Eragon, Chapters 17 & 18: Same Old Song and Dance

Eragon, Chapter 17: Thunder Roar and Lightning Crackle, and Chapter 18: Revelation at Yazuac (pg 123-134)

In the morning, Brom and Eragon start their descent into the grassland.  Saphira decides that, since there’s nowhere to hide on the open plain, she might as well just fly overhead.  The guys find the Ra’zac’s tracks at a crossroads and determine that they’re heading due east toward Yazuac, straight across the plains.  According to Brom it should take about four days to get there.

The excitement of the hunt began to rise within Eragon.  In a few days, maybe less than a week, he would use his arrows to avenge Garrow’s death.  And then . . .  He refused to think about what might happen afterward.

I’m torn on this passage.  On the one hand, I like that Eragon’s main driving force right now is revenge.  He’s not going on a quest for glory or trying to uphold noble ideals that he barely understands; he’s just trying to exact vengeance for the senseless killing of his uncle.  On the other hand, does he really think it’s going to be that easy after what Brom’s told him about the Ra’zac?  (Just to recap: they’re stronger than humans, can jump like Superman, are “cunning and full of guile”, and answer directly to Galbatorix.  That doesn’t sound like an easy fight to me.)

They start out across the plains after filling their waterskins, and the first thing Eragon does is complain about the wind.  When they camp for the night, Eragon has trouble lighting a fire and asks Brom to do it.  Brom has just as much trouble, but when he “curses” (specifically, he says “Brisingr!” – remember that) the fire starts up and he makes some excuse about the tinder smoldering on the inside.  Brom doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping secrets.  That’s okay, though, because Eragon’s too dense to figure it out anyway.

About three days into their journey there’s a storm on the horizon.  This part of the book is pretty much filler; all that happens is they get caught in the storm, Saphira gets flipped over by the wind and they have to pin her down and wait it out.  It’s two pages of nothing happening.  The only passage of note is this paragraph that occurs right when they reach the storm:

The thundercloud had an exotic structure, forming a natural cathedral with a massive arched roof.  With some imagination [Eragon] could see pillars, windows, soaring tiers, and snarling gargoyles.

I’ve already mentioned the massive amount of anachronisms in Alagaësia, and this is just more of the same.  Unless there are illustrations floating about Carvahall (something I highly doubt) Eragon shouldn’t be able to picture any of this.  He shouldn’t even know what a cathedral is.  It’s decent imagery to add to the storm, but when you’re writing from a 3rd-person limited perspective, the way Paolini is, you have to keep your descriptions limited to what your viewpoint character knows.

They finally reach Yazuac the next day.  There’s a couple ridiculous bits where Eragon asks if Saphira should go hide while they go into town (what else is she going to do, circle overhead like an over-sized vulture?), and Brom has to explain that he navigates with the sun and stars instead of by landmarks (wouldn’t that be something Eragon would be familiar with, if not know himself?).  Finally they head into town, where it’s eerily quiet.  Thankfully Paolini avoids the tired “It’s quiet – too quiet” routine; Eragon notices that there aren’t any dogs barking, then remarks that someone should have seen them by now and come out.  I’m not sure why people would come out of their houses simply because there’s a stranger in town; I realize that, in addition to the lack of people on the streets, it’s a sign that something is wrong, but the idea that people would be coming out to greet them simply because they showed up is pretty silly.

Suspecting an ambush by the Ra’zac, they circle around to the other side of town and enter that way.  They’re rewarded for their troubles with a nice big pile of dead bodies in the center of town:

A mountain of bodies rose above them, the corpses stiff and grimacing.  Their clothes were soaked in blood, and the churned ground was stained with it.  Slaughtered men lay over the women they had tried to protect, mothers still clasped their children, and lovers who had tried to shield each other rested in death’s cold embrace.  Black arrows stuck out of them all.  Neither young nor old had been spared.  But worst of all was the barbed spear that rose out of the peak of the pile, impaling the white body of a baby.

So many questions.  Why is the baby on top like that?  Is it supposed to be a message?  Is it up there purely to mess with Eragon and Brom or whatever other unfortunate soul finds the village?  Why is the focus on the relationships of the dead people and not, say, the smell or their injuries or how long they’ve been there?  How long have they been there, anyway?  And can we get a depiction of women that isn’t dependent on their relationships with men or their motherhood/lack thereof?

Tears blurred Eragon’s vision and he tried to look away, but the dead faces held his attention.  He stared at their open eyes and wondered how life could have left them so easily.  What does our existence mean when it can end like this?  A wave of hopelessness overwhelmed him.

This is the second time that Eragon has seen the senseless death of the innocent in less than a week.  It is entirely fitting for him to start having an existential crisis.  However, this really isn’t working for me.  Eragon already had his “why is life so cruel” moment back in Chapter 14.  Was a second one really that necessary so close on the heels of the first?  And did it have to be so schmaltzy?

Brom tells Eragon that sometimes bad people like to hurt others, then says that while the Ra’zac did pass this way, it was Urgals who slaughtered the village.  He pauses to inspect some footprints, then jumps onto his horse as he realizes the Urgals are still there.

“Ride!” he hissed tightly, spurring Snowfire forward.  “There are still Urgals here!”  Eragon jammed his heels into Cadoc.  The horse jumped forward and raced after Snowfire.  They dashed past the houses and were almost to the edge of Yazuac when Eragon’s palm tingled again.  He saw a flicker of movement to his right, then a giant fist smashed him out of the saddle.  He flew back over Cadoc and crashed into a wall, holding on to his bow only by instinct.  Gasping and stunned, he staggered upright, hugging his side.

An Urgal stood over him, face set in a gross leer.  The monster was tall, thick, and broader than a doorway, with gray skin and yellow piggish eyes.  Muscles bulged on his arms and chest, which was covered by a too small breastplate.  An iron cap rested over the pair of ram’s horns curling from his temples, and a roundshield was bound to one arm.  His powerful hand held a short, wicked sword.

I feel like now would have been the better time to introduce the Urgals, rather than in the prologue.  For one thing, they’ve got a much better description here (seriously, I will never get over “they looked like men only different”), and the monstrous aspect of this race is enhanced by the fact that one of them is menacing Eragon in its first appearance.  I’m also curious as to whether Eragon has ever seen an Urgal before.  I could buy him being able to recognize it by the horns, since the tavern owner back home has a pair over his bar, but it seems like Eragon instantly recognizes objects and creatures that he’s only ever heard descriptions of before.

Brom runs into a second Urgal.  He screams at Eragon to run, and Eragon bolts with the Urgal hot on his heels.  He tries to shoot the Urgal, but it catches his arrow and then tackles him.  Eragon jumps to his feet (immediately after a sentence ending with “and they fell to the ground in a confused tangle”, so how did he get to his feet so quickly?) and runs back toward Brom, only to see Brom go down and the other Urgal about to chop the old guy in half.  This sends Eragon into berserker mode, as he screams, charges the Urgal, and… claws his side?  No, really, Eragon claws at the Urgal and then dashes down an alley to lead both of them away from Brom.  This ends, predictably, in him being trapped in a dead end.

As he faced the Urgals, images flashed in his mind: dead villagers piled around the spear and an innocent baby who would never grow to adulthood.  At the thought of their fate, a burning, fiery power gathered from every part of his body.  It was more than a desire for justice.  It was his entire being rebelling against the fact of death – that he would cease to exist.  The power grew stronger and stronger until he felt ready to burst from the contained force.

What, are you gonna scratch them again?

I’m starting to get the feeling that, even more than emphasizing how eeevil the Urgals are, the slaughter of all these villagers was really only written in to make Eragon angry enough to unintentionally use magic.  And there’s no fucking point to it – he could have done this when Brom was being attacked.  It would have made a lot more sense and would have been a lot less trite, especially if Paolini had gone back and given Brom and Eragon some character interaction that showed them bonding on some level.  Instead, we get mass murder that’s pointless from both a character and a narrative standpoint, and I can’t help but picture Eragon crying “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

Eragon takes aim at the advancing Urgals and, as he lets loose, shouts “Brisingr!”  Why, I don’t know – it’s Brom’s “curse” word that’s obviously a fire spell of some sort, but why he’d shout a random curse word that he’s heard only once before when he would be more likely to let out a scream is beyond me.  Not only is this completely ridiculous, but this a prime example of how Brom’s secrets are detrimental to the both of them.  If Brom had told Eragon that he could use magic, instead of hiding the ability for no reason (as Eragon has no idea whether or not being a Rider lets him use magic), then maybe they wouldn’t be in this situation.

The arrow hissed through the air, glowing with a crackling blue light.  It struck the lead Urgal on the forehead, and the air resounded with an explosion.  A blue shock wave blasted out of the monster’s head, killing the other Urgal instantly.  It reached Eragon before he had time to react, and it passed through him without harm, dissipating against the houses.

Two things: first, how is Eragon’s fire blue when Brom’s is red?  Does it have something to do with what color dragon the Rider is paired with, or was it just random, or did Paolini write in blue fire for the cool factor?

Second, how the fuck is uncontrolled magic able to hit selective targets?  If Eragon’s magic created a shockwave that was strong enough to insta-kill two monsters, it should have done something to him, even if it just made him a little nauseous.  I swear, it’s like Paolini wrote himself into a corner and decided to fix the problem by using a deus ex machina instead of going back and rewriting the last two sentences.  All he had to do was replace exploding heads and shockwaves with, say, the flaming arrow tearing through the first Urgal like paper and taking out the one behind it as well.

Shockingly, Eragon doesn’t faint at the end of this chapter.  He does, however, collapse against a wall after noticing that his palm is glowing.  I guess remaining conscious is an improvement?

Memorable Quotes:

“It unnerved Eragon how flat everything was; the plains were unbroken by hummocks or mounds.  He had lived his entire life surrounded by mountains and hills.  Without them he felt exposed and vulnerable, like a mouse under an eagle’s keen eye.” (pg 124)  I actually like this passage.  I think it’s a pretty reasonable reaction to being in an unfamiliar environment.

“The Urgal rapidly gained ground despite Eragon’s efforts; large fangs separated in a soundless bellow.” (pg 132)

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One comment on “Eragon, Chapters 17 & 18: Same Old Song and Dance

  1. Yeah I never got why Brom’s fire was red either, especially when his dragon was suspected (I think it’s revealed later, but I can’t remember) to be blue just like Saphira.

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