Let’s Read Eragon ch. 20 – 21


Chapter 20: A Song For The Road

Guys, I’ve got some very exciting news. This chapter has a song.

I’ve talked before about how a lot of fantasy authors think they can make poems and maps and languages and shit because Tolkien did it, apparently assuming that the mere act of writing fantasy confers those abilities on a person. Well, we’re about to get an absolutely sterling example of the phenomenon.

Eragon asks Brom what the ocean is like for no apparent reason, and he responds by spouting a load of faux-poetic nonsense:

“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts
to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.

But these words alone aren’t enough to capture the majesty of the ocean, so a few paragraphs later we get this:

O liquid temptress ’neath the azure sky,
Your gilded expanse calls me, calls me.
For I would sail ever on,
Were it not for the elven maid,
Who calls me, calls me.
She binds my heart with a lily-white tie,
Never to be broken, save by the sea,
Ever to be torn twixt the trees and the waves.

I’ll just let you all bask in that, sans commentary.

“There is much more to that song, the ‘Du Silbena Datia.

That name sounds vaguely familiar, although I can’t figure out from where.

It tells the sad tale of two lovers, Acallamh and Nuada, who were separated by longing for the sea.

Nuada is the king of the Tuatha Dé Danann from Irish mythology. He tends to make cameo appearances in fantasy-related media, including Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 2.

“It’s beautiful,” said Eragon simply.

Hot tip: never have a character praise something you yourself created*, especially if it does not in fact possess the qualities the character is ascribing to it.

*(This only applies if you actually show the thing to the reader. If someone in your book writes a novel and everyone gushes about how it’s the greatest novel ever written, that’s fine; just don’t actually quote from it unless you have in fact written the greatest novel of all time)

The Spine was a faint outline on the horizon when they halted that evening.

After this sentence there’s a break, and then the chapter continues as though the scene never happened, which makes me wonder what the point of it was in the first place. Then there’s another short story fragment about Brom and Eragon travelling along the Spine for days, followed by another break. The structure of this book really needed some work before it was ready for showtime.

The long days and strenuous work stripped Eragon’s body of excess fat. His arms became corded, and his tanned skin rippled with lean muscles. Everything about me is turning hard, he thought dryly.

Too much information, dude.

“Because in the middle of the mountains rests the Woadark Lake.

Woah, dark.

“Why is everything green?” asked Eragon. “Don’t they have winter here?”

“Yes, but the season is mild. Mist and fog roll in from the sea and keep everything alive.

I have no idea what Brom is going on about here. Temperate areas with mild winters still experience seasonal changes like leaves shedding from trees and changes in growing patterns. “Mist from the sea” isn’t going to keep everything alive through the winter season.

Anyway the chapter ends with absolutely nothing of note happening, as though it was only written to reassure us that Brom and Eragon are, in fact, still travelling.

Chapter 21: Age of Teirm

Our dynamic duo arrive at a big port city, which makes me wonder why they were travelling through empty wilderness for so long. Cities tend to be surrounded by cultivated land and towns, not desolate wildland.

On the way into the city they’re questioned by some guards, which results in whatever the fuck all this is:

“I’m called Neal,” said Brom in a wheezy voice, slouching to one side, an expression of happy idiocy on his face.

“And who’s th’ other one?” asked the guard.
“Well, I wus gettin’ to that. This’ed be m’nephew Evan. He’s m’sister’s boy, not a…”
The guard nodded impatiently. “Yeah, yeah. And yer business here?”

“He’s visitin’ an old friend,” supplied Eragon, dropping his voice into a thick accent.

“I’m along t’ make sure he don’t get lost, if y’ get m’meaning. He ain’t as young as he used to be—had a bit too much sun when he was young’r. Touch o’ the brain fever, y’ know.” Brom bobbed his head pleasantly.

I think this is supposed to be The Vernacular Of The Common People (in which case why doesn’t Eragon speak this way all the time?), but it sounds more like they’re drunk.

They go to a tavern and Brom does the whole bribing scene (“what if I gave you a few more coins to refresh your memory”, that sort of thing) that you’ve all seen a million times before to try and locate a man named Jeod. To my surprise, Paolini actually puts a pretty clever twist on the set-up:

“Could be,” he replied, lowering his voice, “but my memory takes a great deal of prodding.”

Brom’s face soured, but he slid more coins onto the bar. The bartender sucked on one side of his cheek undecidedly. “All right,” he finally said, and reached for the coins.
Before he touched them, the man missing two fingers called out from his table, “Gareth, what in th’ blazes do you think you’re doing? Anyone on the street could tell them where Jeod lives. What are you charging them for?”
Brom swept the coins back into his purse.

How about that! Originality.

The dude who saved Brom’s money tells them that certain merchants have been suffering a decline in business as a result of their ships being sunk by unknown nefarious sorts, including Jeod. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the story to veer from bog-standard Tolkien rip-off territory into some sort of mercantile detective yarn, but I’m assuming it won’t last long.


Brom and Eragon took their leave and headed to the west side of the city, a nicer section of Teirm. The houses were clean, ornate, and large. The people in the streets wore expensive finery and walked with authority. Eragon felt conspicuous and out of place.

What the hell is with these chapter endings? Was there even any need for a chapter break here, given that the next chapter begins with Brom and Eragon arriving at the place they were setting out to go to during that paragraph?




4 thoughts on “Let’s Read Eragon ch. 20 – 21

  1. viridee

    Man, what is it with fantasy authors and adding unnecessary attempts at poetry to their stories? Do they think their readers won’t take them as seriously if they don’t? I’ve been reading through the first book in the Thomas Covenant series, and I just can’t understand why the author feels the need to include at least one song/poem in each chapter because they are, without exception, awful.

    Although they are better than Paolini’s attempt, as low a bar as that is.

  2. autobaan

    >I think this is supposed to be The Vernacular Of The Common People (in which case why doesn’t Eragon speak this way all the time?)

    Ha! But we can’t have PoorFarm Boy Eragon talk like all those dime a dozen poor farm boys!

  3. Signatus

    “Eragon asks Brom what the ocean is like for no apparent reason, and he responds by spouting a load of faux-poetic nonsense:”

    It would have been nice to see something like; In old legends it was said that a comet from the sky brought the water in the form of ice to the Earth. I don’t know, get some science in there for a change. But no, the sea is something mystical that nobody can explain.

    We, writers of our day, live in a time when science is advancing extraordinarily quickly. There is absolutely no reason not to use this wonderful knowledge to craft a story and the background of your world. Obviously, this means research unless you want to end up screwing it up like Meyer did with her scientific explanation of vampires, but still there is no reason not to have your mages be top class academics (which is what they are in today’s fantasy, with their ivory tower and everything). But no, let’s not be original at all and fall into middle ages mythos or whatever.

    “just don’t actually quote from it unless you have in fact written the greatest novel of all time”

    This reminds me of Jack Black’s the Greatest Song in the World, where the Song in question never appears at all, and I thought that was in fact a very smart move.

    “what the point of it was in the first place.”

    To show he could “poet” like Tolkien. Lets not forget Tolkien is Paolini’s greatest aspiration.

    “he thought dryly.”

    Ok, lets not focus over the second meaning of that. Lets focus over what this means. I used to horseride a lot when I was younger. Then I bought a car and it was either the car or horseriding classes, and the car won out of necessity. While I practiced horseriding all my muscles were hard like stones, and they turned fluffy and soft afterwards. I’m exercising now trying to recover the lost strength, and each small step forward makes me joyful. Why does he think having hard muscles is a bad thing?

    ANYWAYS, this boy is a farmboy who would trek for days through a mountain searching for prey to hunt. Once he makes a kill he has to open it up, empty the carcass, clear the skin, I don’t know, I’m no hunter but I guess he has to make the obvious cleaning. I eat meat, and working on certain parts is no easy feat. Maybe he won’t be muscular like a warrior, but he won’t be a soft, sedentary ratboy either so he shouldn’t be surprised that his muscles are turning harder or anything.

    “Why is everything green?” asked Eragon. “Don’t they have winter here?”

    There is something called “evergreen trees”, many of which live in areas that experience harsh winters. I want to believe Eragon would have seen things like oaks, pinetrees and such, so it should come as a surprise for him that some of the trees are green all year round.

    “On the way into the city they’re questioned by some guards, which results in whatever the fuck all this is:”

    You know, the previous chapter could have just been used to prepare us for the moment they enter the city. Maybe it’s a bit of an excess of infodump, but it’d make way more sense than the dribble we’ve just read.

    I think though the book gets a bit more focused from this point onward, moving on trough the real plot, leaving behind all the tolkienesque bullshit, or most of it. There is a bit more action with Sapphira ripping rooftops to shreds and shit like that which makes for a slightly more fun read.

    The reason why I choose to start a book with action is because of this, to get rid of all the bullshit leading up to this point. The book could have started with a twenty something year old Eragon stealing Sapphira’s egg and imprinting on it, or even better, with Eragon and Sapphira being the last of their kind hiding in the mountains and being thrown into the adventure. Or with them being already part of the Varden. Anything but this origin story.

    Dragon Age; Origin is all about origin stories, but they take up about 5% of your gameplay, they are packed with action and are very interesting. Right after you get thrown into the adventure and have to tackle your way through it. Unless something interesting is supposed to happen while you’re travelling, you don’t need to focus incessantly on that. Definitely, not about 1/3 of the book.

    “How about that! Originality.”

    This are the kind of things that made me think there was actually some hidden talent there. However, after reading through his progression in the following books… I think he got stuck with his idea of emulating Tolkien instead of searching for his own style, and that was ultimately what condemned him.

    “What the hell is with these chapter endings?”

    I would have stopped at the point where they get the information and started the next chapter at the point when they arrive at the Cloud District (don’t know how that part’s called so whatever). That’s how I would have done it. Paolini has a HUGE problem with ending chapters in a way that doesn’t feel lazy or awkward.

  4. zephyrean

    > Hot tip: never have a character praise something you yourself created*
    I disagree. A character may be lying out of politeness or have terrible taste in art. I mean, Paolini does, and Eragon is his self-insert, so there.

    > Temperate areas with mild winters still experience seasonal changes
    How did they manage to walk into another climate zone while travelling across the wilderness? Where did they get food for the dragon?

    > The Vernacular Of The Common People (in which case why doesn’t Eragon speak this way all the time?)
    Yes. Yes. This. So much this.


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