Eragon 30-31: Stew Today, Stew Tomorrow, Stew Forever

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.

Ugh.

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.

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Eragon 29: Unique, Not Useful

After college, I got a job that required a lot of driving in vans that didn’t have CD players or aux cables. Only three radio stations came in clearly: Top 40, Christian rock, and country music. Thus, I began listening to a lot of country music, and generally hating it, but thought it was better than the alternatives. After a few months, I was happily singing along to the songs that I couldn’t stand.

I called this “musical Stockholm Syndrome”.

In the last few chapters, I was worried that I was developing “literary Stockholm Syndrome”, as I was actually enjoying Eragon a lot more than I expected. Would the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia block me from seeing the truth of this book?

Upon reading this chapter, I was glad to find that this was not the case. Maybe those chapters I’d liked so much were genuinely good. Once Brom and Eragon get on the road again, though, I can start looking at the story with a more critical eye. Or, rather, one that pokes and prods at tiny details that just happen to annoy me.

Like, Eragon asking Brom about werecats as they leave Terim. Eragon lies to Brom, saying it was just something that he heard about, not that he met Solembum or Angela. But why lie about that? Wouldn’t it be helpful to just be honest with Brom, who could probably help him sort this out?

On the plus side, Eragon is finally wising up and questioning Brom.

‘There’s a lot going on that I don’t understand. For instance, who are your ‘friends’, and why were you hiding in Carvahall? I trust you with my life–which is why I’m still traveling with you–but I need to know more about who you are and what you are doing. What did you steal in Gil’ead, and what is the tuatha du orothrim that you’re taking me through? I think that after all that’s happened, I deserve an explanation.’

To his credit, Brom answer most of Eragon’s questions about how Saphira’s egg was stolen from Galby, and partially how it came to Eragon. Brom doesn’t tell him everything, but that’s forgivable because Brom himself doesn’t know everything that happened. But he still won’t tell Eragon he was a Dragon Rider, and Eragon still doesn’t have a clue about that. Which, c’mon, he really should at this point.

What does Brom have to gain by withholding that information from him? How is that trying to protect him in the slightest?

Brom and Eragon also discuss his options as a Dragon Rider, and it seems that Eragon will eventually have to decide if he will side with the evil Empire, or the Varden, a group of rebels fighting against Galby. Brom claims that they’re not fighting for land or people, but for control over the first Dragon Rider in a million years. You know, so they can have him on their side to control the land and people.

Are those the only options? For someone whose fate is supposedly in his own hands, they seem like pretty limiting choices. There’s no way for Eragon and Saphira to strike out on their own?

When Eragon relays the story of how Saphira’s egg came to him, we get this.

He told Saphira what he had learned. She was intrigued by Brom’s revelations, but recoiled from the thought of being one of Galbatorix’s possessions. At last she said, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t stay in Carvahall?’

That’s it, and it’s pretty disappointing. I want to see Saphira’s reaction to this news, I don’t want to be told about it. Considering her terror just at the presence of the Ra’zac in Carvahall, I thought there’d be a lot more from her at this news. If nothing else, at least she switches back to sarcasm pretty quickly.

A little later on, Eragon breaks his wrist at an inconvenient time, when a band of Urgals start chasing after him, Brom, and Saphira. Since Eragon can’t ride his horse, he rides on Saphira to get away from the Urgals. This leaves Brom riding on the ground, and the Urgals are threatening to overtake Brom. Instead of trying to protect Brom or fight the Urgals with magic, or even have Saphira attack them from the sky, he has her land in front of the Urgals.

Not on them. In front of them. To his credit, this does throw the Urgals from their horses, and makes the horses fall and get tangled up in each other. They’ve been significantly slowed, but he still doesn’t have Saphira attack them, or have her fly away.  Instead, he wants to talk to them.

‘We have do do something!’ exclaimed Eragon.

‘What?’

‘Land in front of the Urgals!’

‘Are you crazy?’ demanded Saphira.

Listen to your dragon, kid.

Eragon wants to talk to the Urgals, presumably to get information out of them. When the conversation seems to be going nowhere, Eragon just uses magic to injure them. Not kill them, note. You know, the same thing he could have done from the safety of the air.

Eragon, just because you are unique does not mean that you are useful.

Eragon 27-28: Of Reading and Plots

Pardon the unexpected hiatus…I just moved to a new state! Hopefully this blog will be back on track now that I’m a bit more settled in.

Chapter 27, “Of Reading and Plots” is…wait, is that seriously the chapter title?

Well, it’s boring, but I guess it’s better than “The Doom of Innocence”.

This is another disproportionately short chapter, and it mainly outlines Eragon’s time in Terim. There’s a severe lack of Saphira in this chapter, but it’s noted that she’s lonely hiding outside the city, with Eragon only being able to visit her in the evenings.

One thing that I wondered about most during this chapter is Eragon’s reading progress. He spends his morning with Brom learning how to read. After a week, he can read, albeit slowly, a page without Brom’s help. As far as cognitive development goes, most children are ready to read by ages 5 or 6. How long would it take to teach a fifteen-year-old to read? On one hand, it might take less time than a young child, because in theory, he’s already developed the cognition to be able to read, but just hasn’t put it into practice. On the other hand, even though he’s still young, his brain is already less plastic than a young child’s, and it would take longer for him to learn something new. This is why learning a new language is easier for children than adults.

Eragon also has a dream where he sees a beautiful chained woman and wakes up sobbing uncontrollably. I know it’s supposed to make me sad as well, but really…I don’t feel anything.

He saw a young woman, bent over by sorrow, chained in a cold, hard cell. A beam of moonlight shone through a barred window set high in the wall and fell on her face. A single tear rolled down her cheek, like a liquid diamond.

…except for maybe chuckling at the phrase “liquid diamond”. Nice one, Paolini.

Moving on to the next chapter, Brom, Eragon, and Jeod prepare to make their way into the castle where records are kept, so they can try to track down the oil the Ra’zac used.

From his waist swung an elegant rapier and a leather pouch. Brom eyed the rapier and observed, ‘That toad sticker is too thin for any real fighting. What will you do if someone comes after you with a broadsword or flamberge?’

‘Be realistic,’ said Joed. ‘None of the guards has a flamberge. Besides, this toad sticker is faster than a broadsword.’

For an embarrassingly long time, that paragraph was the only thing I knew about different types of swords. When I was writing my generic fantasy novels in high school, almost all the characters used rapiers because of Eragon, or katanas because I was a weeaboo nerd.

What’s really notable about this chapter is all the missed chances for excitement. They bribe their way into the records room and read as many scrolls as they can trying to find the route the oil took. Because that’s what I love about fantasy novels, watching the protagonists read about taxes and shipments.

Actually, I do like that they’re being practical about tracing the oil, with no over-the-top theatrics or magical aid. When they’re caught in the records room, though, there’s no chase scene, no fight…just Brom and Eragon hiding while Jeod deflects the guards, and they all sneak out safely.

Once they return to Jeod’s house, they pull out a map and look at all the cities the oil’s been shipped to, hoping they can find the right one that will lead them to the Ra’zac. This is when I’m really glad the book has a map of [Algaseia] on the front and back covers, so it’s easier to follow what the characters are talking about. Without it, a lot of what they’re saying would be nonsense, like when you listen to someone talk about places you’ve never heard of.

[T]he oil wasn’t sent to all of them. The parchment only lists Kuasta, Dras-Leona, and Belatona. Kuasta wouldn’t work for the Ra’zac; it’s on the coast and surrounded by mountains. Aroughs is isolated like Ceunon, though it is a center of trade. That leaves Belatona and Dras-Leona, which are rather close together. Of the two, I think Dras-Leona is likelier. It’s larger and better situated. 

That really bugs me. Eragon’s supposed to be this simple farm boy. He’s likely to have never left Palancar Valley before this story begins, and only just learned to read. But suddenly he knows all about geography and of places he’s never seen before, just by looking at a map?

This is the same issue I had with the dialogue before. Make it flowery or plain, give me an educated young man or a simple farm boy–I just want consistency. Is that so much to ask?

Although, Joed brings up something I hadn’t thought of.

If someone were to die from Seither oil in Galbatorix’s court, it would be all to easy for an earl or some other lord to discover that the Empire has been buying large amounts of it.

I always pictured Galby in some desolate stronghold, mad and alone. The idea that he has a “court”, like lords and ladies, nobility…it doesn’t fit in my mind. I’m having a hard time getting the two ideas to mesh.

But also, why would anyone care if their autocrat has the dangerous oil? What would people do? Protest? Riot? Why would they? That’s one good thing about being an amoral, evil dictator. You don’t have to worry about public opinion, because you can just execute the public whose opinions you don’t like.