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.

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