Let’s Read Eragon ch. 16


Chapter 16: Therinsford

Eragon, Brom and Saphira finally set off in pursuit of the bird things that burned down Garrow’s farm. On the way Brom delivers a bunch of exposition about dragons that isn’t interesting, aside from the fact that infant dragons instinctively choose their Riders and won’t hatch until their egg comes into contact with someone whose jib they like the cut of. Which means Eragon is surely special for some reason we haven’t found out about yet.

“Before I can truly answer your question, you need a basic education on the subject of dragons. It’s hopelessly confusing to start in the middle of such a complex topic without understanding the foundation on which it stands. I’ll begin with the life cycle of dragons, and if that doesn’t wear you out, we can continue to another topic.”

Most of these bad fantasy novels not only include boatloads of dull conversations, but they also deliver them in the most boring, roundabout way possible, with characters (usually the quirky twinkly-eyed wizard mentor) taking for-fucking-ever to say whatever they’re going to say. Here Brom takes up two paragraphs getting around to “I don’t know everything about dragons because they’re mysterious, here’s what I do know, let’s begin with the basics.”

And the way the conversation starts feels really wooden, with Eragon just randomly asking “so what can dragons do?”. Couldn’t he express curiosity about a particular dragon-related topic? Like where Saphira’s egg came from in the first place, which he still hasn’t gotten an answer to?

“Who was the Rider that owned Zar’roc?”

“A mighty warrior,” said Brom, “who was much feared in his time and held great power.”

“What was his name?”

“I’ll not say.” Eragon protested, but Brom was firm. “I don’t want to keep you ignorant, far from it, but certain knowledge would only prove dangerous and distracting for you right now. There isn’t any reason for me to trouble you with such things until you have the time and the power to deal with them. I only wish to protect you from those who would use you for evil.”

It would have been a lot easier to just say you don’t know. But then the audience wouldn’t have an Exciting Mystery to keep them turning the page.

“You know what? I think you just enjoy speaking in riddles. I’ve half a mind to leave you so I don’t have to be bothered with them. If you’re going to say something, then say it instead of dancing around with vague phrases!”

“Peace. All will be told in time,” Brom said gently. Eragon grunted, unconvinced.

I actually agree with Eragon here, but he’s still such a whiny little asshole.

While they’re camped for the night Brom decides to teach Eragon sword-fighting; he does this by suddenly tossing him a stick and then charging into full-contact sparring. I’ve ranted about this before, and it’s just as nonsensical here. At one point Brom hits him on the head hard enough to leave him dazed, which could easily kill him, especially if he’s planning on making it a regular feature of their training.

The next day Eragon and co reach Therinsford, at which point they’re confronted by a random encounter with a level 5 bandit.

As they approached it, a greasy man stepped from behind a bush and barred their way. His shirt was too short, and his dirty stomach spilled over a rope belt. Behind his cracked lips, his teeth looked like crumbling tombstones. “You c’n stop right there. This’s my bridge. Gotta pay t’ get over.”

This guy’s hanging out shaking people down for money, and the people in the town just put up with it?

Brom uses the Jedi mind trick gives the man what he wants and then cuts his purse as they’re going past, to show how much of an awesome badass he us. In town they go to buy some horses, and Brom receives a steed named Snowfire because of course he does. During the purchase Eragon discovers that he can also do horse telepathy, although it’s not as strong as dragon telepathy.

He had only ridden horses bareback and never for any distance.

In that case there’s no way he’s undertaking this particular epic journey on horse back. Fantasy authors, for the love of god: you can’t just jump on the back of a horse and gallop off into the sunset. It’s a skill, and like any skill it needs to be learned.

And why doesn’t Eragon have any more riding experience? He lives in a world where the horse is the primary method of transportation and he roams long distances hunting, you’d think he’d want to do so on horseback.

It struck him then just how old the Riders were. A legacy of tradition and heroism that stretched back to antiquity had fallen upon him.

This kid has the emotional range of a toaster.

They come out of the valley and are confronted with a vast plain whose existence Eragon apparently didn’t know about, even though it’s like three day’s ride from his house. Brom suggests they camp yet again– all that horse buying was too much excitement I guess– and another chapter ends with our heroes sitting around a fire doing nothing in particular.

I think this is the most un-exciting beginning to a fantasy journey I’ve ever seen. Even the most dour novel will have its protagonists set off on the road with a certain sense of adventure– even The Eye of The World, which spent ages totally blowing our minds by telling us how much adventures suck, kicked off proper with a desperate flight from danger– but here’s it’s just this dull, plodding slog.





7 thoughts on “Let’s Read Eragon ch. 16

  1. Vartul

    I keep wondering how this novel was such a smashing success. I guess teenagers aren’t as distinguishing. I certainly wasn’t.
    I feel that the difference between a badly written novel and a well written one isn’t necessarily success, but longevity. Authors like Kafka and Toole died in ignominy, and today their works are considered classics.

    1. Signatus

      I always thought it was simply that both Eragon and The Lord of the Rings movie came out more or less at the same time. When I was a teenager, and a fantasy D&D nerd, I had already read Dragonlance, The Dark Elf books, The Death Gate Cycle among others (not selling them as good books, mind you, although the Death Gate has a special place in my heart). You had to go to specialized shops to buy them as they were not available everywhere, and people at my school would look at me weird for reading those things, because apparently Harry Potter is really cool, but if you read about Raistlin Majere, that’s weird fantasy dude.

      Anyways, then The Lord of the Rings movie came out, and everyone went super crazy about them, buying the books and all. They were thirsty for more of the stuff and the books I had read became a thing, and along with them this book with a blue dragon in the cover. I remember checking the backcover a couple of times and putting it back down because I thought that was amateurish fantasy, but for people who hadn’t grown reading Margaret Weiss or Richard a. Knaak it might have seen more of that which they were thirsty for.

      Summarizing, it was a fad. A fad which came out at the right time. If Paolini had published the same book today, in the middle of post apocaliptic YA romance novels, I don’t think it would have been received as well as it was back then.

      Same thing is going on now. Hunger Games comes out, then Divergent, and all the trashy stuff that’s basically a bad copy of an H.G.Wells novel.

  2. Signatus

    “Which means Eragon is surely special for some reason we haven’t found out about yet.”

    Prepare the Gary Stu-meter. Eragon is special in so many ways it’s astounding. I mean, it would have been nice if Paolini deepened on why certain people are special enough to make dragon hatchlings hatch for them. Is it something in their personality? Are they attuned to dragons in certain way? Is it physical strength? Are they sensitive to magic? Those are all cliche’s, I’m sure someone can come with a perfectly cool explanation as to why some people are chosen as dragon riders and others are not.

    “I don’t want to keep you ignorant, far from it, but certain knowledge would only prove dangerous and distracting for you right now.”

    I call BS. There is absolutely nothing dangerous about knowing Darth Vader’s name (which is what he ultimately was… because it’s a he, of course it’s a he, mighty swords are an extension of might warriors’ p….).

    “I actually agree with Eragon here”

    So do I. There is actually a better and more exciting way to get around this issue of not wanting to reveal too much from the start. Have your characters know shit about what’s going on and have them discover by their own means the whole issue.

    “And why doesn’t Eragon have any more riding experience?”

    I don’t know much about medieval times, and again, this is fantasy and in fantasy you can have the School of Astronomical Research if you wish to, but I’m guessing horses were mostly reserved for nobility and the such. Maybe some heavy types like clydesdale, gypsy vanners and freisian were farm horses. Most common I guess were donkeys and mules. Eragon comes from a very poor family so that would explain why they didn’t have any horses.

    Not trying to defend Paolini, though. I probably thought about that just now more than he did.

    “he roams long distances hunting, you’d think he’d want to do so on horseback.”

    That’s actually a pretty good observation. Not to mention he was hunting deer. Look, I don’t know how large deer are in the US where Paolini lives, but here the common deer (Cervus elaphus) can reach up to 200 kg. Now I want to see Eragon carry all that back without the brute strength of a horse or a mule.

    Quick look at Wikipedia tells me wapiti (Cervus canadiensis) is, as I imagined, larger, easily reaching up to 320 kg in weight. So there.

    “but here’s it’s just this dull, plodding slog.”

    I’m a sucker for origin stories. I love a good werewolf first change story where the hero has to learn everything from the start. That’s one of the reasons I loved the Spiderman movie. The difference between both is that our Spidei underdog is a proactive character, doing stuff like getting into this underground arena to get some money and getting in trouble. Eragon is simply boring. He’s a passive, emotionless thing that’s not even worthy as a reader insert. He does nothing, he just walks along.

    I mean, even Qvothe-Stu is more proactive than Eragon, even if it means trying to build stuff in the lab to gather some coins, and I thought that book was boring.

    He finds a dragon egg, his family has been killed, his cousin is probably in danger. He says he wants to pursue the Ra’Zac and yet he shows as much emotion as the can of red bull I’m drinking right now. Paolini doesn’t know how to craft a story and the problem is experience only plummets him in a spiral of purple prose. He tries to compensate his lack of interesting characters and storytelling with overly decorated prose, and it just becomes a slog.

    The problem I see is the man (he’s older than I am, for goodness sake, and I’m over 30) has been shielded from criticism to the point he has never been able to improve. I used to think there was some hidden talent there, but now I’m not so sure.

    1. callmeIndigo

      To be fair I’ve never heard anyone in the US call an elk/wapiti a deer in normal conversation, and the other kinds of deer we have are usually much smaller than that, but still not so small I’d want to carry one around by hand.

    2. Hal

      Riding skills in the medieval period strongly depend on region and relative income. By 1415, pretty much all English medieval soldiers would be mounted on horseback (but would get off their horses to fight battles), so there seems to be a pretty good range of people economically able to afford a horse in late medieval England. It might also depend on where you live. Middle of London or an Imperial free city? Probably wouldn’t have as many opportunities to learn horse riding. Free farmer (even if relatively poor)? Pretty likely that you know how to ride.

      1. Signatus

        Thanks. I’ve been looking it up since yesterday but I don’t find anything on the web relation the availability of horses in relation with the income in the medieval period so I’m going to guess these were like cars. Most people could afford one, just don’t expect a poor farmer riding a battle destrier.


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