Eragon, Chapter 1: Discovery
I finally got my hands on a paper copy of Eragon, so I can properly take notes and cite passages now.
We open on our hero as he’s hunting deer in the mountains. He can apparently tell that the deer were here only half an hour ago by looking at their footprints. Now, admittedly, I’m a born suburbanite with very minimal knowledge of hunting and tracking, but I highly doubt it’s possible to tell how old animal tracks are with that much accuracy.
Eragon was fifteen, less than a year from manhood. Dark eyebrows rested above his intense brown eyes. His clothes were worn from work. A hunting knife with a bone handle was sheathed at his belt, and a buckskin tube protected his yew bow from the mist. He carried a wood-frame pack.
I’m really starting to get frustrated with Paolini’s lack of description in regards to his characters. He has no problem waxing poetic about the scenery, but when it comes time to tell us what his hero looks like, he tells us his eye color, how light his hair is (not even the color, but the possible range of shades his hair could be), and that Eragon wears clothes that have seen better days. No styles, no specific pieces, no colors or fabrics or any sort of specifics that might give us a good picture of the character we’ll be following for five hundred pages… just “worn clothes”. For all we know, he could be wearing a sparkly navy blue feather boa and a torn pair of his dad’s old bell bottoms. (He’s not, of course, because this takes place in Medieval Fantasy Land and everyone living in MFL wears period clothing ripped from anywhere between the Dark Ages and the Italian Renaissance, but that’s beside the point.)
Over half of the above description concerns Eragon’s equipment, by the way. Out of fifty-two words, twenty-three are in relation to the main character, while the remaining twenty-nine are about the objects he has with him. I can picture the hunting knife in this scene better than the person carrying it.
A drive-by info dump tells us that Eragon is deep in a mountain range known as the Spine, which is spooky and mysterious. Luckily Eragon is the only person brave enough to dare set foot in these mountains, or else someone else might have a chance to be the amazing hero. The Fantasy Punctuation Watch is on full alert, and we get our first sighting when we learn that the name of this fair land is Alagaësia. The umlaut is, of course, entirely pointless.
Eragon slowly crept closer, keeping the bow ready. All his work of the past three days had led to this moment. He took a last steadying breath and – an explosion shattered the night.
The herd bolted. Eragon lunged forward, racing through the grass as a fiery wind surged past his cheek. He slid to a stop and loosed an arrow at the bounding doe. It missed by a finger’s breadth and hissed into darkness. He cursed and spun around, instinctively nocking another arrow.
Behind him, where the deer had been, smoldered a large circle of grass and trees.
Again, I’m not a hunter. I’ve never spent days tracking another living creature through the wilderness, nor have I been dependent on my own skill at such an activity as a means to obtain food. I will likely never go hunting, and never know first-hand what it’s like. So maybe those of you who have gone hunting can tell me something: if you were about to take a shot, and something exploded in front of you, would your first instinct be to pursue your prey before it escapes, or react to the sudden threat?
I didn’t skip anything in that quote, by the way. Eragon doesn’t react to the explosion until after attempting to salvage the hunt and bring something home. He doesn’t flinch or look around, his eyesight and hearing aren’t affected, his aim isn’t thrown off by the shockwave. He’s not stunned or confused – he doesn’t even glance in the direction of the noise. His first reaction to something going BOOM right next to him is to go bounding off after his quarry. There should be some sort of involuntary reaction, the way a(n untrained) person will flinch if you swipe at their face, but instead Eragon immediately leaps into action and only seems to care that the deer got away. He only misses his shot because they were scared off by the noise. It’s almost like the explosion was his cue to act, and like a bad actor whose lines are off, his delayed reaction just pulls me out of the story. This could so easily be an effective passage if there was even a throwaway line to show us that Eragon was just as surprised as those deer.
I got confused with where this happened, too. Originally I thought that the explosion had happened behind Eragon, because he spins around to look at the blast site. However, I included the beginning of the next paragraph to show that the explosion apparently happened right where the deer were – which would mean that Eragon was staring at it when it happened, ran through the resulting fireball (and felt only “a fiery wind surg[ing] past his cheek”), shot at the deer, and then turned to investigate. Not only does this make even less sense, but that leaves the question of how the deer survived. There should be at least one deer (in a herd of about twenty) that was severely injured or even killed by this blast. But then that would mean Eragon would have something to take home, and that would interfere with the
character development stereotyping that takes place next chapter.
Eragon edges over to the crater and finds the blue stone that Elf Lady magicked away in the middle. He pokes at it with an arrow, and when it doesn’t blow up a second time he picks it up.
Nature had never polished a stone as smooth as this one. Its flawless surface was dark blue, except for thin veins of white that spiderwebbed across it. The stone was cool and frictionless under his fingers, like hardened silk. Oval and about a foot long, it weighed several pounds, though it felt lighter than it should have.
I’m torn about the description here. It’s actually pretty good, and I get the feeling that Paolini likes describing objects a lot more than he does people. However, phrases like “hardened silk” seem a little silly. I’m probably nitpicking at this point.
Eragon found the stone both beautiful and frightening. Where did it come from? Does it have a purpose? Then a more disturbing though came to him: Was it sent here by accident, or am I meant to have it?
Augh, you were starting to get better, Paolini! Alas, we have a blatant breach of Show v. Tell here, one which could have been easily remedied by replacing the offending sentence with something like “Eragon felt a chill run down his spine even as he admired the stone’s beaty”, or maybe “As beautiful as the stone was, it couldn’t suppress the uneasy feeling that was rising up within him”. I know, I know, beginning writer, but it just – GAH!
I also feel like being snarky here and pointing out that of course Eragon is meant to have the stone. He wouldn’t be a self-insert fantasy hero if he wasn’t meant to receive Man’s Last Great Hope, which also happens to be completely mysterious and captivating.
Eragon fights with the decision to leave the stone behind, as there’s a chance it could be magical and therefore dangerous. In the end he decides he can hawk it at the market, sticks it in his bag, and curls up under a tree and goes to sleep. It strikes me that if the clearing where the stone landed was too exposed, Eragon might feel safer sleeping up in a tree rather than down on the ground, but that’s just me attempting to apply city girl logic again.
This chapter is only three pages long. In contrast, the prologue is five pages, while the second chapter is ten. Chapter one could have been made part of the prologue with minimal rewriting, which would have made it a good stand-alone opening chapter. Better yet, it could have been added seamlessly to the beginning of chapter two with no additional writing. There are several two- and three-page chapters scattered throughout the book, most if not all of which could probably stand to be merged with surrounding chapters for easier readability. Maybe it’ll get better later on, but right now it makes the book feel choppy and segmented.
I’d like to introduce a new feature at the end of each review: the Memorable Quotes, where I’ll list the quotes that I found to be especially silly or purple prose-y. If there are any that I find to be good, I’ll be sure to note them specially.
“A brooding mist crept along the valley’s floor, almost thick enough to obscure his feet.” (pg 6)
“Eragon stood with quiet assurance in the dusky moonlight, then strode into the forest toward a glen where he was sure the deer would rest.” (pg 7) If you’re stalking a herd of deer, wouldn’t it be better to sneak toward them than to stride like you’re walking down the hall at high school?
“Moonlight cast him in pale shadow as he stopped before the stone.” (pg 7)