I went on a bit of a rant on Facebook today. A friend was wondering whether Christopher Paolini’s book Eragon was worth sticking with if it hadn’t secured her attention in the first 100 pages. The following text was the result. It’s by no means a comprehensive critique, but it’s a start.
Despite my complete disdain for the whole series both from a literary and fictional perspective, I have actually read three of the four books — strictly for research, I assure you.
If you’re familiar with basic writing tropes, you’ll know what I mean when I say that Eragon is a complete Mary Sue. Early on in the first book he manages to stump two Alliance propaganda artists with a single sentence, and that trend continues throughout the book. The only mistake he ever makes (to my memory) exists only as a plot device to introduce a thoroughly uninteresting side character. No matter how foolhardy his decisions, they always work out to a positive result — oftentimes due to the sacrifices of others in order to cover for his incompetence. While this produces a reasonable amount of angst, Eragon’s character never develops as a result.
It’s pretty obvious that Paolini spent the entire time writing the books with a thesaurus in one hand. His vocabulary can seem impressive to the casual look, but in most cases the words he uses are subtly wrong for the situation. As a person who actually does have a wide vocabulary, it really ground on me whenever I would see a word out of place and know that it had been included due to a combination of ignorance and pretended intelligence. One memorable scene involves two characters arguing over which sword is better; a rapier or a flamberge — the fact that in many cases a flamberge is merely a type of rapier is not brought up.
Paolini draws liberally on established fantasy authors when creating his names and “languages”. Many names are either one letter removed from names found in the Lord of the Rings (“Isenbard”? really?), and the magic system is literally a direct copy of the “true name” doctrine in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. The languages spoken by the various peoples of Alagaesia have none of the believability or linguistic feasibility of the languages of Middle Earth, but that doesn’t stop him from including entire passages of them.
As the series progresses, the narrative becomes more and more convoluted, with new rules being introduced into the magic system (by the middle of the second book a number of the terms from the Sword of Truth books have been adopted), new characters with entire chapters devoted to their tangentially related adventures, and some of the strangest discrepancies in character development that I’ve ever found (Arya won’t eat meat because it’s cruel, but she only ever wears leather?).
I haven’t read the last book. Maybe he cleaned up his act and produced something worthwhile, but I kind of doubt it. My vote: skip it. You could be spending the time spent on those 2800 pages on much better books.
As an added bonus, you can read my very old comic strip comparing the plot of Eragon to that of the original Star wars movies.