Eragon, Chapter 13: The Madness of Life
Another late update. Sorry for that, folks. I’ve been thinking about how I want to tackle this chapter; did I want to tackle it in the usual manner (summarizing and focusing on specific parts that caught my attention)? Did I want to go through bit by bit and point out everything wrong? Did I want to rewrite the chapter to show how Paolini might have done it better?
In the end, I’ve decided to go for option #2. Not only is the chapter too short for my usual summary (it’s only 382 words long, less than a full page of text), but it’s so chock full of failure that I can’t really skip over anything. I am working on a rewrite of the chapter, which I will post later, but the idea that I’m basically writing Eragon fanfiction is making it slow going.
So, without further ado, I present to you Chapter 13 of Eragon:
It was dark when Eragon jolted upright in bed, breathing hard. The room was chilly; goose bumps formed on his arms and shoulders. It was a few hours before dawn – the time when nothing moves and life waits for the first warm touches of sunlight.
His heart pounded as a terrible premonition gripped him. It felt like a shroud lay over the world, and its darkest corner was over his room. He quietly got out of bed and dressed. With apprehension he hurried down the hallway. Alarm shot through him when he saw the door to Garrow’s room open and people clustered inside.
We step into a nice, fresh pile of cliche right off the bat. Show of hands now, folks – how many times have you seen a character sit straight up in bed after a nightmare or premonition of some sort? And how many times has this happened to you or someone you know? (Fun fact: I tried this in fifth-grade winter camp as an excuse to talk about the boy I liked. The other girls knew I was faking it right away.)
Not only is the premonition also a cliche, it’s just unnecessary. Eragon knows that Garrow is severely injured; it doesn’t take a huge leap in logic to come to the conclusion that Garrow has taken a turn for the worse. Why even give Eragon a “I have a bad feeling about this”-type moment when he could have easily decided, “Hey, I’m awake, why don’t I go check on Garrow?”
Garrow lay peacefully on the bed. He was dressed in clean clothes, his hair had been combed back, and his face was calm. He might have been sleeping if not for the silver amulet clasped around his neck and the sprig of dried hemlock on his chest, the last gifts from the living to the dead.
This would be a great look at the customs and culture of the Alagaësian people if we’d had any previous indication that they have a distinct culture. So far it’s been pretty generic fantasy fare – elves, dragons, evil spirits, plucky young unsuspecting hero plucked from obscurity – you know, all the stuff you expect when you pick up a fantasy novel. There’s nothing that makes it stand out from the rest. This just feels like Paolini threw in a little flavor text whenever he thought of it.
Katrina stood next to the bed, face pale and eyes downcast. He heard her whisper, “I had hoped to call him Father one day. . . .”
Call him Father, he thought bitterly, a right even I don’t have.
On the one hand, this is a perfectly valid reaction to grief. We can’t expect a fifteen-year-old kid to handle his uncle’s death with grace. On the other hand, I just want to shake Eragon and tell him to stop being so damn melodramatic. I know Eragon’s hurting, but he’s not the only one allowed to grieve, and taking potshots at Katrina for daring to mourn Garrow is just petty.
He felt like a ghost, drained of all vitality. Everything was insubstantial except for Garrow’s face. Tears flooded Eragon’s cheeks. He stood there, shoulders shaking, but did not cry out. Mother, aunt, uncle – he had lost them all. The weight of his grief was crushing, a monstrous force that left him tottering. Someone led him back to his room, uttering consolations.
[Bolding is mine.]
This may be somewhat nitpicky, but if you took the bolded phrase out of context I would assume that Eragon had recently lost all three family members. There is little reason for his mother and aunt to come to mind now; he’s never known his mother, and he’s had years to come to terms with the death of his aunt. Obviously the emphasis is on the fact that Eragon is now alone, but there are better ways to write it.
He fell on the bed, wrapped his arms around his head, and sobbed convulsively. He felt Saphira contact him, but he pushed her aside and let himself be swept away by sorrow. He could not accept that Garrow was gone. If he did, what was left to believe in? Only a merciless, uncaring world that snuffed lives like candles before a wind. Frustrated and terrified, he turned his tear-dampened face toward the heavens and shouted, “What god would do this? Show yourself!” He heard people running to his room, but no answer came from above. “He didn’t deserve this!”
Comforting hands touched him, and he was aware of Elain sitting next to him. She held him as he cried, and eventually, exhausted, he slipped unwillingly into sleep.
Here we come to my main problem with this chapter (aside from the fact that it’s barely a page long, seriously what is this bullshit). I’ve complained before about Paolini’s hackneyed writing, and I realize that it is mostly because this is his first novel and he was fifteen when he wrote this. That said, this is some of the laziest writing I have ever come across. All we need is a downpour for Eragon to wander through so he can scream “Why, God, why?!” while the thunder crashes and the lightning strikes behind him.
Speaking of gods, this was particularly grating to me for one simple reason: we have no idea what the religion around here is. It’s a little difficult to tell if you’re only following the review without having read the books, but suffice it to say that religion really isn’t a big deal for these people. There are a couple offhand remarks of “By the gods” and other similar phrases, but other than that there’s no evidence these people worship anything. There’s no temple in town, no priests giving their blessings, no household shrines. Nobody makes offerings to the gods (or spirits, or ancestors, or anything else); there are no sacrifices made to curry divine favor or bring about a good harvest; no one prays at meals or before bed. Aside from a couple of easily-missed oaths, there’s nothing to imply that the people of Carvahall, let alone the people of Alagaësia, have any sort of belief system. (Later on there’s mention of a religion, possibly a cult, that worships a mountain and makes human sacrifices, but that’s not for another nineteen chapters.)
Also, I hope you like hearing that the world is a cold, cruel place, because it’s going to be hammered repeatedly into our heads. Ta ta!