Eragon 56-57: Fantasy Pet Peeves

The next chapter’s title, “Hall of the Mountain King”, made me hesitate. I was certain that this was just going to be another long chapter full of description and little else. I was wrong on one count: it isn’t full of description. But the “little else” part rings true. Here, Eragon meets the dwarf king Hrothgar, and…that’s it. Hrothgar, who plays so small a role in the overarching story that it’s hard to care about anything he says. Not that he gives Eragon (or the reader) a lot of new information.

It does, however, hit on one of my more recent pet peeves about high fantasy stories.

Why is everything so ancient? There’s a sword that was forged hundreds of years ago, an unbroken history with few (if any) holes in it dating back a thousand years? Why did all the technology advancement stop at medieval siege weaponry? You had a millennium for your race to develop actual advanced technology, and the best you can come up with is a sword?

It shouldn’t take that long for someone to figure out gunpowder, or indoor plumbing.

For some perspective, humans flew in manmade aircraft for the first time in 1903.  Not even a century later, we landed on the moon.

I understand that technology advances exponentially, and that we–the human race–were stuck with primitive technology and weaponry like swords and shields for so long because people centuries ago didn’t live that long. Medical science has helped us stay alive longer, along with basic education and knowledge in regards to our own health and well-being. So I acknowledge that it is realistic for a society in a medieval setting to have not made much progress. For the humans, at least. But for the long-lived and disease resistant dwarves and elves? What’s their excuse?

I bring this up because the dwarf king Hrothgar is super old, which he says himself.

For eight millennia–since the dawn of our race–dwarves have ruled under Farthen Dûr. We are the bones of the land, older than both the fair elves and the savage dragons. [. . .]

I am old, human–even by our reckoning–old enough to have seen the Riders in all their fleeing glory, old enough to have spoken with their last leader, Vrael, who paid tribute to me within these very walls.

According to the Inheritance Wiki (There really is a Wiki for everything), roughly 100 years have gone by between Vrael’s death via crotch shot and Saphira’s hatching.

Hrothgar takes a lot of pride in his heritage, as well as his age. But then, after Eragon says he wouldn’t be interested in the throne once Galby is slain, Hrothgar says this:

Certainly you would be a kinder king than Galbatorix, but no race should have a leader who does not age or leave the throne.

Oh, you mean a king like you, Hrothgar? Or what about the immortal elves, and their queen, who also doesn’t age or die easily?

This would sound more like a piece of wisdom if it wasn’t mired in hypocrisy.

Eragon’s refusal of the throne, at least, sounds like he’s good for the sake of being good. There’s nothing wrong with that; not every character needs to be gritty and angsty with a dark side. It could be an admirable trait, if there was anything else distinguishing about Eragon’s personality. He’s just there, reacting to the situations around him, and doesn’t stand out as an individual in any way.

In the next chapter, Eragon is tested by the Varden to show both his magical abilities and swordsmanship. The Twins are up first, and ask Eragon to do a variety of magical tasks. He faces a few new challenges dealing with them, but after the initial task, we don’t get to see any of it. Everything else is glossed over, so we don’t get to see his creative solutions to the problems. In other chapters we’ll get paragraphs upon paragraphs of description, but when there’s something I actually want to read, it’s shoved out of the way.

In the final task, the Twins challenge Eragon to “summon the essence of silver” from a ring. Eragon doesn’t know how to do this, and they are interrupted by Arya. When he asks her about what the Twins were asking, Arya explains that they were asking him to do…

Something not even they can accomplish. It is possible to speak the true name of an object in the ancient language and summon its true form. It takes years of work and great discipline, but the reward is complete control over the object.

Let’s back up here.

In that (a), the Twins are magically stronger than Eragon and incapable of doing this task.

And (b), magic that is too strong for the caster to wield will lead to that caster’s death

I conclude that (c) the Twins just straight up tried to kill Eragon, while Arya and several others watched.

And no one, not Arya, not Orik, no one thinks that this is weird, or the Twins are evil. In fact, it never gets brought up again!

And I know that victim-blaming is bad, but if the Varden is this obtuse, they deserved to get betrayed.

After that attempt on Eragon’s life is ignored, Arya challenges him to a duel. Eragon is a bit hesitant to fight her at first. Even though she’s out and walking around, she’s still healing after months of torture and poisoning. She’s still in a weakened state…and beats Eragon easily.

This scene illustrates everything I hate about the elves in this series. Arya’s so beautiful, everyone stares at her as she crosses the training ground. Her voice gives Eragon chills. By all rights, she should have lost the duel, but comes out on top. All of this for one reason: she’s an elf.

The elves are immortal, infallible…and insufferable. They are a race of Mary Sues, and we are supposed to be in awe of their abilities. I’m not, though. Sometimes I wish I could just reach through the pages and wring Arya’s perfect neck.

Sadly, there is one more gripe I have to get out before we’re done with this chapter. Eragon goes to visit Murtagh in his cell. Murtagh is pretty comfortable, and says that even if he were free, he probably would spend most of his time in there anyway.  When asked why, he replies:

You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words.

Seriously, Murtagh, you’re still on this? Like, four people know that you’re Morzan’s son, and two of them are Eragon and Saphira. It’s not like you’re going to wander around yelling, “I’m Morzan’s son! I’m Morzan’s son!”

I guess being a drama queen is better than being devoid of personality, but not by much.