Eragon, Chapter 3: Dragon Tales
For the second chapter in a row, we begin with Eragon waking up. Better get used to it; Paolini is a big fan of ending his chapters on his characters going to sleep, and he doesn’t like to skip ahead to the interesting bits.
This was a special day. It was near this very hour, sixteen years ago, that his mother, Selena, had come home to Carvahall alone and pregnant. She had been gone for six years, living in the cities. When she returned, she wore expensive clothes, and her hair was bound by a net of pearls. She had sought out her brother, Garrow, and asked to stay with him until the baby arrived. Within five months her son was born. Everyone was shocked when Selena tearfully begged Garrow and Marian to raise him. When they asked why, she only wept and said, “I must.” Her pleas had grown increasingly desperate until they finally agreed. She named him Eragon, then departed early the next morning and never returned.
This paragraph raises so many questions. Why is the specific day that Selena arrived in town so important? How does Eragon even know what day that is, let alone what time she got there? Did his aunt and uncle really feel it was necessary to be so specific? (“Well, kid, your mother showed up pregnant on our doorstep at 6:15am on December twelth, and five months later you came along!”) I mean, I can understand a child having questions about a mother he never knew, but that level of detail is not something I would expect to be brought up.
Also, “living in the cities”? Not only is that awkwardly worded, it’s so nondescript as to be utterly pointless. Paolini might as well have said that she was living on land for all it tells us of why she left Carvahall in the first place. I suppose we can presume that Selena was sick of small town life and moved to a larger city for a more glamorous lifestyle, but then why not just say so?
Eragon still remembered how he had felt when Marian had told him the story before she died. The realization that Garrow and Marian were not his real parents disturbed him greatly. Things that had been permanent and unquestionable were suddenly thrown into doubt. Eventually he had learned to live with it, but he always had a nagging suspicion that he had not been good enough for his mother. I’m sure there was a good reason for what she did; I only wish I knew what it was.
So did Garrow and Marian raise Eragon as their son and tell him later that he was essentially adopted? If they still lived in the village at this time, then wouldn’t the townspeople know that Eragon wasn’t their biological son? If so, how did Eragon not find out before his aunt told him? That seems like something children (and, let’s face it, some adults) would throw in his face. (In fact, I’m surprised it’s not something that Sloan ever brings up – I would assume taking potshots at Eragon’s parentage would be right up his alley.) Did Garrow hide his sister away until the baby was born and pass it off as Marian’s? Did Roran know, or was he presented with Eragon as his little brother? Did Eragon’s relationship with his family suffer at all as a result of him finding out he was their nephew and cousin, and not their son and brother?
How old was Eragon when he found out, anyway? We’re not told when Marian died, but from what I can tell it can’t have been too long ago. It seems like Eragon was a bit older, maybe ten or so, when he found out. Why did they wait so long to tell him? And did Marian and Garrow ask him not to call them “mother” and “father”, or was it a conscious decision on his part?
This really feels like what a non-adopted kid thinks it would be like to find out you’re adopted. Granted, I say this as a person who has been raised by her biological parents, so there’s a good chance I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I can’t help but feel like Paolini wrote down the first thing he thought of and neglected to sit down and actually think about how parent-child relationships work and how this would affect his characters. There’s no real follow-through; the fact that Eragon is an orphan is brought up once, briefly, a few chapters later, then completely forgotten. We don’t know how this revelation changed how he interacted with his uncle and cousin, or if the villagers treated him any differently. This would have worked so much better if Eragon had been told about his origins on-screen – at least, it would have worked in the hands of a different author (preferably one who wasn’t intent on writing Star Wars With Dragons).
(That isn’t to say that Eragon should be constantly preoccupied with the fact that he doesn’t have parents. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to care about it unless it’s relevant to the plot.)
There are several scenes like this scattered throughout the book – scenes where Eragon is introspective for a paragraph or so, and then we move on and it’s never brought up again. It sucks, too, because while the result is often cliched and over-the-top, there are a couple moments where Paolini doesn’t mess it up and I actually start to like Eragon … aaand then it’s over and we’re rushed on to the next scene, where Chris can talk about swords and magic instead of feelings. It reads like he’s going down a checklist for character development – now Eragon angsts about his mother, now he gets upset about his cousin leaving, now he wonders what the point of life is if we’re all going to die anyway – and rushing through these scenes in order to squeeze them in between scenes of what he really wants to write about, which is Eragon and the dragon. It ends up feeling rote and trite, like he just parroted similar scenes from other, better works.
Roran was two years older than Eragon, muscular, sturdy, and careful with his movements. They could not have been closer even if they had been real brothers.
You know, maybe it’s just me still harping on the “raised by his aunt and uncle” issue, but that “real brothers” line really bugs me. It would be in character for Eragon to think this, but to have it right there in the narration just raises my hackles. You don’t have to be blood related to someone to be close to them, Paolini. Hell, just because you’re related to a person doesn’t mean you’ll have a good relationship with them.
I am getting really sick of these informed attributes and relationships, too. You know what’s a better way to convince me that Roran and Eragon are close? Show them interacting with each other. And I don’t mean expository dialogue that doesn’t sound like anything a human being would ever say, like those ridiculous “I’m so glad we’re best friends!” “Yup! Best friends forever!” exchanges that can be found in every single goddamn Disney movie EVER — sorry, different tangent there.
Roran is upset that Eragon gave his message to Horst instead of directly to Katrina, saying that Sloan will forbid them from seeing each other if he finds out. I don’t know how he expects to keep this relationship a secret when he lives in a tiny village where everybody knows everyone else’s business, but whatever.
The family spends a few days preparing for winter, and then a blizzard hits that keeps them stuck in the house for eight days. I would point out that this is precisely why they should live closer to town, but they treat this as a minor inconvenience so I suppose it doesn’t matter. Garrow doesn’t think the traders will come to Carvahall this year, which is bad news for them because that’s where they get all their supplies for the winter. If the traders don’t come, they might have to *gasp* rely on their neighbors. What a horrible fate, having to buy supplies from the people around you rather than from nomadic merchants! How will they ever survive?
The traders eventually show up, and Eragon and family head into town, where Roran runs off to do his own thing and Garrow takes his nephew to see what the shiny rock is worth. Eragon notices that the traders are all carrying weapons and seem like they’ve been through some rough times. The two of them go to Merlock, a jeweler, who takes them to his tent to take a look at the stone in secrecy. I have to admit, his tent sounds pretty awesome:
It was crimson at the top and sable at the bottom, with thin triangles of color stabbing into each other. […] Small trinkets and strange pieces of furniture, such as a round bed and three seats carved from tree stumps, filled the tent.
I want tree stump chairs! Not sure how feasible it is to have a bed when you’re part of a nomadic group and have to carry all of your belongings everywhere you go, though. Oh well, it’s still pretty cool.
Merlock takes a look at the stone, mostly measuring it, weighing it, tapping it with a little hammer, and “[drawing] the point of a tiny clear stone over it.” His findings?
“But I can tell you this much: the white veins are the same material as the blue that surrounds them, only a different color. What that material might be, though, I haven’t a clue. It’s harder than any rock I have seen, harder even than diamond. Whoever shaped it used tools I have never seen – or magic. Also, it’s hollow.”
“What?” exclaimed Garrow.
An irritated edge crept into Merlock’s voice. “Did you ever hear a rock sound like this?” He grabbed the dagger from the cushion and slapped the stone with the flat of the blade. A pure note filled the air, then faded away smoothly. Eragon was alarmed, afraid that the stone had been damaged. Merlock tilted the stone toward them. “You will find no scratches or blemishes where the dagger struck. I doubt I could do anything to harm this stone, even if I took a hammer to it.”
How does ringing like a bell mean that the rock is hollow? How did Merlock even know it would make that sound? Eragon and Garrow were right there in front of him – I think they would notice if there had been an unusual sound when Merlock tapped the stone with his little mallet. I don’t understand how Merlock can tell all of this from weighing, measuring, and trying to scratch the surface with what I assume is a diamond.
He doesn’t know how much the stone is worth, and he won’t take it off Eragon’s hands because it’s too much of a risk. Then he asks why they wanted to talk to him about the stone in private.
Eragon put the stone away before answering. “Because,” he glanced at the man, wondering if he would explode like Sloan, “I found this in the Spine, and folks around here don’t like that.”
Sloan is the only person who has had a negative reaction to finding out where that stone comes from. Nobody else treated it as a big deal. I don’t know how “Sloan hates the Spine” translates to “folks around here don’t like [the Spine]”.
Seriously, instead of flipping out Merlock gives us some more exposition: a resistance group called the Varden are making trouble, and the king is dragging soldiers from the cities to deal with them, which leaves the cities vulnerable to Urgal attack. There are also rumors of a Shade running around.
“Nonsense,” growled Garrow. “We haven’t seen any Urgals; the only one around here has his horns mounted in Morn’s tavern.”
“I haven’t seen any Urgals in my remote backwater town that barely has any connection to the outside world, so stories of them roaming the countryside elsewhere in the kingdom must be false!”
You know, I would be a lot more worried about the Urgals if they hadn’t been shown to be completely incompetent.
Eragon and Garrow split up after they leave the jeweler’s tent; Eragon wanders around eating sweets, waiting for the troubadours to start their act. He sees Sloan and hides in the tavern, where there are two “traders” who are obviously agents of the Empire, trying to spread pro-Empire propaganda. Eragon argues with them a bit and gets called a child (which he is), then goes off to sulk. This mostly serves as a lead-in for some more exposition about the Varden. About the only thing people know for sure is that the Varden are “constantly raid[ing] and attack[ing] the Empire”. After a while Eragon leaves, “when the argument threatened to become violent”. It was just starting to get interesting, Eragon! Why are you running away?
After our hero meets up with his family and eats dinner at Horst’s, it’s finally time for the troubadours to start their show. It’s interesting to note that the performers who came with the traders, whose acts Eragon was looking forward to all day, get a scant three sentences to describe not only their performance, but their appearance as well. In contrast, the old storyteller Brom gets a full three pages to tell his story. The entire town has heard his stories time and time again, and Eragon is eager to hear something new, but it’s not the strangers who tell the Exposition Story that Hero Boy has never heard before.
Brom’s story is about the rise of the current king, Galbatorix. He was of the Dragon Riders (who sound a bit like dragon-riding Highlanders to me), but his dragon is killed in battle. When he asks for a new one (they can just up and give you a new one?), he’s denied, which sets him off. He cons another Rider into helping him kill one of the Elders, kills his dupe, and then runs off when he’s discovered and hides in the wilderness for a few years. Then he finds another Rider, Morzan – the Darth Vader to his Emperor Palpatine, if you will. Morzan helps Galbatorix steal himself a new dragon, then they go hide “in an evil place where the Riders dared not venture” until the dragon, Shruikan, is full-grown. They go around killing Riders, but twelve of them join Galbatorix for whatever reason and become part of the Thirteen Forsworn.
“Only Vrael, leader of the Riders, could resist Galbatorix and the Forsworn. [They fight; Vrael wins but hesitates long enough for Galbatorix to wound him.] […] Grievously wounded, Vrael fled to Utgard Mountain, where he hoped to gather strength. But it was not to be, for Galbatorix found him. As they fought, Galbatorix kicked Vrael in the fork of his legs. With that underhanded blow, he gained dominance over Vrael and removed his head with a blazing sword.
OUCH. I must have missed the whole “kicked him in the crotch” bit the first time I read this, because this popped up out of nowhere. That’s got to be an embarrassing way to die, let alone be remembered. Speaking of remembering, how would Brom know this? Who was there to see the battle? Brom is obviously throwing out anti-Empire propaganda by claiming that the king plays dirty.
“Then as power rushed through his veins, Galbatorix anointed himself king over all Alagaësia.
“And from that day, he has ruled us.”
Okay, so, obvious Star Wars parallels aside, this … is still pretty silly. What power rushing through his veins? Is there some sort of magic that determines who’s king? If there is, then clearly Galbatorix is a legitimate ruler. How long has he been ruling? I want to say a hundred years, but I can’t remember where that number comes from. Brom didn’t say how long Galbatorix had been in power. Maybe it was mentioned further on and I’m just mixing up my information, I don’t know.
With the completion of the story, Brom shuffled away with the troubadours. Eragon thought he saw a tear shining on his cheek. People murmured quietly to each other as they departed. Garrow said to Eragon and Roran, “Consider yourselves fortunate. I have heard this tale only twice in my life. If the Empire knew that Brom had recited it, he would not live to see a new month.”
I know this is supposed to highlight how EEEVIL and oppressive the Empire is, but it comes across as melodramatic to me. Also, if this is supposed to be such a dangerous tale to tell, I wouldn’t tell it while there were a lot of strangers around. What if one of those traders is a spy? You never know who’s working for the enemy. See you in the gulag, Brom.
“His [Garrow’s] countenance was resigned.” (pg 21)
“The snow had been pounded flat, giving it a glassy surface […]” (pg 22) Snow doesn’t get a glassy surface from being pressed or packed flat; ice does that.
“His [the trader’s] reply riled the villagers, and the dispute resumed.” (pg. 29)
“Infinite sadness resonated in his [Brom’s] voice.” (pg 32)