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.

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.