Eragon: Chapter 5

Eragon, Chapter 5: Awakening

Our new co-star has arrived, and it’s a blue dragon!  Sadly, this one is not nearly as cute as baby Norbert from Harry Potter, mainly because it grows up and starts talking.  They’re always cuter before they start talking.  It’s your standard dragon – bat-like wings, spikes down the spine, sharp claws and teeth, wedge-shaped head.

There are some choice quotes in Paolini’s description of the dragon – and by choice, of course, I mean ridiculous.

The dragon was no longer than his forearm, yet it was dignified and noble.

How does size relate to dignity and nobility?  I’m impressed that a newborn creature manages to affect that kind of appearance, but that should have nothing to do with its size and everything to do with the fact that it’s newly-hatched and doesn’t have full control over its own body yet.

Its scales were a deep sapphire blue, the same color as the stone.  But not a stone, he realized, an egg.

IT TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.  Seriously, you’ve lived on a farm your entire life and you never witnessed eggs hatching or animals giving birth?  You should be an expert on where babies come from!  The second the damn thing started making noises you should have figured out what it was.  I did, and I grew up a sheltered kid from the suburbs!

A hollow where its neck and shoulders joined created a larger-than-normal gap between the spikes.

In re-reading this chapter for this post, I only just realized what this sentence is trying to say.  What Paolini meant was that the place where the neck and shoulders meet create a gap between spikes that is larger than the other gaps.  What I read was that the gap was larger than would be normal for a dragon, and I couldn’t figure out how on earth Eragon would be able to tell was was normal for a dragon since nobody’s seen one for a god-awful amount of time.  Sentence construction failure on Paolini’s part, or reading comprehension failure on mine?  You decide!

Eragon shifted slightly, and the dragon’s head snapped around.  Hard, ice-blue eyes fixed on him.  He kept very still.  It might be a formidable enemy if it decided to attack.

It’s the size of a cat.  How formidable can it really be?

Tentatively he reached out with his right hand and touched its flank.  A blast of icy energy surged into his hand and raced up his arm, burning in his veins like liquid fire.  He fell back with a wild cry.  An iron clang filled his ears, and he heard a soundless scream of rage.  Every part of his body seared with pain.  He struggled to move, but was unable to.  After what seemed like hours, warmth seeped back into his limbs, leaving them tingling.  Shivering uncontrollably, he pushed himself upright.  His hand was numb, his fingers paralyzed.  Alarmed, he watched as the middle of his palm shimmered and formed a diffused white oval.  The skin itched and burned like a spider bite.  His heart pounded frantically.

Oops, my mistake.  Looks like it is dangerous.

Well now, that will teach you to go petting strange animals.  Didn’t your aunt and uncle ever teach you not to go touching dogs that don’t belong to you?  Now you’re going to die from the venom that dragons secrete from their skin.  Good going, hero.

Also, I will be laughing forever at “soundless scream of rage”.

Eragon blinked, trying to understand what had occurred.  Something brushed against his consciousness, like a finger trailing over his skin.  He felt it again, but this time it solidified into a tendril of thought through which he could feel a growing curiosity.  It was as if an invisible wall surrounding his thoughts had fallen away, and he was now free to reach out with his mind.

What does it feel like when something touches your consciousness?  How can Eragon even tell that’s what that sensation is?  He’s so matter-of-fact about it, like that’s the only thing it could possibly be, when realistically (hah!  Realism in a fantasy novel, that’s a good one) he should have no clue what the hell just happened.

This was a dangerous animal, of that he was sure.  Yet it seemed so helpless crawling on his bed, he could only wonder if there was any harm in keeping it.

Aww, who’s a cute little vicious brute?  It’s you!  Yes you are!  Yes you are!

There are a lot of comparisons to other animals: the dragon opens its mouth like a baby bird, arches its back like a cat, strikes at its food like a snake.  On the one hand, it does help to have some real-world reference when trying to picture an imaginary creature; on the other hand, these mixed similes are jarring and do not mesh well.  Pick one, maybe two animals to compare your dragon to and stick to those, Paolini.

The dragon starts screeching for food, so Eragon steals some meat from the kitchen and feeds his new pet.  I guess he figures no one will notice the missing meat, at least not until it’s the dead of winter and they’ve run out of food because he gave it all to his scaly little friend.  Then the dragon curls up on Eragon and starts purring.  Purring.  Cat metaphor: complete.

He faced a painful dilemma: By raising a dragon, he could become a Rider.  Myths and stories about Riders were treasured, and being one would automatically place him among those legends.  However, if the Empire discovered the dragon, he and his family would be put to death unless he joined the king.  No one could – or would – help them.  The simplest solution was just to kill the dragon, but the idea was repugnant, and he rejected it.  Dragons were too revered for him to even consider that.  Besides, what could betray us? he thought.  We live in a remote area and have done nothing to draw attention.

Nothing except wave a giant gem in people’s faces.  Of the named characters who know about it, I can count six (Sloan, Horst, Katrina, Garrow, Roran, and Merlock); of those six, Horst is likely to have told his family about it, and Sloan wouldn’t keep a secret for Eragon if he was being paid his weight in gold.  And considering the fact that the king is a Rider and therefore knows exactly what a dragon egg looks like, all he has to do is have his spies and soldiers keep an ear out for rumors of a shiny oblong stone and report back anything they hear.  Oh, look, there were some strangers in town just yesterday who were obviously working for the Empire, and if they caught wind of your mysterious find there’s no telling how long it will be before Galbatorix is knocking down your door.

Yet again we are told about this world instead of shown what it’s like.  Do I sound like a broken record yet?  Because I can just keep going until somebody shuts me up.

The problem was convincing Garrow and Roran to let him keep the dragon.  Neither of them would care to have a dragon around.

That may just be the biggest understatement of the entire novel.

Eragon weighs the pros and cons of keeping the dragon: he could keep it outside and raise it in secret until it’s “too large for Garrow to get rid of” (!), but it eats so much meat he’s not sure he can keep feeding it until it learns to hunt on its own, and he doesn’t know if it will survive the cold.

All the same, he wanted the dragon.  The more he thought about it, the surer he was.

This creature could jeopardize everyone I know and love, there’s no way we can possibly afford to keep it, and my uncle would never approve, but it’s just so gosh darn cute!  *squee*

(Side note: is it just me, or is “dragon” starting to not look like a real word anymore?)

At dawn Eragon takes the dragon out into the woods and ties it to a tree, then makes a little doghouse out of sticks for it to live in.  Then he tries to make it stay, but he’s not sure if it understands so he uses the mind powers he just got last night to telepathically command the baby dragon to stay.  How does he know how to do this already?

It’s okay, though, because when he comes back at the end of the day to check up on the dragon it’s already learned how to hunt.  I repeat: the dragon has learned to hunt less than twenty-four hours after it was born.  Clearly this was a match made in Knock-Off Fantasy Heaven.

The next few pages are about how Eragon spends all his free time with his little buddy, trying to train it and keep it from being found.  It’s really boring, and it shouldn’t be considering that the subject is a freaking dragon.  I should be glued to the page, but this reads more like a list of daily activities than the gripping narrative that it should be.  I’m not going to lie, this review is late because I was so bored of this section that I had to put the book down and do something else for a week.

When the month ended, Eragon’s elbow was level with the dragon’s shoulder.  In that brief span, it had transformed from a small, weak animal into a powerful beast.

Jesus tap-dancing Christ on a pogo stick, how the hell did it grow so fast?  Are there any animals left in the forest at this point?  I’m sorry, even if you use magic to explain what happens here, it’s just too outlandish.  My suspension of disbelief has just gone out the escape hatch.  I can’t think of any animal, save insects, that grows this fast.

Despite Eragon’s best efforts, the forest around the farm filled with signs of the dragon’s existence.  It was impossible to erase all the huge four-clawed footprints sunk deep in the snow, and he refused even to try to hide the giant dung heaps that were becoming far too common.  The dragon had rubbed against trees, stripping off the bark, and had sharpened its claws on dead logs, leaving gashes inches deep.  If Garrow or Roran went too far beyond the farm’s boundaries, they would discover the dragon.

Or, y’know, if they stopped to notice the sudden lack of wild animals in the area.  That might clue them in to something being seriously wrong. Of course, if you’d moved the dragon deeper into the forest, you might not have this problem.

The line about the dragon droppings makes me think Eragon just doesn’t want to clean up poop.  I wonder if he makes Roran clean the stables every time.

Deciding he needs to learn more about dragons and pick a name for his new friend, Eragon volunteers to go with Roran the next time he goes into town.  Since he doesn’t want the dragon to worry, he goes to visit it the night before he leaves and tries to tell it telepathically that he won’t be around for the day.  In response, the dragon gets upset, then starts thinking Eragon’s name over and over.

A hard knot formed in his stomach as unfathomable sapphire eyes gazed back at him.  For the first time he did not think of the dragon as an animal.  It was something else, something … different.  He raced home, trying to escape the dragon.  My dragon.

On the one hand, I do like that Eragon is realizing that the dragon isn’t just a fancy new pet; it’s a sentient creature that can think and feel and communicate.  On the other … well, let’s take a vote: how many of you think this will be touched on for more than a sentence or two in the following chapters?

That’s all for this chapter, folks.  Next time we get scads of thrilling action as Brom and Eragon sit around and talk for a while!  Doesn’t that sound exciting?

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4 comments on “Eragon: Chapter 5

  1. A “soundless scream of rage” that he specifically HEARD, no less.

    To give credit where it’s due, the dragon learning to hunt in a day isn’t out of the question. Earthly reptiles are basically born adult: cobras are able to spread their hood, strike, and hunt the moment they’re out of the egg. Of course, this is all instinct, so it would probably not work quite the same way for a sentient creature, and dragons aren’t earthly reptiles.

    A farm boy who absolutely refuses to do anything with dung is pretty amusing. It’s almost like Paolini didn’t give any research time or even thought to farming.

    So why haven’t Garrow and Roran gone beyond the farm’s boundaries, and why hasn’t anyone gone into the woods?

    “This was a dangerous animal, of that he was sure. Yet it seemed so helpless crawling on his bed, he could only wonder if there was any harm in keeping it.” That’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. “It’s obviously dangerous, but what harm could it do?” It’s also interesting how Paolini tries to pretend Eragon has a big dilemma about keeping the dragon.

    • That’s a good point about reptiles; I never stopped to consider that at all. I think I was mentally comparing dragons to animals like lions, where the young need to be taught how to hunt, but considering it came fully-formed out of the shell and didn’t need time for its eyes and ears to open like a baby mammal, the snake comparison is a lot more apt.

      Clearly Garrow never sat Eragon down and explained to him that owning a pet is a big responsibility. Maybe then he would have also explained that just because an animal is cute as a baby, that doesn’t mean it’ll be so cute when it grows up. Eragon reminds me of those people who get lion cubs because they’re sooo adorable, then freak out when they’ve got a fully-grown lion in their house that they can’t possibly handle (and may want to eat them, nom nom nom).

      I can’t tell if Garrow and Roran don’t have any reason to go into the forest – maybe they leave that up to Eragon since he’s the hunter in the family – or if they’re supposed to be afraid of it because it’s part of the Spine. You know, the same Spine that only Sloan is visibly frightened of; everyone else just kind of shrugs and says “Yeah man, those mountains are creepy. Let’s take a look at your magic rock now!”

  2. Yay, an update!

    I know the forest is scary and all, but does it make sense to live that far from town and have only one person in the family who ventures into the forest? But then, I’m still not clear on why a pre-industrial (?) subsistence farmer would deliberately isolate himself in the first place (as opposed to being outlawed, which doesn’t seem to be the case). Is it ever explained? Maybe Eragon’s uncle is secretly Pa Ignalls, who heard Medieval Fantasy Land had plenty of wide open spaces available. Bored with living in De Smet, he faked his own death and arranged for passage to the Fantasy Middle Ages. None of the villagers really understand his 19th-century American individualism, but he prefers it that way.

    Of course, Pa would have noticed a dragon in the woods, so never mind.

    I wish Eragon had discussed this dragon situation with his family. That would have given us a better dilemma and a less careless hero. You could even show how powerful the dragon is by having it deflect Roran’s spontaneous attempt to kill it, or something. Garrow could calmly explain the food problem, and they could discuss the resistance potential of having a dragon the king does’t know about, and then everyone could decide that it is a tremendous risk, but one they’re willing to take because x , y, and z. I mean, this is a really big risk E. is imposing on the family to who he is allegedly so close. And even if they never go in the woods ever, there’s no way one of them wouldn’t go a month without noticing E’s changed behavior and that he was worried about something. These people live in the middle of nowhere with no one but each other; how are they not going to notice that Something is Up? I’m sure it’s written this way because the author wanted to do something with Garrow and Roran’s ignorance of the dragon, but it makes our protagonist a lot less sympathetic than he would be otherwise. Dragons are beautiful and magical and important, I get it, but if the fodder goes up in flames and all the animals get eaten, it’s going to be one hungry winter for us mere mortals.

    It seems to me that the author didn’t mean for Eragon to seem overly stupid or selfish here, but he comes off that way to me because of insufficient worldbuilding. If that makes sense.

    • I don’t think there’s ever an outright explanation for why Garrow and his family live in such an isolated area. From what I’ve read, my best guess would be that Garrow, never one to accept sympathy or charity, got so disgusted with the townsfolk treating him differently after his wife died that he packed up his family and moved as far as he could without cutting himself off completely from the world (if only because he would need supplies after a while).

      Garrow wishes he were Pa Ingalls. Pa Ingalls would tan Eragon’s hide for needlessly endangering the family.

      I think it’s less “insufficient worldbuilding” that’s the problem here, and more reliance on commonly used tropes without stopping to think about how it comes across. Eragon can’t just tell his family what’s going on and ask for help; as the protagonist, and more importantly as a teenager, he has to figure this out on his own without relying on the authority figures in his life. It’s a common occurrence in fiction, and while it’s not necessarily bad it’s often executed poorly, like it is here. There’s no reason for him to hide the dragon other than the fact that it would mean he can’t do everything himself. So yes, in the end Eragon does come across as selfish and unsympathetic, all because the plot requires his uncle and cousin to fail their spot check. They do notice all the time he spends out in the woods, but nothing ever comes of it:

      A smooth routine was quickly established. Every morning Eragon ran out to the tree and gave the dragon breakfast before hurrying back. During the day he attacked his chores until they were finished and he could visit the dragon again. Both Garrow and Roran noted his behavior and asked why he spent so much time outside. Eragon just shrugged and started checking to make sure he was not followed to the tree.

      Just like every other possible inconvenience Eragon might face, it’s addressed in one paragraph and then never, ever brought up again.

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