Eragon: Chapter 19

Eragon, Chapter 19: Admonishments

Eragon recovers from using magic fairly quickly, and he staggers back toward the center of town to find that Brom is still in the saddle, unconscious.  Saphira lands in front of him as he’s pulling Brom out of the saddle to take a look at his wound, and agrees to carry Brom, who wakes up just as Eragon’s strapping him into Saphira’s saddle.  They head south out of town; with Brom up in the air, Eragon has some solitude to think about things: namely, how it is he’s able to use magic.

He, Eragon – farm boy of Palancar Valley – had used magic. […] But he did not know how to use this new power again or what its limits and dangers might be.  How can I have this ability?  Was it common among the Riders?  And if Brom knew of it, why didn’t he tell me?

He didn’t tell you because he needed to carry the Idiot Ball long enough for the appropriate amount of dramatic suspense to build up.  Sorry, kid.

At one point, Eragon stops to get water and notices Ra’zac droppings, signifying that he’s on the right path.  How the hell can he identify Ra’zac poop?  Did Brom point it out to him in a deleted scene?  How does Brom even know what Ra’zac poop looks like?

They make camp by the river, and after Eragon changes Brom’s bandages and they eat, Eragon tells Brom what happened after he lost consciousness.

When Eragon finished, Brom looked down at the ground.  For a long time the only sound was the snapping fire.  Brom finally stirred.  “Have you used this power before?”

“No.  Do you know anything about it?”

“A little.”  Brom’s face was thoughtful.  “[…]  You should be proud; few escape unscathed from slaying their first Urgal.  But the manner in which you did it was very dangerous.  You could have destroyed yourself and the whole town.”

And if he’d known he was capable of using magic, he might have taken that into account.  It’s not like he planned on setting heads on fire – it was a last-ditch effort that he didn’t even know would do anything.

“It wasn’t as if I had a choice,” said Eragon defensively.  “The Urgals were almost upon me.  If I had waited, they would have chopped me into pieces!”

Brom stamped his teeth vigorously on the pipe stem.  “You didn’t have any idea what you were doing.”

Only because you never told him this could happen!  If he’d had even a little basic instruction, he might have decided against using magic and found another way to defeat the Urgals.

“Then tell me,” challenged Eragon.  “I’ve been searching for answers to this mystery, but I can’t make sense of it.  What happened?  How could I have possibly used magic?  No one has ever instructed me in it or taught me spells.”

Brom’s eyes flashed.  “This isn’t something you should be taught – much less use!”

What happened was completely unintentional.  Why are you berating Eragon for something that was out of his control?  Why are you yelling at him for pointing out that he’s never had any training in it, and therefore can’t be expected to know what he’s doing?  Why are you such a fucking asshole, Brom?

“Well, I have used it, and I may need it to fight again.  But I won’t be able to if you don’t help me.  What’s wrong?  Is there some secret I’m not supposed to learn until I’m old and wise?  Or maybe you don’t know anything about magic!”

“Boy!” roared Brom.  “You demand answers with an insolence rarely seen.  If you knew what you asked for, you would not be so quick to inquire.  Do not try me.”  He paused, then relaxed into a kinder countenance.  “The knowledge you ask for is more complex than you understand.”

I swear, “countenance” is to Christopher Paolini what “chagrin” is to Stephenie Meyer.

It’s not insolent for Eragon to want to know what’s going on.  You might as well call a child going through puberty insolent because she wants to know what’s happening to her.  Eragon is changing, both mentally and physically, in ways he can’t possibly expect or comprehend; as the person who knows about what he’s going through, it’s Brom’s responsibility to tell him what’s coming so he’s not blindsided by his new abilities the way he was six pages ago.

I can’t decide whether to be mad at Brom for deliberately lying to Eragon and omitting necessary information, or at Paolini for writing it in the first place.  I despise this trope, or cliche, or whatever you want to call it, of the more knowledgeable party (whether they’re a mentor or parent or whatever) keeping others out of the loop for no reason other than the author’s need for dramatic tension.  Yes, it’s dull to have the hero learn everything at once, but the solution is not to have one character hold all the information and let it trickle out bit by bit at their leisure.

Eragon rose hotly in protest.  “I feel as though I’ve been thrust into a world with strange rules that no one will explain.”

He’s right; he’s basically a slightly more genre-savvy version of the average schmuck who falls into an unfamiliar fantasy world.  And he has every right to be angry, considering the one person who can help him refuses to give him even basic information.

Brom explains how magic works, at the same time chastising Eragon for asking questions, because I guess it’s annoying that he wants to know things.  Or – and this just occurred to me – maybe he likes having the power that being Eragon’s mentor gives him, and he doesn’t want Eragon knowing too much too soon or else his power trip will be over too soon.  I think I just creeped myself out.

Anyway, magic is language-based in this world; there’s a language that has the true name for everything, and you can use this language to control just about anything.  Your magic ability is based on strength, once you cast a spell you can’t stop it, and if you overstep your bounds you’re likely to kill yourself.  (Also, I guess the color of the fire just depends on the user.  Woo?)  Eragon and Saphira come to the conclusion that Brom is a magician, based on what he knows and that thing he did with the fire earlier.  He confirms this, tells Eragon that he’ll answer the rest of his questions in the morning, and closes with this:

“[…] magic takes just as much energy as if you used your arms and back.  That is why you felt tired after destroying the Urgals.  And that is why I was angry.  It was a dreadful risk on your part.  If the magic had used more energy than was in your body, it would have killed you.  You should use magic only for tasks that can’t be accomplished the mundane way.”

I really hate to beat a dead horse here, but Eragon didn’t even know he was capable of doing magic.  Brom’s anger would be justified if (1) Eragon had known he could cast magic and overestimated himself, and (2) Eragon hadn’t been in a dangerous situation that he couldn’t defeat “the mundane way”.  He was trapped in an alley by two creatures who didn’t seem bothered by his arrows at all.  Was he supposed to let them kill him?  Would it really be worse if he died in the act of defending himself than if he’d let himself be killed?

The chapter ends, yet again, with the group bedding down for the night.  I don’t think I can go five chapters without either a chapter ending with Eragon going to sleep or being knocked unconscious, or beginning with Eragon waking up.  Get a new repertoire, Paolini.

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