Eragon, Chapter 22: Through a Dragon’s Eye, and Chapter 23: A Song for the Road
I’m back! Sorry for not posting in a couple months, folks. I’ve had some personal drama to deal with, and it’s distracted me from writing anything coherent. Also, I’ll admit, it gets really boring reading the same chapter over and over again (you know, the one that goes “travel, exposition, travel, Brom yells at Eragon for something he couldn’t possibly have known, travel, Saphira and Eragon are assholes, travel, travel, sleep”). Have an extra chapter by way of apology.
When we last left our not-so-intrepid hero, Saphira was angry at him for never riding on her instead of on his horse. Now he’s going on their first flight together since Garrow died, and while the book mentions that he’s uneasy, there’s no sign that his apprehension is related to that incident. The flight itself is nothing really remarkable; Saphira surprises Eragon with a barrel roll and then tells him to get used to it when he freaks out (you’d think she’d at least warn him so he could be prepared), and then they link minds so Eragon can experience flying the way Saphira does. It’s kind of a neat idea – he sees through her eyes and feels like he’s occupying her body – but I’ll be honest, it bugs me.
It bugs me the same way other dragon-riding stories bug me (though to be fair, I’ve been exposed solely to Eragon, Dragonriders of Pern, and How to Train Your Dragon on that front, so my repertoire is limited), in that it’s the human partner that has all the life-changing experiences. Eragon can see the world through Saphira’s eyes, but she never takes the time to experience what it’s like to be him. They have a psychic connection where they can communicate telepathically and feel the other’s emotions, but Eragon is the one who has to change his behavior to suit Saphira; she never once concedes that she might be in the wrong or that Eragon’s inconvenient feelings (read: feelings that don’t revolve around her) are perfectly valid and he has a right to them.
Near midday, an annoying buzz filled Eragon’s ears, and he became aware of a strange pressure on his mind. He shook his head, trying to get rid of it, but the tension only grew stronger. Brom’s words about how people could break into others’ minds flashed through Eragon’s head, and he frantically tried to clear his thoughts. […] Before he could marshall any defenses, the force broke through. But instead of the invasive presence of another mind, there were only the words, What do you think you’re doing? Get down here. I found something important.
[…] Brom scratched his chin and muttered a string of curses. “Don’t ever block me out like that again. It’s hard enough for me to reach you without having to fight to make myself heard.”
Hey, maybe if you’d told him this was possible or said “Hey, I’m going to keep in contact with you via telepathy so keep a mental ear out” or something he wouldn’t have blocked you out. Instead you frightened him because he thought someone was trying to invade his brain. Good job making sure Eragon is prepared for anything.
What exactly does the “invasive presence of another mind” feel like, anyway? There’s a lot of mind-meeting going on in this book, both voluntary and involuntary, but the sensation is never actually described – it’s always talked about in terms of presences and barriers. When someone breaks past your mental defenses, does it hurt? Is it a shooting pain in your temples or a dull throb? Do you experience auditory or visual hallucinations? Is it possible to make a person feel pleasure instead of pain when you enter their mind, if you want to keep them from suffering (or if you just want to fuck with them if they know full well what you’re doing)? Are any of my questions ever going to be answered?
Brom’s called Eragon because he found footprints that indicate that the Ra’zac took off on flying mounts. They sit and think about what to do next, but their options are pretty limited. The best idea Brom can come up with is having Saphira show up at a town and hope the Ra’zac come running, but they’ll likely bring soldiers with them and might even draw the direct attention of King Galbatorix, in which case all bets are off.
Just as Brom gives up, Eragon comes across a flask etched with the Ra’zac’s insignia. He sniffs at it, recognizing the smell as the strange odor coming from the horrible wounds Garrow had that never healed. Then, failing to make the connection between the smell and his uncle’s wounds, he pours some of the liquid onto his finger and manages to get a patch of his skin dissolved.
Grimacing, he jogged back to Brom. “Look what I found.” Brom took the flask and examined it, then poured a bit of the liquid into the cap. Eragon started to warn him, “Watch out, it’ll burn-”
“My skin, I know,” said Brom. “And I suppose you went ahead and poured it all over your hand. Your finger? Well, at least you showed sense enough not to drink it. Only a puddle would have been left of you.”
Sometimes I actually like Brom. Those times always seem to be when he’s calling Eragon out for being an idiot.
Brom explains that the liquid is Seithr oil, which is normally used by jewelers to preserve pearls but, with a blood sacrifice, can be made into a powerful acid that only dissolves human or animal tissue. Eragon finally realizes that this is what the Ra’zac used on Garrow, then promptly skips over his horror to ask how rare the oil is. You know, I don’t expect much from this book, but I’d like at least a little acknowledgement that little things like horror actually affect the main character. It would be more effective to have Eragon make this discovery while Brom is talking, and show how the knowledge affects him as Brom details just what Seithr oil can do to the human body. Instead we get “[…] he realized with horror” and then it’s on to the next question.
Eragon channels his inner CSI and figures out that they can check shipping records in the nearby coastal cities to find out who bought Seithr oil, and from there find out where the Ra’zac are. A clever plan… except that, according to the map in the front of the book, there are at least four major coastal cities where the oil could be shipped, not to mention any smaller port cities that would rely heavily on trade. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll find what they’re looking for in the first city they come to, but of course they’ll succeed the first time around because the plot says so. I’m not even sure Eragon should know that shipping records exist; it would make much more sense for Brom, the more worldly of the two, to come up with this plan, rather than the farm boy on his first trip out of the valley.
Conveniently, Brom has a merchant friend in Teirm, the main port city, so they’ll be able to get access to the shipping records. I’d argue that it’s more interesting if they have to sneak around and find the records themselves, but considering how Paolini writes subterfuge in the next few chapters, it would be less painful to just stick to the original text.
Chapter 23 is another one of those useless little chapters that doesn’t further the plot or develop character at all. It is, however, full of nausea-inducing “poetry” and purple prose.
The next day while they were riding, Eragon asked Brom, “What is the sea like?”
“You must have heard it described before,” said Brom.
“Yes, but what is it really like?”
Because Brom is a font of truthfulness and no one else has ever been able to describe the sea accurately? Any description is going to vary depending on the person giving it. If you asked me what the ocean is like, for example, I would tell you that it’s a vast watery expanse of death full of things that want to kill you (much like a larger, liquid version of Australia).
Brom’s eyes grew hazy, as if he looked upon some hidden scene. “The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”
I really hate it when the “real” description of the sea (or the mountains, or the city, or any other place a character has never been and wants to hear about) is this vague bullshit that tries way too hard to be deep and meaningful. That’s not actually describing the sea – if you replaced the subject so that Brom was talking about Cleopatra, would you (or Eragon) really be able to tell the difference?
The elves are obsessed with the sea to the point that they write horrible songs about it, and Brom stops to torture us all with one of these songs. Since I had to suffer, you do too:
O liquid temptress ‘neath the azure sky,
Your gilded expanse calls me, calls me.
For I would sail ever on,
Were it not for the elven maid,
Who calls me, calls me.
She binds my heart with a lily-white tie,
Never to be broken, save by the sea,
Ever to be torn twixt the trees and the waves.
I’m pretty sure this is Paolini’s attempt to emulate Tolkien and the latter’s tendency to add poetry and songs to his work. Honestly, even if it were good I wouldn’t be that fond of it, but that’s a pet peeve of mine. Sure, the poems add flavor, but unless they’re vital to the plot I think they could be left out. (Also, I’m not a huge fan of poetry, especially not poetry like this that doesn’t scan and has no rhyme scheme.)
The party draws ever onward to Teirm, and Paolini mercifully glosses over most of the details. There’s some boring bits about Eragon getting ripped from all his training and being confused about geographical climate changes (he has to ask if they don’t have winter in this area because moss is growing everywhere), but nothing really important. Brom decides that they’ll have to use false names in Teirm except when they’re dealing with Jeod, and the chapter ends.