Apologies for missing the last few updates. I had some issues to deal with and haven’t yet gotten around to building up a buffer. Hopefully I’ll get that taken care of soon, so you won’t have to wait around so long for my posts. Anyway, on with the show!
Eragon, Chapter 12: Deathwatch
After fainting on the outskirts of town, Eragon is laying bed, dreaming about people boarding a ship on a river and dragons flying in the sky. It’s one of those vague, semi-prophetic dreams that are pretty much guaranteed to come back later, after everyone’s forgotten about them.
Later he wakes up in the healer’s hut, naked and bandaged up. The healer, Gertrude, tells him that Garrow is staying at Horst’s, and that his injuries aren’t healing and his fever won’t break. Why Garrow isn’t staying with the healer is beyond me – he’s clearly the patient that needs more care, especially considering his age.
We also find out that the injuries to Eragon’s legs – the ones he incurred from riding Saphira – were so severe that “[half] the skin on [his] legs was torn off”. Holy shit! How was Eragon even able to walk after that first flight? And again, how the hell did he still have pants?
“How long have I been here?”
“Two full days.”
Two days! That meant his last meal had been four mornings ago!
That’s… an odd reaction to have. Not “I’ve been asleep for two days?” or “Are those strangers coming back for me?”, but “I haven’t eaten in four mornings”. Who measures time like that, anyway? “Four mornings” makes me think he skipped breakfast each day; it’s more accurate to say he hasn’t eaten in four days.
“The whole town wants to know what happened. They sent men down to your farm and found it destroyed.” Eragon nodded; he had expected that. “Your barn was burned down. . . . Is that how Garrow was injured?”
“I . . . I don’t know,” said Eragon. “I wasn’t there when it happened.”
“Well, no matter. I’m sure it’ll all get untangled.” Gertrude resumed knitting while the soup cooked.
Is it just me, or is Gertrude surprisingly incurious about what happened? “Oh, you weren’t there? Well, no need to ask you about your injuries then! I’m sure you acquired them through routine farm work that has nothing to do with the suspicious circumstances under which you were found.” Maybe that’s where Eragon gets it. Maybe the entire village is just a bunch of unimaginative, uninterested dolts who see no reason to question things.
Gertrude determines that Eragon is capable of walking, and they go to visit Garrow. The description of Horst’s house is just ridiculous:
Horst had built his two-story house on a hill so he could enjoy a view of the mountains. He had lavished all of his skill on it. The shale roof shadowed a railed balcony that extended from a tall window on the second floor. Each water spout was a snarling gargoyle, and every window and door was framed by carvings of serpents, harts, ravens, and knotted vines. […] A staircase with a polished balustrade curved down to the floor. The walls were the color of honey.
I don’t even know where to begin describing just what’s wrong with this picture. I was willing to overlook the windows, since even Eragon’s house had glass windows, but the rest… just, what? First of all, Eragon supposedly lives in a tiny, remote village out in the far reaches of the empire. With the intended time period and setting in mind, it’s just not feasible for all this shit to exist in this place. A two story house? A shale roof? A balcony? A polished staircase? Gargoyles? Where the fuck did Horst get the stone for those? Hell, where did Horst learn carpentry? He’s the goddamn blacksmith!
This isn’t medieval fantasy: it’s modern suburbia wrapped in the trappings of medieval fantasy. Everyone lives in a nice, neat house that they all earned by working hard at their respective trades. There’s no sign of the crushing poverty that would come from living on the edge of the empire, out where both trade and help are hard to get and where they would be vulnerable to monster attacks (or human attacks, for that matter). I mean, hell, apparently they’re affluent enough to keep Merlock in business whenever he’s in the area. There’s no sign that they ever have to go without; Garrow and Eragon may have to stock up on food in case they can’t make it to town in the winter, but the villagers themselves don’t seem to have any food shortages. And speaking of Garrow, he’s treated more like he moved out to the country to retire than he is like a hermit. This setting makes no sense whatsoever.
Horst’s wife Elain answers the door and tells Gertrude that Garrow is getting worse. As Gertrude runs upstairs, Eragon refuses Elain’s offer of help up the stairs and she responds with:
“Well . . . as soon as you’re done come visit me in the kitchen. I have a fresh-baked pie you might enjoy.”
… Seriously? What is this, the idealized version of the 1950s? Is Elain Alagaësia’s version of June Cleaver or something? Get out of here with that shit, Paolini.
This chapter actually has the highest number of female characters gathered in one place so far, and they are all essentially props to guide Eragon through the story. Honestly, I didn’t expect much from a Boy And His Dog fantasy story written by a fifteen-year-old boy, but it’s really disheartening to see how little the female characters actually do in the story. Take a look at the female cast so far (in order of mention):
Katrina: Roran’s girlfriend. Ineffectual when it comes to calming her father down, comforting a grieving Eragon, and pretty much everything else she does.
Marian: Eragon’s aunt. Died well before the start of the book.
Selena: Eragon’s mom. Showed up pregnant, gave birth, then disappeared.
Saphira: A motherfucking dragon, y’all. Kidnaps Eragon, takes him back home, and helps him get his uncle to safety.
Gertrude: The healer. She might as well have “medicine woman” stamped on her head for all the characterization she gets.
Elain: The blacksmith’s wife. Opens the door, offers Eragon pie.
Out of these six characters, only two are not defined by their relationships to men (and Saphira is borderline considering the Rider/dragon relationship). One of those two is in a traditionally female role; the other, who is the most interesting and active character of the bunch, is not human. All of the human characters are around because… because… well, I’m not sure with some of them. Marian and Selena are clearly only present because of the plot (and when your only presence as a character is to be dead or missing for someone to mourn, you have a problem), and Katrina is a large part of the reason Roran left town, so they’re all just sitting around motivating the manly men to go and do manly things. Elain only seems to be around because Horst needs a wife. Gertrude is the only one actually doing anything, and even she’s useless because the plot demands that Uncle Garrow bite the dust. It’s like Paolini realized he couldn’t have a book with only men in it, so he threw in a handful of inconsequential female characters and called it good.
Already I can hear somebody out there saying, “But Omskivar, Eragon is set in a pseudo-medieval setting, and everyone knows that women weren’t afforded the same rights and privileges as men back then! Paolini’s just being historically accurate!” Well, I’ve got news for you, friend: THIS IS FICTION. As I’ve pointed out above, Christopher Paolini doesn’t seem particularly concerned with historical accuracy when it comes to lifestyle and available technology, so why should he care about accuracy in regards to the treatment of women?
High fantasy may usually take place in a setting that looks like it could take place anywhere between the Dark Ages and the Italian Renaissance, but there’s nothing that says it has to. There’s nothing out there that says you can’t write a fantasy epic that takes place in a matriarchal society, or one where both sexes are considered equal. There are already plenty of stories that have moved away from Western cultural influences as far as mythology and setting are concerned; why not abandon the blatant misogyny (and any other forms of bigotry) associated with that time period as well?
Don’t get me wrong; I love Western-influenced high fantasy. I have a weakness for badass sword-wielding women and Sweet Polly Olivers like nobody’s business. (There’s a reason my favorite Disney movie is Mulan.) But sometimes, I would really like to see a female character who doesn’t have to struggle to be taken seriously in a male-dominated society. I’d like to see girls who aren’t treated like rebels because they want to wear pants instead of skirts. I’d like to see women expecting to be treated like equals instead of being shocked when they are. I’d like to see little girls dreaming of being knights without being told they can’t because they’re girls. Paolini has likely never stopped to think about it, because his viewpoint character is never going to have to deal with it.
Anyway, the point is, Paolini’s female characters basically melt into the background until he needs them for something. It’s fairly obvious here, where Saphira is in hiding and the human women are only around to tend to Garrow as he lays dying:
Katrina stood by a fireplace, boiling rags. She looked up, murmured a condolence, and then returned to her work. Gertrude stood beside her, grinding herbs for a poultice. A bucket by her feet held snow melting into ice water.
Eragon approaches his uncle, who is laying unconscious in bed. Gertrude tells him that Garrow’s wounds aren’t closing and there’s nothing she can do about them.
Eragon moved to a corner and sank to the floor. This isn’t how things are supposed to be! Silence swallowed his thoughts. He stared blankly at the bed. After a while he noticed Katrina kneeling beside him. She put an arm around him. When he did not respond, she diffidently left.
Why is Katrina even here? I mean, character-wise, I can see where she would feel like she should be helping Garrow since she wants to marry into his family, but she’s not needed for the narration at all. Her only purpose is to tend to a dying man and comfort the main character, who doesn’t even have the decency to acknowledge that she’s there.
After a while Horst comes in and drags Eragon downstairs into the kitchen. Elain serves him some food and goes back to being in the background (seriously, her character has no point!) while Horst grills him about what happened. It seems the townspeople found Saphira’s tracks and think a monster might be out there, ready to attack the village. Eragon lies and tells him that the day after the SIB were asking about him around town, he was out in the forest and the farm exploded. He goes on to say that he found Garrow in the wreckage and dragged him to town himself. There’s some talk amongst Horst’s sons about going out after the SIB, but ultimately they decide not to. Horst promises Eragon he’ll send someone to tell Roran what happened.
There’s a little paragraph I quite like here, where Eragon tries to distract himself:
Eragon remained at the table, his eyes focused on a knot in the wood. Every excruciating detail was clear to him: the twisting grain, an asymmetrical bump, three little ridges with a fleck of color. The knot was filled with endless detail; the closer he looked, the more he saw. He searched for answers in it, but if there were any, they eluded him.
While this is going on, Eragon hears someone calling him and tries to ignore it, until Saphira screams directly into his brain to get his attention. She’s just checking in to make sure he’s okay, but mentions she went hunting in the meantime.
Did you catch anything?
A young buck. He was wise enough to guard against the predators of land, but not those of sky. When I first caught him in my jaws, he kicked vigorously and tried to escape. I was stronger, though, and when defeat became unavoidable, he gave up and died. Does Garrow also fight the unavoidable?
… WOW. That was highly inappropriate. I know Saphira can’t be expected to follow all the social niceties, but you’d think she’d have some tact. Then again, look at who she’s been learning from. (Also, of course the buck didn’t guard against the “predators of sky”. There probably aren’t any flying creatures big enough to prey on deer in the area.)
At any rate, Eragon ignores this and tells Saphira that he probably won’t be able to see her for a few days. Then Elain tells Eragon he can stay at the house so he can be close to Garrow, and Gertrude tells him that Garrow’s starting to look a little better, and Eragon goes to sleep.
“Dreams roiled in Eragon’s mind, breeding and living by their own laws.” (pg 81)
“Eragon touched his uncle’s forehead with a feeling of unreality.” (pg 84)