from this. Then forgive him. And if you can’t forgive, at least forget, for he meant you no harm, however rash the act was. Your head is still attached, yes?’

This is my reminder that that the only reason I’ve continued reading this book is Saphira.

Although I’ve been quite critical of the book and Eragon’s character in general, I really like his talk with Saphira. Eragon seems to be learning that things aren’t always as straight forward as they seem, and I love that he’s wrestling with this new lesson. It’s one of the few times in this book so far that I really felt that Eragon does have an inner world. In a few pages, he suddenly had more character development than he’s gotten for the past ten chapters.

I want to see Eragon change and grow more over the course of the novel, as main characters are meant to do. These changes are more obvious in the beginning of the novel, I think, than near the end. I’m happy to see Eragon struggle with ideals, and finally have to deal with a conflict that can’t be solved with swords and sorcery. This is a good step in Eragon’s journey, though I doubt we’ll get many more moments like this until the book ends.

Because the orcs Urgals are coming! The Urgals are coming!

When Eragon flies on Saphira’s back to get a better look at the approaching horde, she ends up flying too high so there’s not enough oxygen for Eragon, and he passes out. Again. At this point, it’s like losing consciousness has become his hobby.

At least the description of their flight and the mountains below them is nice.

The Urgals, it turns out, are some kind of super-breed, called the Kull, which makes them even stronger and deadlier than their regular counterparts. You know, like Uruk-hai, but they’re not Uruk-hai at all, guys. They’re Kull. See? There’s a world of difference.

On one hand, I know that we’re getting close to the climax of the book, and need to up the ante a little bit. We’ve already seen Eragon take on Urgals and lesser swordsmen without too much of a problem, but the sudden appearance of the Kull feels a bit lazy and contrived to me. Putting the obvious Orc/Urgal parallels aside, the approaching army kind of came out of nowhere. The Varden’s location is incredibly well-hidden, and Eragon and Murtagh escaped pursuit by fleeing across the desert. So are the Kull just being sent to the vast mountain range in hopes of getting lucky and finding the Varden, or did they find Eragon’s location? Or really, are they just here because the story demands it?

Though as much shit as I give Eragon, he and Saphira actually come up with an effective plan to deter the Kull. Namely, dropping boulders on them from a distance. Practical, and effective!

They still remained focused on getting Arya to the Varden as quickly as possible, though, and soon it becomes apparent that Murtagh (who still hasn’t left for some reason) is caught between the Kull army, and going to the Varden. He finally reveals why he doesn’t want to go: he’s Morzan’s son, one of the Foresworn that put Galby on the throne.

That was a wham line for me as a kid. I was expecting some dark and angsty backstory, but I hadn’t thought that he’d be related to Morzan at all. It was a genuine surprise, in part because Morzan is mentioned so infrequently compared to Galby. I was also happy that Galby isn’t Morzan’s father, because even this book knew when it was drifting a little too close to Star Wars.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about re-reading Eragon: it’s not nearly as fun as the other books I’ve re-read for this blog. In part this is because Eragon is a nincompoop and the prose can be cringey, but it’s also because I know everything that’s going to happen. I know all the twists, and the things that kept the book engaging for me have already been revealed.

Well, we’ve got less than a dozen chapters to go, and I’ve spent too much time explaining the sunk cost fallacy  reading it to stop now.

Eragon 38-39: The Un-Twist

This chapter is supposed to make me feel sad, but all it did was cement just how dumb Eragon actually is. As Brom is dying, he reveals that he, too, was a Dragon Rider. His dragon was named Saphira, and she was slain by Morzan. Because of course she was.

I wish I could remember my reaction to this news when I read this book for the first time years ago. I have a feeling that it was more, “I knew it!” than, “Whaaaat? Brom was a Rider?!” There’s so many hints that anyone who’s read a fantasy book before could have figured it out.

But here’s the big question: why did Brom hide this from Eragon? Let’s see what our wise old mentor has to say.

‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ asked Eragon softly.

Brom laughed. ‘Because…there was no need to.’

No. NO.

You do not get to have a dramatic reveal if the main reason for not doing it sooner was, essentially, “I didn’t feel like it.” If it was for his or Eragon’s protection, fine. That’s at least a reason. And Eragon probably would have liked knowing that he wasn’t the only non-evil Dragon Rider. But this…

bullshit

Anyway, Brom dies, Eragon is sad and buries him. I know I’m supposed to feel sad, and I think I was when I first read this book. But now I’m lamenting Brom’s death for another reason: he was a much better character than Eragon.

In the following chapter, Eragon learns more about Murtagh, and makes plans to continue his journey, even if he’s not sure where he should go next. Murtagh displays a surprising amount of information about Brom, the Riders, and Eragon’s sword, Zar’roc.

God, I hate typing all these unnecessary apostrophes.

When I began reading this book, one of my big problems was the way the dialogue jumped back and forth between flowery prose and more modern language. The prose finally seemed to even itself out, making it much less cringey. In this chapter, though, some of the dialogue seems to slip back into that awkward phrasing. The most obvious might be when Murtagh is asking Eragon about Brom.

Is your Brom the Brom? The one who hlped steal a dragon egg from the king, chased it across the Empire, and killed Morzan in a duel? I heard you say his name, and I read the inscription you put on his grave, but I must know for certain, Was that he?

It’s the “Was that he?” with the weird capital “W” that gets me.

Because Murtagh knows a suspicious amount about the Dragon Riders and Morzan, Eragon tries to probe into his mind to figure out who Murtagh actually is. Murtagh has strong mental defenses, though, and Eragon can’t get into his mind. Blocking someone from your mind is a difficult skill to learn, and Eragon hasn’t mastered it yet. Also, when Brom tried to communicate with Eragon through his mind, Eragon was able to feel the intrusion and attempt to fend it off. So, likely Murtagh knows that Eragon tried to get inside his head, and doesn’t do anything about it. Eragon also has every reason to leave Murtagh, but they just kind of…let it go.

I think it’s been well-established that Eragon can be pretty dumb, but why wouldn’t Murtagh react?

Saphira and Eragon discuss what their next plans should be. Apparently, Brom had told Saphira that he was a Rider, and gave her information to find a man that could help them get to the Varden. Saphira never told Eragon any of this, because Brom had asked her not to.

In other words, Brom trusted a dragon hatchling better than his own protégé.

According to Saphira, Brom also said that he thought Eragon was the best person to carry on the Riders’ legacy.

…really? Clearly, Brom saw something in Eragon that I don’t.

Of course, we make sure to get some good teen angst in.

‘What does your heart say?’ asked Saphira.

‘My heart died a while back,’ Eragon said with a hint of black humor.

When I read Eragon’s response, I had to put the book down for a few minutes just to laugh at it.

Eragon 20: Sad Resignation to Keep Reading

The first thing I wrote upon starting chapter 20 was, “This was a lot more fun when I was drunk”. Yes, I was unnecessarily angry at a fictional character during the last chapter, but at least I felt something other than sad resignation to keep reading. For awhile, I thought that might be the only note I’d write down, as this chapter is a lot of exposition, and not much else.

I’ve talked a bit about world-building in novels, and I’ve said that in general, I like it better when the characters learn the rules of the universe as the readers do. It feels much more natural, and you’re not overwhelmed with a ton of information at once. Eragon is starting to show me the drawbacks of that method. It makes sense for the story, as Eragon starts out as a know-nothing dragon rider. However, the chapters that are nothing but exposition and conversation are starting to wear on me. Eragon accidentally using magic for the first time, and Brom’s angry admonitions of him were part of the story, though. Despite my earlier criticisms, they were exciting. This chapter is just a casual conversation, written to explain to Eragon and the readers how magic works.

I guess one of the things I don’t like about this chapter is that there’s nothing that breaks up the dialogue until the end. I know that it’s important to get information to the reader, but there’s got to be a better way of doing it than this.

Aside from that, I have several questions, not the least of which is, “why doesn’t Saphira have more screen time?”

Seriously.

Other than that, the Dragon Riders apparently kept their magic a secret, even at the height of their power, so their enemies wouldn’t be able to use it against them. I guess that explains why Eragon was so surprised that he could use magic, but it seems like something like that would be hard to keep a secret. It also really bothers me that Eragon has yet to make the connection that Brom was a Rider.

Brom also mentions that Shades and sorcerers get their magic from spirits, which makes it different from the Riders’ magic. “Spirits” largely gets glossed over in this book, and the next, with the only information we get about them being that they’re bad news. I don’t know if they’re elaborated on any further in the last two books in the series. I’d like to know more, but this chapter certainly wasn’t a good place to add even more details.

It’s also revealed that every person has two names, one that they’re given when they’re born, and a “true” name, which reflects who they really are. Sharing your true name is dangerous, as anyone who knows it has complete control over you. Since I will not likely be reading the final two books anytime soon, I let my curiosity get the better of me and Googled what Eragon’s true name is. This is what Christopher Paolini had to say:

I felt that giving them to readers would spoil some of the mystery and power they hold. You could say the whole Inheritance Cycle encompasses Eragon’s true name. But its short form is a secret between Eragon, Saphira, Glaedr, and Arya.

Aw, come on! I wanna know!

 

 

Eragon Chap. 17-18: An Orc By Another Name Still Stinks

Chapter 17 is full of great storytelling and characterization, and was such a gripping read that I had a hard time putting the book down. Or, you know, the opposite of that.

A lot of this book consists of the main characters traveling from place to place to place and having adventures on the way. Essentially, it’s a fantasy novel’s version of a road trip movie. Real-life road trips are usually pretty fun. Going to new places, meeting new people, singing along to the radio with your friends. The things that make road trips appealing and fun that we forget about all the massive inconveniences they entail. Things like getting lost, or sitting cramped in the backseat piled high with luggage, or constantly getting stuck in the middle seat with your seat on the hump, and your friends uncomfortable squished in on either side of you.

This chapter is dedicated to the parts of the road trip we’d rather forget. Like when I got really sick and wound up puking in a gas station parking lot. Most of this chapter consists of Eragon and Brom being miserable as they travel the plains, dealing with strong winds, thirst, and spending hours in the saddle. Even though this chapter doesn’t really reveal anything new about the characters or the plot, I at least appreciate that it’s not a comfortable trip. It does add a sense of realism, and it would be a pretty boring chapter if everything was nice and easy.

As a student glider pilot, I also enjoyed Saphira’s demonstration of how high winds and flying don’t mix. In the gales of a storm, Saphira has difficulty landing and her open wings caused her to keep getting blown away, including somersaulting in the as she tries to land. I’m not sure if it was meant to be comical, but I was amused by it nonetheless.

As much as I enjoyed watching Saphira try to land, and fail, a lot of chapter 17 felt like padding. The following chapter is much more interesting, when Brom and Eragon arrive in the town of Yazuac. I do feel a bit bad for Saphira, though. Because they have to keep her a secret, Saphira constantly gets left behind when Eragon and Brom go into a populated area. It makes sense, but I wish she had more screen time.

Their arrival in Yazuac is eerie, and the whole town is still and quiet. This is because, and Eragon soon finds out, the entire town is dead and has been put into one big pile of corpses. I didn’t really feel the horror that I should have when I read this, though maybe it’s because I knew it was coming. Eragon, at least, was horrified, and threw up. Which is a perfectly acceptable reaction to seeing a pile of dead bodies, if you ask me. I wonder if my indifference to this slaughter is also because “one is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. Maybe it’s the writing, or maybe it’s because I’m a bad person. Hm.

This is also the chapter where Eragon has his first run-in with Urgals. In other words, orcs with a different name. I know that every high fantasy book has to have some bland, low-level mooks for the hero to plow through, but is it too much to ask for something other than “huge men with horns”? In the sequel, Eldest, the Urgals are more fleshed out as a race with their own social order and customs. Watching humans and Urgals try to work as allies is way more interesting than having them as generic enemies. But we’re still stuck in Eragon right now, and don’t get to see that.

Eragon kills two Urgals, shooting his bow and calling out “Brisingr!” as he does. “Brisingr”, as we later learn, is the elvish word for “fire”, and Eragon has used magic for the first time.

It’s a little too convenient for me. Not that Eragon used magic without any guidance–I’ll accept that, it is a fantasy story, after all–but that he knew the word “brisingr”. He’s heard Brom say it once, and thought it was a swear. I kind of think he wouldn’t remember one word in a pretty tight spot. In high stress situations, expanding my vocabulary is not on the forefront of my mind. I mean, I had to stop writing for about a minute today because I couldn’t remember the word “inevitable” as I was about to type it. If I were fighting monsters, the only thing I might be saying is, “fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Eragon 15-16: Br’om is the Ma’in Char’acter We Dese’rve

Here we are once again, with the short chapter-long chapter couplet. The first paragraph or so is actually pretty relatable, with Eragon remembering Garrow’s death and not wanting to get up and face the world. I think we’ve all done that at some point. After a loved one has died, sometimes the hardest thing to do is get out of bed.

I also want to share one line with you.

“He jammed his cold fingers in his armpits and crouched by the fire until the food was ready.”

Does that remind you of anything?

mary catherine gallagher

Ah, the 90s. A time when the women were strong, the men were good-looking, and the children are all wondering what the hell I’m referencing.

This chapter is (appropriately) called “Saddle Making”, in which Brom makes a saddle for Saphira out of a leather apron. Except I highly doubt that Brom is able to make a saddle for a dragon – albeit a young one – out of a single apron. Never mind the extra straps he cuts for when Saphira grows larger. Also, how the hell hasn’t Eragon figured out Brom’s a Dragon Rider?

Obi-Brom Kenobi is the source for all information on dragons up to this point. He has a “mysterious” past, and knows way more than any simple storyteller should. He can communicate with Saphira with his mind, build a dragon saddle, and freaking gives Eragon an actual Dragon Rider’s sword. Why the pretense, Brom? And why are you so dumb, Eragon? How have you not put the pieces together yet?!

Sighing and shaking my head, it’s time to move on to chapter 16. The first part of this chapter is largely exposition, and I’m pretty okay with how it’s been done, mostly because it makes sense with the story. Eragon has questions about dragons, and Brom answers them. What I like about this is that it’s not all done in Brom’s dialogue, nor is it done completely as narration. It actually strikes a good balance between the two. A surprise bonus of this is that I don’t have to read too much overly-flowery dialogue. Yay!

There is something I’ve always wondered about, though. Brom says that dragons don’t hatch until conditions are right for them to be born, which usually meant there was enough food for them. Dragons that the Riders used, though, would only hatch when the right Rider touched their egg. In other words, Saphira might have never hatched if Eragon hadn’t found her egg.

What happened to the “wild” dragons that were mentioned? I also find it hard to believe that dragons – notable for being a proud race – would leave the future of their species to humans and elves. Sure, Galby (I refuse to write his full name one more time) killing dragons and Riders didn’t help matters, but eggs only hatching when the right person touches them? Yeah, you’re going to wind up with an endangered species right there.

If the Eragon-verse had tumblr, I can only imagine what it would be like. “Dragons only hatch when humans or elves touch their eggs? SO RACIST. Check your privilege!”

Along with learning about dragons, Eragon asks Brom about how he got the sword of another Dragon Rider. Brom tells him that he doesn’t want to reveal it yet, and, “I don’t want to keep you ignorant, far from it.”

EXCEPT YOU TOTALLY ARE.

The sword’s history is revealed in the second book, if I recall correctly, and it would be pretty upsetting for Eragon to learn. I won’t hold it against Brom for not telling him, but…God, Brom just tell him you’re a Dragon Rider. It’s obvious to anyone who’s not Eragon.

One good thing about the book is that Eragon isn’t a total Mary Sue right away. During this chapter, he and Brom start practicing swordplay, and Eragon gets his ass kicked time and time again. He develops his sword skills throughout the book, and I like that he isn’t a “natural”. He has to learn, struggle, and get his ass handed to him. And since he’s been driving me crazy, reading about him covered in bruises fills me with a kind of smug satisfaction. Especially since Brom is a much more interesting character, and I’d be pretty happy if he lit out on his own with Saphira.

There’s also one more thing that’s really bugging me. Let’s see if you can spot it in this chapter summary.

Eragon takes his sword, Za’roc, so he can fight the Ra’zac while he’s traveling outside Utgard.

I’m not even halfway through the book, and I am so sick of these unpronounceable names with apostrophes.

Wait. I stand corrected. They’re not unprouncable.

pronunciation

But I feel like if you have to put a pronunciation guide in your novel, you’ve done something wrong.

Eragon Chap. 14: Dragon Advice

I’m not sure I get Saphira. She was my favorite character when I first read this book, mostly by logic of “ohmygodohmygodDRAGON”. She tries to give Eragon sage advice while he grieves, but I’m not sure of its validity:

Anguish enveloped Eragon as he awoke. [. . .] “I can’t live with this,” he moaned.

“Then don’t.” Saphira’s words reverberated in his head.

…did Saphira just suggest that Eragon kill himself?

Even now, I still like her character, and some of her dialogue.

The worth is in the act. Your worth halts when you surrender the will to change and experience life. But options are before you; choose one and dedicate yourself to it. The deeds will give you new hope and purpose.

But Saphira’s only a few months old at this point, though. She’s still a baby; the only human she’s seen up close until this point is Eragon. She understands how his mind works, but there’s no real reason for her to know anything about the world outside Eragon’s farm. Do dragons have some kind of ancestral memory that allows them to dole out advice like an older, wiser dragon? It’s the only explanation that would make sense to me, because Saphira knows things that there’s no way Eragon could have taught her.

On the other hand, some of her advice might be terrible.

Saphira was right. Nothing mattered anymore except the act itself.

We’ve also encountered the dead parent trope again. I’ll probably talk about this in more depth in a separate post, but I’m really sick of this. The laconic version is this: characters are more interesting when they have more to lose. Even if it leads to cheesy lines like this:

“Nothing is more dangerous than an enemy with nothing to lose,” he thought, “Which is what I have become.”

I used to love that quote when I was fourteen–a year younger than Eragon, actually. Growing up, I was bullied, ignored, never felt welcome in my school. I was an angry kid, an angrier teenager, and a line like that really spoke to me. For a long time I felt like it was me against the world, that everyone was my enemy. Since I felt so unwanted, I didn’t really see the point in playing nice with others. You might be able to imagine the unfortunate cycle that led to. The idea of a hero, fighting with no one on his side–and presumably winning–was very appealing to me.

At Saphira’s encouragement, Eragon decides to leave Carvahall and hunt down the Ra’zac, who destroyed his home and killed Garrow. Now, I know that we need the real adventure to start somehow, but I don’t like Saphira’s sudden change of heart. When the Ra’zac first came to Carvahall, she was so scared that she took off in a frenzied flight, taking Eragon with her. She was so terrorized that she wouldn’t even tell Eragon what was going on, and he was rebuffed when he tried to reach her with their mind-link.

Have you ever been so afraid of something that you couldn’t speak, or literally ran away from? I can almost guarantee that you would not be charging directly towards whatever it is you fear just because a teenager gave you a short lecture about running away.

Saphira’s fear was real and palpable, but nope, let’s forget that it ever happened. She’s over it now!

As they’re leaving town, Brom also comes to join Eragon and Saphira’s quest. He tries to sound mysterious about how he knows so much about dragons and the Ra’zac, but he’s not fooling anyone. Anyone who’s picked up a book or watched a movie like this already knows that he’s going to end up being a former dragon rider, and no doubt “Saphira” was also the name of his dragon. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. So why so the smokescreen? I honestly don’t remember if Brom ever gives a real reason for not telling Eragon about his past right away. I hope he does, and that it’s not something stupid.

This post is a bit lengthy, so I won’t go on to the next chapter right now. I will, however, leave you with this quote:

Brom’s eyebrows beetled with anger.

Beetled“?

Eragon 12-13: Adventure? Just Add Dead Parents

After reading a chapter that I actually liked, I was a bit more hopeful as I delved into chapter 12. This one doesn’t even start out with a silly “the X of the Y” title! Instead, it’s called “Deathwatch”. So if you’re wondering if Garrow’s going to die, the chapter title gives it away right there. Of course, if you’ve read enough books like these, you can probably assume that he was a goner anyway. As we all know, the catalyst for the adventure of a lifetime is the death of your caregivers.

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/s_PArents_Are_Dead.jpg

It’s another trope that kinda bugs me, but more on that later.

I’m supposed to feel sad, or at least concerned for Garrow. But since he’s had barely any screen time (page time?), it’s hard to really care. Garrow seems like a good person, but that’s all we know about him. Throughout this chapter I was actually thinking more about Roran, who doesn’t yet know how his home’s been attacked and that his father is on his death bed. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older, but I would be really interested in seeing how he takes the news. We don’t see much of Roran after he leaves, though. In the sequel, Eldest, he gets a much bigger role. And it’s way more interesting than Eragon’s.

But that’s the next book, not this one.

And while this book might be cliche in almost every way, I’ll give Paolini credit for actually having Garrow be covered in burns instead of stab wounds. It’s one of those things that I didn’t really care about when I first read this book, but I wasn’t trained in emergency response then. And during those grisly, grisly classes I had to take, I learned just how awful and potentially lethal burns really are.

I also know how to perform emergency child birth and what to do if you get an eye poked out. Those classes are not for the squeamish.

That’s about it, though. I really hoped that the surprising amount that I liked chapter 11 meant that this book was finally getting its shit together. Instead, the dialogue bounces back and forth between trying to sound medieval, but then switching back to modern language. At this point, I don’t care which style sounds better. I just want it to be consistent.

Compare for yourself: when the characters are discussing the Ra’zac, someone says,  “‘I don’t like this. Too much of this rings of wizardry.'”

When two pages earlier, Eragon was saying, “‘It’s okay, I can do it myself.'”

There is something else I’m confused about. When Saphira hatched, she gave Eragon a silver mark on his hand. Its ridiculous elven name translates to “shining palm”, so I have to assume that it does, in fact, shine. Gertrude, who is taking care of Eragon after the attack, asks him how he got such an unusual “scar”. But I’ve never seen a glowing scar before, and with the talk of magic and mysterious strangers in town, wouldn’t she have assumed it was also magical?

This post is getting a bit lengthy,  but the following chapter isn’t even two pages long. I think we can fit it here.

It’s also called “The Madness of Life”. Of all the cheesy titles so far, I think this has to be the worst one.

Here’s what happens: Garrow dies, but considering that the previous chapter was called “Deathwatch”, that’s hardly surprising. Eragon is completely inconsolable. Even if I’m not usually a fan of the “everyone you love is dead” idea that always seems to pop up in stories like this, I actually didn’t mind this chapter. Eragon’s utter grief and sorrow at the death of his uncle, to me, is the most relatable thing he’s done so far in this book. Honestly, the only thing I really hate about this chapter is the title.

Maybe Eragon is gradually getting better? Or am I just getting used to it?

Eragon Chap. 10-11: Noun of the Noun

If you’re me, you’d call chapter 10 of Eragon, “Wish Fulfillment”. If you’re Christopher Paolini, though, you give this chapter an over-the-top fantasy name, like “Flight of Destiny”. Which is one of those names that sounds cool when you’re fifteen, but as I haven’t been fifteen for a long time, it just makes me roll my eyes. That’s the thing with the writing in this novel. This is an exciting chapter, with the story finally kicking off and Eragon’s first flight on Saphira’s back. The problem is that all too often, the prose falls short, and things just aren’t as exciting or tense as they should be. I should feel Saphira’s terror and anger, as well as Eragon’s own dread. Maybe the problem is that I’m re-reading this and know everything that’s going to happen.

Some twentysomething out there, read this book for the first time and tell me if it’s the prose, or if it’s me.

One other thing that I’m noticing more and more is Paolini’s use of flowery words. I can understand it; he’s writing a story set in a fantasy medieval world, and therefore people are supposed to sound like they stepped out of a Shakespeare play. It doesn’t really work, though, because a lot of the dialogue sounds like it would be heard today. There’s just fewer apostrophes.

When Paolini does try to use a more obscure word in the narration, it just sounds goofy. Saphira is described as appearing before Eragon in “a gout of smoke.” We can assume that the “gout” is like a puff of smoke, but my first thought was of gout the disease. Which, fun fact, was sometimes called the “disease of kings” because it wasn’t terribly uncommon amongst royalty. But that’s neither here nor there.

In all fairness for this chapter, I like that Eragon’s first flight isn’t some beautiful and romantic experience. It’s full of panic, and Saphira’s scales end up injuring his legs quiet badly. If you haven’t noticed by now, I really appreciate it when reality comes into the fantasy elements. Eragon puking as he rides Saphira definitely qualifies as adding that realism. It’s almost enough to make me forgive how Eragon cries a single cliche tear at the end of the chapter.

Moving on, I was a bit confused when I finished reading chapter 11, “The Doom of Innocence”. Despite yet another cringe-worthy title, I was utterly befuddled when I found that I actually liked this chapter. What’s that about? It’s not perfect, and I still have my normal gripes about the writing. There’s still a couple lazy adverbs lying about, and it completely solidified the “Eragon is Star Wars with dragons” idea. Monomyth structure be damned, it’s the exact same story.

In the previous chapter, the arrival of the “strangers” scared Saphira so much that she flew to the neSpine, with Eragon on her back. The next day, he convinces her to go back to his home, only to find the farm destroyed and Garrow badly wounded. You know, just like how Luke returns home after meeting Old Ben and finds his igloo house destroyed and aunt and uncle dead.

But there were a few things that I actually did like about this chapter. First of all, the language of the dialogue and the narration finally match. Look at this conversation Eragon has with Saphira, when he’s trying to convince her to take him home.

“Both of us carry an obligation to Garrow. He has cared for me and, through me, you. Would you ignore that debt? What will be said of us in years to come if we don’t return–that we hid like cowards while my uncle was in danger? I can hear it now, the story of the Rider and his craven dragon! If there will be a flight, let’s face it and not shy away. You are a dragon! Even a Shade would run from you! Yet you crouch in the mountains like a frightened rabbit.”

Maybe it’s still a little over-the-top for me, but I like it much better than Eragon sounding like a teenager who grew up in the modern world.

We finally get to see Saphira’s personality, too. We saw only vague glimpses of Saphira before, and she only had a few lines of dialogue. Even in during her first flight with Eragon, she was so panicked that her actions don’t reflect what she’s normally like. Since Saphira’s the reason I haven’t given this book up yet, I’m glad that we finally get to see more of her.

The last thing in this chapter I liked was the endurance and the pain these characters go through. From what I remember of the first two books in this series, Eragon becomes ridiculously powerful as the series goes on. Here, Eragon’s legs have been rubbed raw from riding Saphira bareback, and Saphira exhausts herself to get Eragon and Garrow to Carvahall, finally landing when she can’t go any further. Eragon drags his uncle into town, legs bleeding all the while, until he passes out. I think Eragon’s determination to save Garrow is admirable. The fact that every step Eragon takes is a struggle makes it even moreso.

It’s the first time I think I’ve really supported Eragon while re-reading this. Because, like I’ve said before, most of the time he’s just a big idiot ball.

Eragon 8-9: Teenager, or Idiot Ball?

When I read books, I really like it when teenagers and child characters actually act their age. This was one of the problems I had with Angelic Layer, which was that the young child acted nothing like a little kid. But in Chapter 8 of Eragon, I can’t decide if Eragon is acting his age, or just being a big idiot ball. But since he’s only fifteen, I think it’s fair to say that he’s an idiot by default.

When Roran tells his father, Garrow, that he plans to leave, Garrow is totally okay with it. In fact, he’s happy for Roran. Eragon is pretty surprised at Garrow’s reaction, and disappointed with it. On one hand,  I understand that he’s going to miss Roran. But on the other, what the hell was he expecting? Roran’s got an opportunity to make a better living than he does on the farm, and make enough money to get married.

I think I’m supposed to be sad, or at least feel something. But Roran doesn’t have any real character yet, and the only thing we know about him so far is that he’s in love with Sloan’s daughter. I’m almost reminiscent about when my sister left for college. I was sad when she left, but I also knew that her leaving home was inevitable, and it ended up being one of the best things to happen to her. So sure, Eragon, be sad, but don’t resent Roran for moving forward with his life.

Before we move on to the next chapter, I’d like to end it with a quote near the end of the chapter, when Roran is packing to leave.

“[Roran] paused, then picked up something from the pillow and bounced it in his hand. It was a polished rock Eragon had given him years ago. Roran started to tuck it into the bundle, then stopped and set it on a shelf. A hard lump formed in Eragon’s throat, and he left.”

I know that this is supposed to make me feel sad, but it only reminds me of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

i got a rock.gif

Moving on to chapter nine, where we finally got…plot! Yay, plot! The chapter begins with Roran leaving the farm and Garrow giving advice to him and Eragon. It’s as awkward as it is sweet. But in the back of my mind I had to remember that the author was only fifteen when he wrote this. A lot of that shows in his prose, but it kind of dampened the impact of Garrow’s farewell speech to me. Garrow talks about life and love, giving him advice for the future. Things that the author’s never experienced. It actually reminds me of a time, during my senior year of college, when a freshman tried to complain to a group of seniors about his workload. In an out-of-character moment for me, I ripped this guy a new asshole, (loudly) explaining how he can complain about his work to other freshmen, but he had no right to whine to us.

He never complained in front of me again.

Of course, when we’re teenagers, we think we know everything. So maybe Paolini trying to show off his “wisdom”, such as it is, is entirely in-line with the rest of his writing.

Eragon goes into town to see Roran off, and is warned by another villager that there are strangers who have been asking about the “stone” he found in the Spine. Eragon puts the pieces together that someone is after Saphira. Well, what were you expecting, Eragon? You know the Empire and Galby killed the other Dragon Riders, and you even acknowledged that they would probably hunt down Saphira, too. God, you’re dumb.

And watch out, because I’m going to tear apart a single sentence. Again.

“The voice was deep and moist.”

Ugh.

No one likes the word moist. And I’m not even sure how a voice can sound “moist”, unless they’ve got a lot of spit in it. The idea was that the stranger’s voice gave Eragon a sense of rot and decay. But there just had to be some better way to evoke this. Because right now, I’m only giggling. Because the voice is deep, like a cave. And moist, like a…cave.

Eragon 6-7: Exposition for Two

When you’re writing something that doesn’t take place in the real world, you have to find some way to tell the audience the “rules” of the universe. There are two main ways authors do this: by directly stating what those rules are (The Hunger Games loves this) or Character A telling Character B explaining the rules. In most cases, Character B is some kind of newcomer–like Obi-Wan teaching Luke about the Force, for instance.

Most authors use a mix of both methods, which works well, but I prefer the latter. I think it helps the story flow more naturally, and helps keep the reader in the world a bit more easily. And then there are chapters like this.

Eragon goes into town, and meets with Brom the storyteller in a chapter that is nothing but exposition. Eragon, naturally, wants to learn more about dragons and the Dragon Riders, and has plenty of questions about both. The whole chapter is Eragon asking questions, and Brom giving him the answers. We learn about the history of the Riders, and more about dragons themselves. Even though I generally prefer this method of getting information to the readers, for some reason I don’t like it here. I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Part of it might just be that it feels lazy–Paolini couldn’t figure out how to wedge all this in, so he put it here. Or maybe it’s the length of the chapter that bothers me. It’s pretty long–longer than the last two combined. There’s not a lot of action, just a back-and-forth. I just don’t like large information dumps, and I wonder if cutting out some of the details of this chapter would have helped me like it better. Of course, this is also my second time reading the book, so I already know what Brom’s going to say. Obviously, this stuff isn’t going to be as interesting to me the second time around.

Well, whatever. I didn’t like the way the information was shoved down my throat. I also had one head-scratching moment, wherein Brom describes a war between the dragons and the elves. It was a huge war that left the land devastated, but it only lasted…five years? Okay, that’s a long time for a human war, but we’re talking about creatures that live for centuries. Five years seems a little short.

Moving on to the next chapter.

Chapter 7 is another unevenly short chapter, not quite four pages long. On their way back to the farm, Eragon’s cousin Roran announces that he’s accepted an offer of work in another town. Eragon doesn’t really want Roran to leave, and suggests he wait until spring. Roran disagrees, and says he will be leaving shortly while they’re waiting for winter. Even though this isn’t a book about the division of farm labor, I still need to ask: where the hell are all the farmhands? It’s only Roran, Eragon, and Eragon’s Uncle Garrow working on the farm. How do just the three of them manage to keep it running and productive? How did Garrow and his now deceased wife manage to do it before Eragon and Roran were old enough to help? And for that matter, why doesn’t Garrow have, like, ten other kids to do farm work?

It’s been said that when you’re writing science-fiction, you get one lie, and you have to then work within the confines of that lie. Everything else has to follow the rules. Fantasy, I think, is a little broader, but still follows that principle. f you’re writing about dragons, that’s fine, because dragons are mythological creatures and you can do what you want with them, as long as you follow the basic rules. Things like dragons fly, breathe something dangerous, and could kill you several times over.

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing. I’m all for dragons and magic–that’s why I picked up this book in the first place. It’s the small, nagging details that bother me. You want to write about a dragon that flies and breathes fire? Cool. Go ahead. But if you’re writing about something that exists in real life, that readers know about, then you have to make it realistic. Realistic details in a fantasy setting make the world plausible. It’s not the fantasy elements that will drive readers away. What will turn them if is when they don’t see the familiar reflected in the extraordinary.

That was kind of an unexpected rant. Anyway, the dragon was finally named “Saphira”, surprising absolutely no one. First of all, she’s a bright blue dragon. Second of all, you know another Saphira was important to Brom, just from the way he said it.

Anyway, moral of the story? It’s cool if your main character can shoot fireballs from his hand or whatever, but if he, say…lived in the 21st Century and didn’t have an email account, I would seriously have to question both the author’s writing choices and their* perception of what is normal in the world.

 

*Strunk and White be damned, I’m totally okay with “they” as a singular gender neutral pronoun.