Eragon, Chapter 6: Tea for Two
This chapter is nothing but exposition. Not only that, it’s the second-worst kind of exposition (the worst being Dan Brown-esque info dumps in the middle of the narration): characters sitting around talking about things.
Now, all parallels between Eragon and Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dragonriders of Pern, and anything else aside, it’s obvious that Paolini went to a great deal of effort to come up with an original fantasy setting. (Whether he succeeded or not is a post for another day, and likely for someone who knows more about the fantasy genre than I do.) The problem here is that Paolini doesn’t want to slowly introduce us to his world; he wants to give us as much information as possible, regardless of whether it’s pertinent to the story or not. And of course it comes to us through Brom’s history lessons. Hell, I love learning about history, but I remember being bored stiff in class and having to go seek out information on my own to actually become interested in it. Making the reader sit through what is essentially a school lesson is not a good way to keep said reader interested.
Behind him Brom leaned on a twisted staff embellished with strange carvings. He wore a brown hooded robe like a friar. A pouch hung from the scuffed leather belt clasped around his waist. Above his white beard, a proud eagle nose hooked over his mouth and dominated his face. He peered at Eragon with deep-set eyes shadowed by a gnarled brow and waited for his reply.
Gee, sound like any other wise old man from pop culture?
Eragon is surprisingly straightforward about what he wants: information. Granted, he doesn’t come out and say “I hatched a dragon and I need to know everything about them, stat!”, but you would think he’d at least try to be a little less obvious about it. Brom just mutters about Eragon and his never-ending questions and lets him in.
Brom putzes about for a bit with his pipe, and finally gets around to talking about dragons and the Riders. He says there’s too much to tell in one sitting, but he’ll give Eragon the basics, focusing on “how the Riders began, why they were to highly regarded, and where dragons came from”.
“Dragons have no beginning, unless it lies with the creation of Alagaësia itself. And if they have an end, it will be when this world perishes, for they suffer as the land does. They, the dwarves, and a few others are the true inhabitants of this land. They have lived here before all others, strong and proud in their elemental glory. Their world was unchanging until the first elves sailed over the sea on their silver ships.
I’m curious what Brom means by “true inhabitants”. Does he mean that dragons and dwarves were the first inhabitants, much like the aboriginal peoples of North America or Australia? Or does he mean that their connection to the land, which seems to be magical, makes them the “true inhabitants”? What does that entail, anyway? Do they have more of a right to live in Alagaësia than elves or humans? Can they bend the land to their will, influence it as they are influenced by it? Did Paolini make this word choice because he wanted us to think, or because it sounded deep and mystical?
I have to admit, I did like this exchange:
“Where did the elves come from?” interrupted Eragon. “And why are they called the fair folk? Do they really exist?”
Brom scowled. “Do you want your original questions answered or not? They won’t be if you want to explore every obscure piece of knowledge.”
“Sorry,” said Eragon. he dipped his head and tried to look contrite.
“No, you’re not,” said Brom with some amusement.
It’s rare, but there are little moments like this where the characters seem to interact like actual people and not pieces in a game of Advance the Plot. I like those moments.
The elves, suffering from an acute case of Superior Species Syndrome, viewed the dragons as little more than animals and managed to start a war between the two species when one elf decided he wanted to make some dragon stew. Long story short, this sparked a war that lasted about five years until an elf named Eragon found himself a dragon egg.
“Yes,” said Eragon absently. It seemed like an incredible coincidence that he had been named after the first Rider.
Incredible coincidence my ass.
No, of course this doesn’t make him even more of an idealized self-insert. What do you think this is, a poorly-disguised piece of fanfiction with an author avatar as the main character? Surely you jest!
Eragon-the-elf raised the dragon in secret, then traveled around with him to help convince both sides to stop fighting. With the war ended, the Riders were formed to keep it from happening again. Eventually they ended up with “more power than all the kings in Alagaësia” before Galbatorix came along.
Now that two of his questions are answered, Eragon-the-human stops to ask what the humans were doing while all this history was going on:
Brom laughed. “We are no more native to this land than the elves. It took our ancestors another three centuries to arrive here and join the Riders.”
“That can’t be,” protested Eragon. “We’ve always lived in Palancar Valley.”
“That might be true for a few generations, but beyond that, no. It isn’t even true for you, Eragon,” said Brom gently. “Though you consider yourself part of Garrow’s family, and rightly so, your sire was not from here. Ask around and you’ll find many people who haven’t been here that long. This valley is old and hasn’t always belonged to us.”
Eragon scowled and gulped at the tea. […] This was his home, regardless of who his father was!
Brom isn’t saying that this isn’t your home, Eragon; he’s saying that people haven’t been here as long as you think they have. And while he’s right – humans have not been in Alagaësia for very long in comparison to the other races living there – his logic is all wrong. He’s thinking too small. Carvahall is pretty far removed from the rest of the empire, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it might be newer than other settlements. Maybe it’s an offshoot of Therinsford (the nearest village), or a former hunting camp that eventually turned into a town. It would better prove Brom’s point if he talked about the cities, maybe telling Eragon how old the oldest one is and then saying that it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how long the dwarves and dragons and even elves have been around.
Eragon asks some more questions – what happened to the dwarves (they sealed themselves underground), how many dragons are left (not nearly enough, and if they’re not allied to Galbatorix they’re in hiding), how big did they get (fuck-off huge), how long did it take them to mature (five to six months, which is when they could breathe fire and mate) – and then slips up:
“I heard that their scales shone like gems.”
Brom leaned forward and growled, “You heard right. They came in every color and shade. It was said that a group of them looked like a living rainbow, constantly shifting and shimmering. But who told you that?”
Eragon froze for a second, then lied, “A trader.”
“What was his name?” asked Brom. […]
Eragon pretended to think. “I don’t know. He was talking in Morn’s, but I never found out who he was. […] He also said a Rider could hear his dragon’s thoughts,” said Eragon quickly, hoping that the fictitious trader would protect him from suspicion.
Brom’s eyes narrowed. Slowly he took out a tinderbox and struck the flint. Smoke rose, and he took a long pull from the pope, exhaling slowly. In a flat voice he said, “He was wrong. It isn’t in any of the stories, and I know them all. Did he say anything else?”
Eragon shrugged. “No.” Brom was too interested in the trader for him to continue the falsehood. Casually he inquired, “Did dragons live very long?”
Oh, Eragon, you are really, really bad at being deceptive. Brom already doesn’t quite buy your story about the trader, so quit while you’re ahead or you’re going to blow your cover.
Brom answers Eragon’s question by telling him that a dragon can live forever “as long as it isn’t killed and its Rider doesn’t die”. The dragon’s magical properties lengthen the life of the Rider, as well as enhancing the Rider’s mental and physical attributes, and human Riders will eventually grow pointed ears like an elf. I… guess this sort of makes sense, since the first Riders were elves, but does that happen with any other race? Were there any other races that were Riders?
After asking everything he thinks he can get away with, Eragon finally gets around to the other reason he sought out Brom: what kind of names the dragons had. He tells Brom that he’s trying to remember the name of one particular dragon and asks for his help.
Brom shrugged and quickly listed a stream of names. “There was Jura, Hírador, and Fundor – who fought the giant sea snake. Galzra, Briam, Ohen the Strong, Gretiem, Beroan, Roslarb . . .” He added many other. At the very end, he uttered so softly Eragon almost did not hear, “. . . and Saphira.”
Gee, I wonder which name Eragon will choose. Could it possibly be the one singled out at the end as something special to Brom? Who knows! (Also, is it just me or do the rest of those names look like Paolini just mashed his elbows on the keyboard a few times?)
Eragon finally has everything he needs, so he takes off to go find Roran, and the chapter ends there. And not a moment too soon, either.
No Memorable Quotes today, folks. Sometimes Paolini has some real zingers, but nothing really stood out in this chapter. Let’s hope for more next time!