Eragon 26: Literary Stockholm Syndrome

I’m beginning to worry that I have some kind of literary Stockholm Syndrome, because I’ve actually been enjoying Eragon lately.

“The Witch and the Werecat” is another chapter I was looking forward to reading. We’re properly introduced to Angela and the werecat Solembum, both of whom I’ve always rather liked.

Angela is a fictionalized version of Paolini’s sister, and that makes me wonder a couple things. First of all, how much is the real Angela like her fantasy counterpart? There’s no real way I can answer that, so the next question would be, “is it really okay to put someone you know in real life into your novel?”

My immediate thought is to recoil from the idea, but that is largely Twilight‘s fault, considering that waste of paper was originally written as a story for Stephanie Meyers’s sister. Yes, I know Eragon and Twilight are very different books, and Eragon came first, so I’m really not being fair about this. Putting a person you know in real life into a book also brings up the thought of a self-insert main character. I’ve both read and written enough fanfiction to tell you that self-inserts more often than not lead to Mary Sues and bad writing.

So I was a little wary when I came across Angela again, and I have to say that I still legitimately like the character. She’s not some beautiful woman, she’s an old, quirky witch who’s a lot of fun to watch, and I’m glad that she comes back later in the series.

Now, what about the werecat?

Eragon first sees Solembum and assumes he’s a normal cat, and tries to reach out to him with his mind. Solembum responds using the same type of mental communication Eragon shares with Saphira, and Eragon just assumes that he’s talking to her. It was probably done for humorous effect, but he can’t tell the difference between Solembum and his dragon? Really?

The werecat blinked lazily. ‘Knowing is independent of being. I did not know you existed before you bumbled in here and ruined my nap. Yet that doesn’t mean you weren’t real before you woke me.’

…Did Solembum just drop a Schrodinger reference that I would have never understood at age fourteen?

Angela, the herbalist, offers to read Eragon’s real fortune using the knuckle bones of a dragon. This was another scene that I liked a lot as a kid. When I was reading Eldest, I would frequently go back to this scene and try to figure out how all the things Angela tells him would play out.

One of the things Angela starts with is weird to me, though. After casting the bones, she says that Eragon is one of the few that is free to choose his own fate. I honestly would expect the opposite of that Saphira’s egg would have never hatched if he hadn’t touched it–I would call that destiny. I’d think that people more like Jeod and Angela, ordinary people, would have more choice in their lives than Eragon. He has to be a Dragon Rider; there’s no way he can back out.

The bones also promise an epic romance. Yeah, right. It became obvious to me when I first read this book that he would fall in love with Arya, the elf woman in the prologue. In Eldest, he does confess that he loves her, and they are friends, but she often treats Eragon with disdain. I never finished reading the third book in the series, Brisingr, but I didn’t feel a whole lotta love between the two of them there, either.

Plus, Eragon’s confession in Eldest is just cringe-worthy.

The last part of his fortune was that Eragon would be betrayed by someone in his own family. He objects to this right away, saying that his cousin Roran wouldn’t do anything like that.

I make fun of Eragon a lot here for failing to see the obvious, but this was a twist that took me by surprise when it happened near the end of Eldest, and Eragon’s long-lost brother shows up. I really think I should’ve seen that one coming.

Before Eragon leaves the shop, he receives two more pieces of advice from Solembum.

When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree. Then, when all seem lost and your power is insufficient, go to the rock of Kuthian and speak your name to open the Vault of Souls.

I haven’t read far enough into the series to know what the “Vault of Souls” is, but I’m intrigued, despite myself.

Like in the previous chapter, I think the foreshadowing is handled well here. Some of the things in Eragon’s fortune happen in this book, and there’s enough information to keep me interested in learning how these things will come to pass.

 

 

 

Eragon 24-25: Saphira is Still the Best

Moving right along, chapter 24 was another short chapter, but still better than the previous one. Eragon and Brom arrive in Teirm, a large city on the coast. Here, they hope to find a record of the merchant that brought the oil the Ra’zac used. This chapter is largely description of the city, with Brom playing tour guide. We learn the layout of the city, and how it keeps Teirm safe. The only things I really thought were notable about this chapter was just how generic the tavern Brom and Eragon visited, and Eragon and Saphira’s relationship.

Every writers has been told, “show, don’t tell” more than once. Reading Eragon this time around, I realized that most of Eragon’s and Saphira’s relationship in the beginning of the novel was a lot of telling. In recent chapters, we finally get more showing, especially when Saphira demanded that Eragon started flying with her. It gives us this small exchange, too.

“But Brom and I do have some advantages most people don’t. We’ll be all right.”

“If anything happens, I’m going to pin you to my back and never let you off.”

“I love you too.”

At least, I think it’s sweet.

I didn’t think that I would like this chapter. It’s longer than the previous two combined, and I thought it would be more dialogue-heavy exposition. Then something strange happened. I actually started getting into it.

In Teirm, Brom meets up with an old friend, Jeod, who’s quite surprised to see him again. For starters, Jeod thought that Brom was dead, probably for decades. And, suddenly, I wished that I could read this book for the first time again. I’m going to be intrigued by nearly anything that involves faking your death, or leading others to believe you’re dead, especially when you don’t know why the character did that. When I read Jeod’s and Brom’s reunion, I remembered how much I’d wanted to know about Brom’s past when I first read this at fourteen.

This chapter is full of mystery about Brom’s past and Jeod’s identity. When they think Eragon can’t hear them, they discuss places and people Eragon hasn’t heard of: Trojenhiem, Ajihad, Surda. Some of those names you’ll find on the map on the front and back covers, but a lot of it is still unknown. Being able to identify Surda on the map doesn’t mean you know what’s going on there, or why it’s important.

In fiction, having questions the audience wants answered helps keep them hooked. It’s the same reason I’m still reading A Song of Ice and Fire. I don’t necessarily enjoy the books, but goddammit, I need to know what happens next! But at the same time, having too many questions without enough answers can also frustrate the audience and make them give up on the story. This was a problem with shows like Lost and Heroes: questions that never get resolutions.

I think Paolini handled this well. Everything that Brom and Jeod discuss out of Eragon’s earshot (or so they think) is explained and resolved by the end of this book. The plot moves forward from there, giving us more questions, more plots–and they get resolved in the next book. There’s enough there that I want to know more and keep reading, but not too much that it makes me crazy and want to give up on the work.

I have to give props for the glossary in the back of the book, which translates words and phrases from the Ancient Language into English. It gives us enough information to get us through the novel, but it doesn’t give too much away.

I also like Saphira’s sarcasm when Eragon attempts to climb up a cliff to see her, and gets stuck.

You’re right. After all, how can a mere dragon expect to tell a man like yourself what to do? In fact, everyone should stand in awe of your brilliance of finding the only dead end. Why, if you had started a few feet in either direction, the path to the top would have been clear.

Saphira would make a good blogger.

There’s even a dose of realism added. At this point I’m trying not to get too hung up on the details of smaller things, like, “Shouldn’t Eragon have scurvy by now because he’s only been eating meat for weeks?” But I really appreciate that Eragon doesn’t know how to read, like the good medieval peasant he is. It irks me a bit that Garrow could somehow read, but I won’t let it detract too much from this.

If there’s one thing that I don’t like in this chapter, it’d be how Brom spells out the reasons why Eragon can’t contact Roran, or try to draw the Ra’zac off his tail. As much as it I appreciate Brom’s practicality, I think the “stay in hiding so you can protect the ones you love” conversation went on just a bit too long, and it’s nothing new or exciting. Peter Parker could have told you the same thing in fewer words.

Well, at least Roran’s not dead. Someday I’ll elaborate on why I hate the “everyone I love is dead” trope, but for now, that’s another post altogether.

 

 

Eragon 22-23: Not Half Bad

Something unusual happened. I actually liked this chapter. While I was looking forward to reading flying scenes, especially because I’m a student pilot. However, I was sure that they would only disappoint. They did not. I even loved Eragon’s anticipation as he prepares to fly with Saphira.

Saphira waited impatiently while Eragon tightened the bands around his legs. Are you ready? she asked.

He sucked in the fresh morning air. No, but let’s do it!

That is exactly how I feel when I’m getting ready to take off. I’m always nervous and excited, but pretty soon, the sheer joy of being able to fly takes over. Then the book describes Saphira’s grace, riding on updrafts, performing aerial maneuvers…and I almost exploded in nerdy joy when Eragon sees that Saphira uses her tail as a rudder. And then, then it gets even better when Saphira lets Eragon enter her mind see the world through her eyes, feel the sheer joy of flying. GOD I WANT TO DO THIS SO BAD WHY ARE DRAGONS FICTIONAL.

It’s a good thing there’s only one of me right now, because I can’t even.

Okay, time to take a deep breath, and stop fangirling.

After weeks spent tracking the Ra’zac, it seems that Eragon and Brom have finally lost the trail. That they managed to have it for that long is kind of dubious to me, but whatever, at this point I’m along for the ride. The Ra’zac appear to have taken flight, which kind of begs the question why they took so long to fly away in the first place. Also, having not found Saphira or Eragon in Carvahall, I feel like they were doing a really shitty job of finding Saphira. Wrecking Eragon’s farm was the equivalent of leaving the hero for dead in a cunning trap, and anyone who’s ever watched a Bond movie knows how that ends.

My brain just stopped for a second. I just realized the Ra’zac are Ringwraiths. I guess I can’t like this chapter anymore.

Along with the flying, though, I’m glad that the plot’s finally moving along. Eragon finds a flask of oil that’s used to burn flesh and muscle, and nothing else. That’s pretty fucked up. Brom elucidates some of them ways it could be used against your enemies and generally be cruel. The teenage version of myself (and the part of me that likes to torture characters) thinks that’s awesome. More than I want to admit.

I also like that Brom and Eragon decide to use a decidedly mundane method of tracking the Ra’zac after they find the oil. No spells, no mind-reading, just tracking where the oil was shipped from and to. It’s as simple as finding the right document. And after so much swords and sorcery, I appreciate this practical approach.

I’m glad I liked this chapter, because the next one was just padding. I really can’t see how this made it into the final cut of the novel. Eragon is curious about what the ocean is like, and Brom tells him “the sea is emotion incarnate”. What?

Most of this chapter is, essentially, a montage. Eragon and Brom traveling, practicing swordplay and learning how to use magic. So little happens in this chapter that the most memorable line might be when Eragon thinks, “Everything about me is turning hard.” He’s thinking about his muscles and how fit he’s becoming, but I’m still immature enough to snort at that. Then I remember that this book was written by a fifteen-year-old. I’m only picturing a young Christopher Paolini also laughing at that line, or trying to convince someone that it’s so deep. The latter is what I would have done at fifteen, and the former is what I’m doing now. Because I am still a child and low-hanging fruit will always make me chuckle.

 

 

 

Eragon 21: Do NPCs Really Need Names?

Apologies for the unexpected pause in posting; a death in my boyfriend’s family have slowed down blogging for the time being.

I wonder if I’m being too hard on Eragon. As much as I make fun of it, I love high fantasy. My favorite games are the Dragon Age series, I’ve already made references to Lord of the Rings on this blog, and obviously I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia before my age had even reached double digits. I’m working through A Song of Ice and Fire, and I have d20 in my purse right now, just in case a Dungeons & Dragons game pops up.

In short, I am a nerdy, and sometimes my thoughts betray how nerdy I actually am. Because, as I was reading this chapter, one of my first thoughts was, “Brom would make a great rogue…maybe who took a few levels in wizard…no, he multi-classed to Spellsword.”

Then I decided maybe I should go outside for a little bit.

When Eragon and Brom  enter another town to re-supply. Paolini runs into the same problem I have at times when I write background characters: naming them. If they’re only appearing in one scene and never again, their names are that important. But it’s really annoying to write or read “the man with the mole” or something of that ilk every time the character gets mentioned. A lot of the time, it’s just easier to give the NPC a name than refer to them by their description, however inconsequential they are. In Eragon, these bit characters often volunteer their names upon meeting Eragon and Brom. When I write brief meetings, I often don’t have the background characters give their names. Usually, I’ll have another character call them by their proper name, at which point “the man with the mole” can be called by his name in the narration. It honestly rarely occurs to me to just have minor characters introduce themselves.

I’m not sure if you’d have guessed, but the girl who blogs about fantasy books and has a home-made Jedi robe in her closet is something of an introvert. For most of my life I have been afraid of people and social situations, and especially the telephone. Even though I’m much more sociable and outgoing now than I was as a kid, I’m still not a person to generally start conversations, and it almost never occurs to me to tell someone my name. Last month I spent an hour talking to someone I met in an airport, and we had a great conversation, and I never told him my name, nor did I learn his. So my question is this: do “normal” people ever just directly introduce themselves?

Trevor, the minor character that Brom and Eragon meet, tells them that traveling has become dangerous with Urgals attacking their villages, and says that the king should be doing something about this. Brom, for whatever reason, agrees.

Wait. Didn’t we establish several chapters ago that the king is crazy and evil? Yet Brom thinks that Galby should know that Urgals are getting organized and attacking people? And no one ever thought that maybe, just maybe the Big Bad had something to do with this?

merida-headdesk

Also, we get this gem from Eragon.

“And you can do this even though you aren’t a rider?” asked Eragon.

Eragon, HOW ARE YOU THIS DUMB?!

There were a couple things I did like about this chapter, though. First, Brom teaches Eragon about communicating mentally with other sentient creatures, the same way that Eragon is able to talk to Saphira. Though years of playing DnD has made me disagree with Brom’s definition of sentience, it is a cool idea to be able to communicate with any living creature. The exposition didn’t have the clunky handling, either, as it did in some previous chapters. And there’s also this small piece of brilliance from Brom.

Think about it: you can communicate with any sentient being, though the contact may not be very clear. You could spend the entire day listening to a bird’s thoughts or understanding how an earthworm feels during a rainstorm But I’ve never found birds very interesting. I suggest starting with a cat; they have unusual personalities.

Yes. As the proud owner of one the derpiest cats on the planet, I agree so hard. Think of all the other famous fictional cats: the Cheshire Cat, the pirate cat in The Last Unicorn, and…okay, that’s all the cats I can think of, save perhaps Thackery Binx, who isn’t even really a cat.

But wouldn’t you love to know what Princess Monster Truck is thinking? I sure would.

princess-monster-truck
She is everything that is right with the internet.

Even better, my cries for more Saphira have been heard. She tackles Eragon and demands that he start flying with her so she can keep him safe. Some of her dialogue makes her sound like a concerned mom, but I’m happy she’ll be in the story more after this. Now that I’m a pilot, I’m also looking forward to reading more flying scenes, which I suspect will be much different from Eragon’s first flight.