Eragon etc

January 5, 2009

I listen to other people too much.

Confession: many people said Christopher Paolini’s Eragon was crap. Written at 15, published supposedly because his family was friends with / was part of / influenced a publishing house (not entirely accurate: wikipedia has more of the story), hugely derivative (Anne McCaffrey, Star Wars with dragons etc etc, Tolkein)… all of this added up to me ignoring it for years. In fact, to the point that there was a trilogy of books out.

Then, come Christmastime, Paolini’s publisher put out the entire series thus far in boxed hardcover for far less than the individual volumes and I thought bugger it, ’tis cheap, let’s ‘ave a go.

And I guess I shouldn’t listen to other peoples’ opinions — because, y’know, it’s actually rather good.

Don’t get me wrong. It is monstrously derivative. The Dragon / Rider relationship is, initially at least, straight out of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series — but I’m a fan of those and she’s blurbed the books saying she doesn’t mind, and I didn’t either. (In any event, Eragon’s dragon Saphira is far more sarcastic and characterised than McCaffrey’s dragons, in the main… and a lot of her dialogue is just plain funny).

Tolkein… yep, Lord of the Rings-influenced all the way. But so is 90% of fantasy-based fiction: I don’t think you can escape the comparison. In some places it’s awkwardly over-influenced, but Paolini’s built his world as the books grow and the differences, as well as the similarities, are strong and well-realised. I like his rather twisted elves, his bad guys are refreshing (bird-headed, eye- and human-eating demons as the Nazgûl with the rather fetching habit of evolving into their grotesque fell beast-esque mounts) — although we haven’t meant the Sauron archetype yet (which is a shame as thus far he seems very all-powerful) — and the dwarves… well, dwarves are shite anyway; he couldn’t do much with those. His supposed love-interest (she’s not biting yet, halfway through the third book, but there are signs she’s softening) is an elf a hundred years his senior and unlike Arwen from LOTR, she fights and wields magic and kills things and generally doesn’t sit in a corner and pout.

Star Wars with dragons? Well, yes, but the Star Wars plot wasn’t exactly original either. I can live with it — because of the worldbuilding, and the vast amount of interesting information that’s slowly coming together as an immense and not unpleasing jigsaw.

The battles are huge. Magic is an actual force in this series, with consequences, issues and all sorts of weirdly random permutations. Eragon himself is gradually building in power until, at halfway through the third book, he’s actually quite fearsome, and yet the cream of his enemies thus far have been far stronger. Doesn’t bode well for the final battles of the last book, whenever that comes out.

In short, it’s surprisingly good, and showing a constant maturing as the new volumes arrive. Glad I bought it, and will grab the last in hardcover whenever it shows. Vastly better than Fellowship of the Ring (but then, so is reading toilet wall graffiti so that’s not really much of a compliment: that volume was dire*), and indeed, as a whole, stands up well in the fantasy pantheon. Yes, there are derivative areas and yes, some of it (in the early volumes) comes across as what American readers would call ‘sophomoric’, but I found myself able to ignore these in the main, swept up in a rattling good yarn that has kept me reading.


I understand there’s a movie, and I understand that 99% of people who saw it also say it’s crap. Probably is: the review base is much wider. But I may have to suffer through it to see for myself. Because, as I said, occasionally… I listen to other people too much.





* I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions in various places my profound loathing for the first volume of The Lord Of The Rings in book form. If I hadn’t seen the films, which I do love, I’d never have got through the bloody thing. Having said that, in the interests of fairness, the books get better about halfway through The Two Towers — roughly when things get grimmer and bloodier and people stop sodding breaking into song every five pages. “Oh we are hobbits / hobbits are we / look, it’s a ringwraith / life is shit-teeeee” blah blah shut UP**



** It should be noted that a big plus in Eragon is that there are no hobbits. Nope, not one.


2 Responses to “Eragon etc”

  1. Camilla Says:

    Well…I dunno. I too have listened to others and decided not to buy these books. You usually don’t lead us astray in the books dept though, so given what you’ve written I might give them a try after all.

    I wonder how much of the negativity is due to the green-eyed monster? After all, it’s quite an unusual achievement for a teenager/young chap.

  2. sarcade Says:

    I think… I think it’s a ‘your mileage may vary’ type of thing. For my money there are certain elements in ERAGON which do show it was written by someone inexperienced — but the enthusiasm of the author and his rather effective worldbuilding made up for that. ELDEST was a little maddening: when it focused on Eragon it was very, very good; when it shifted over to his brother Roran it was slightly less so.

    And BRISINGR, which I’ve just about finished, is absolutely brilliant. Also bloodthirsty as all hell (would be difficult to make a film under an X-rating out of this one) with a lot of novel twists on the genre. Armies of men enchanted into insanity and unable to feel pain so they keep coming even when they’re hacked almost to pieces, laughing madly all the while… it’s good stuff, frankly. 😀

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