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 46-47: A Path Revealed

“The Hadarac Desert” is yet another chapter that’s all about traveling, and not a lot happens. The only thing that’s really memorable about it is Saphira’s reaction to the desert.

I feel as though I was made for this desert. It has the space I need, mountains where I could roost, and camouflaged prey that I could spend days hunting. And the warmth! Cold does not disturb me, but this heat makes me feel alive and full of energy.

I love Saphira’s excitement, and how she feels so at home here. Other than that, the details of the travel are rather boring. At one point, it’s noted that they’ve traveled 35 leagues in the desert, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s a measure of distance, but…does anyone know what a league actually is? Saying they’d gone 120 miles (roughly the equivalent of 35 leagues, thanks Google!) would give the reader a better sense of distance, but “league” is keeping with the language of the setting.

As they’re crossing the desert, Eragon, Saphira, and Murtagh discuss the Ra’zac. Saphira says that if they meet again, “they will find I am not so easily bound with chains.” Which she shouldn’t have been in the first place, because, you know, she’s a dragon.

But you know what really bugs me about the Ra’zac? Avenging Garrow’s by killing the Ra’zac dictated Eragon and Brom’s movement in the beginning of the book. When they’re outplayed, though, they just give up and move on. It isn’t unreasonable, really, but they still don’t kill the Ra’zac until the third book. By that time, Eragon should have a lot more on his mind that hunting down the creatures he should have killed a long time ago.

The next chapter was another one that I was curious to read again. Despite all my gripes about this book, there are still some things that I thought were pretty cool, and I wanted to see how well they hold up years later. In this case, it’s Eragon trying to communicate with the still-unconscious Arya by entering into her mind. They mentally struggle, and it looks like Eragon is going to lose this fight. Even though I’m not a fan of Arya, it’s impressive how powerful she is, even in this weakened state.

Eragon learns that Arya has been poisoned, and put herself in a self-induced coma to keep the poison from killing her within hours. She says that she can only remain in this state for a few more days, however, or she will die without the antidote. I think this is a really cool idea, and I like how Paolini emphasizes that elves are not just humans with pointy ears. This is made even more apparent when Arya allows Eragon to enter her mind.

The elf warily let their thoughts touch, like two wild animals meeting for the first time. A cold shiver ran down Eragon’s side. Her mind was alien. It felt vast and powerful, weighted with memories of uncounted years. Dark thoughts loomed out of sight and touch, artifacts of her race that made him cringe when they brushed his consciousness. Yet through all the sensations shimmered a melody of wild, haunting beauty that embodied her identity.

Arya tells Eragon that the rebel group, the Varden, have the antidote, and that he needs to bring her to them. She then reveals the route he can follow to find them.

A series of vertigo-inducing images suddenly flashed through his mind. He found himself riding along the Beor Mountain range, traveling eastward many leagues. Eragon did his best to remember the route as craggy mountains and hills flashed past. He was heading south now, still following the mountains. Then everything wheeled abruptly, and he entered a narrow, winding valley. It snaked through the mountains to the base of a frothy waterfall that pounded into a deep lake.

Got all that? Good, because I sure didn’t.

That sounds like an amazingly complicated route, never mind that Eragon has never seen any of these places before. I have a hard enough time finding the right place to go on streets that are labelled, in the city that I live in. I can take mind-talk and elven comas, but I don’t buy Eragon being able to remember the whole route, let alone find it.

Even so, Eragon insists that they follow this route and go to the Varden, and Murtagh immediately objects. He gets quite angry at Eragon for even suggesting that they try to get to the Varden, but his rage–and ensuing fight with Eragon–really comes out of nowhere. At first his gripe seems to be that he’s tired of saving Eragon all the time, and I can’t blame him there. Seriously, our protagonist has lost consciousness so many times I’ve stopped counting. But the crux of the issue really is that Murtagh doesn’t want to go to the Varden, because of his dark and mysterious past.

I can tell you the Varden wouldn’t welcome me even if I came bearing the king’s head. Oh, they might greet me nicely enough and let me into their councils, but trust me? Never.

Couple things here.

I’m pretty sure the Varden would be happy if you killed Galby, no matter your birth. And I’m equally sure that if the band of rebels doesn’t trust you, they wouldn’t let you in their secret hide-out, and definitely not into their councils.

Right as Murtagh is about to tell the truth about why he’s wanted by the Empire, he’s conveniently cut off by the arrival of Urgals marching towards them, delaying Murtagh’s reveal for several more chapter.

Anyway, Murtagh and Eragon come to the mind-blowingly simple decision to part ways when Eragon and Saphira get close to the Varden. It really was that easy, guys. It shouldn’t take an army of not-orcs to help you come to that conclusion.

Eragon 44-45: The Road Trip

“Water From Stone” was another chapter I was looking forward to reading, mainly because it was one that I remembered from my youth. Sad to say, I remember this chapter better than some more exciting scenes. The first pages are nothing but exposition as Eragon, Murtagh, and Saphira try to figure where they need to go after escaping Gil’ead. Compounding their problems, Arya still hasn’t awoken, making travel more difficult.

The first half of the chapter isn’t all that bad, even if it is something of an information dump. It’s a back-and-forth exchange between Murtagh and Eragon, with Saphira chiming in occasionally. Earlier, Brom’s long lectures were important so the reader could understand the rules of the world, but they felt forced to me. This one here feels a lot more natural, and the chapter moves faster because there’s more than one person participating. Their conversation, just talking about the map and future destinations, moves the plot forward, while Brom’s lessons rarely felt necessary to the overall story.

They decide to attempt to cross the Hadarac Desert, if they can find a way to keep themselves hydrated without having to carry water with them. To do this, Eragon first attempts to transform some dirt to stone. The magic he casts demands so much power that it nearly kills him. It’s the first time we see Eragon overextend himself this way. We’ve seen him pass out from using magic before, sure, but he falls unconscious so often it’s basically lost all meaning. Instead, he loses a lot of energy and is afraid the magic might kill him. It obviously doesn’t, but we also finally see the consequences of using powerful magic.

Another thing I like about this chapter is that the characters finally encounter a problem that can’t be overcome by brute force.  Eragon isn’t strong enough to turn dirt into water, and it looks as though crossing the dessert will be impossible. However, he realizes that there is water under the earth, and all he has to do is lift it up to the surface.  Finally, he manages to solve a problem by creative thinking, not his sword.

As far as the next chapter goes, there’s just…not a lot. I actually found most of the chapter to be humorous, though I’m not sure that was the intention. Eragon, Murtagh, and Saphira debate over the best way to carry the still-unconscious Arya, without her being injured by Saphira’s scales or saddle sores. They finally decide to tie Arya to Saphira’s belly, so she can fly and still carry Arya.

This is also the same sort of solution my Dungeons and Dragons group would have come to, so I can respect that.

Again, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be funny, but I got a chuckle out of it. Largely because it’s so undignified. In truth, I never liked Arya too much. She was always too haughty for me, so it’s a little satisfying to see her tied to Saphira. Especially because we can’t go a full chapter without talking about how beautiful Arya is. There’s at least one mention of her “sculpted lips” that made me groan.

Other than that, there’s not a lot in this chapter worth mentioning. Once they figure out how to transport Arya, the only other obstacle they have to worry about is crossing a river. It’s solved pretty simply by Saphira flying Eragon, Murtagh, and the horses across. This chapter is more bland than anything else, and I’ll be happy we when can go a whole chapter without mentioning Arya’s beauty.