Eragon, Chapter 25: An Old Friend
There are some characters that possess the ability to inspire blind, seething hatred in the heart of the audience. The merest mention of their name is enough to send the reader into a frothing rage, the briefest glimpse of their face enough to make the viewer pop a vein in their forehead. There’s always one that just pisses you off. Jar Jar Binks. Dobby. Scrappy Doo. Dawn Summers.*
Angela the herbalist.
Angela is based on Paolini’s sister, to the point where they share the same name. Now, I’ve never met the real-life Angela; I don’t know what she’s like, and I have no particular bias against her, so my opinion of her fictional counterpart does not reflect what I think of her personally.
That said, I can’t fucking stand Angela as a character and wish she’d never been introduced. I think she was meant to be witty and quirky and mysterious, but Paolini fails at writing the first two traits in about the same way all amateur writers do (by being ham-handed and as subtle as a kraken attack), and what “mystery” she has is the same kind of deliberate refusal to give out information that makes me hate Brom so much. And she’s around for the next two chapters, YAY.
The herbalist’s shop had a cheery sign and was easy to find. A short, curly-haired woman sat by the door. She was holding a frog in one hand and writing with the other. Eragon assumed that she was Angela, the herbalist.
Okay, I know I’m nitpicking, but for the love of baked goods, Paolini, tighten up your writing! You established at the end of the last chapter that Jeod lives next to Angela the herbalist, and your characters are now standing in front of the herbalist’s shop. You do not need to remind us that the Angela that Eragon is thinking of is the same Angela-the-herbalist that you mentioned two fucking pages ago.
Also, nice to see Paolini’s usual skill at character description hasn’t changed at all. I think I preferred Stephenie Meyer’s endless musings on the perfection of Edward Cullen.
On either side of the store was a house. “Which one do you think is his?” he asked.
Brom deliberated, then said, “Let’s find out.” He approached the woman and asked politely, “Could you tell us which house Jeod lives in?”
“I could.” She continued writing.
“Will you tell us?”
“Yes.” She fell silent, but her pen scribbled faster than ever. The frog on her hand croaked and looked at them with baleful eyes. Brom and Eragon waited uncomfortably, but she said no more. Eragon was about to blurt something out when Angela looked up. “Of course I’ll tell you! All you have to do is ask. Your first question was whether or not I could tell you, and the second was if I would tell you. But you never actually put the question to me.”
This gag – the “I won’t do as you ask because you haven’t worded your request in a specific fashion even though I can infer what you want from the context of the conversation” bit – is not funny. It is not clever. It has never been clever. Perhaps, if done right, it can be amusing, but for the most part it just makes the character demanding exact phrasing look like they have an English textbook lodged in their rectum. It reminds me of my mother correcting me in mid-request because I said “can I” instead of “may I”.
Having your characters be deliberately obtuse and more than a little condescending isn’t funny. It’s frustrating and it makes me want to punch them for being stupid on purpose.
“Then let me ask properly,” said Brom with a smile. “Which house is Jeod’s? And why are you holding a frog?”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” she bantered.
BANTERED IS NOT A SPEECH TAG. PUT DOWN THE THESAURUS AND GO BACK TO USING SAID.
“Jeod is on the right. And as for the frog, he’s actually a toad. I’m trying to prove that toads don’t exist – that there are only frogs.”
“How can toads not exist if you have one on your hand right now?” interrupted Eragon. “Besides, what good will it do, proving that there are only frogs?”
The woman shook her head vigorously, dark curls bouncing. “No, no, you don’t understand. If I prove toads don’t exist, then this is a frog and never was a toad. Therefore, the toad you see now doesn’t exist. And,” she raised a small finger,” if I can prove there are only frogs, then toads won’t be able to do anything bad – like make teeth fall out, cause warts, and poison or kill people. Also, witches won’t be able to use any of their evil spells because, of course, there won’t be any toads around.”
No, the toad would still exist, it just wouldn’t be called a toad anymore. Please stop trying to get existential about amphibians. It only makes you look silly.
Now, technically Angela does have a point here, because toads actually are a kind of frog. But that doesn’t mean that toads don’t exist at all – there’s a noticeable difference between frogs and toads, hence the distinction between two. Insisting that there are no toads, only frogs makes about as much sense to me as declaring that only rectangles exist because a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square.
Furthermore, if you do actually prove that frogs and toads are one in the same, then who’s to say that you won’t transfer all the bad things that toads “do” to frogs instead? (I would point out that these are all superstitions, but given the setting I’m willing to give the characters a little leeway on believing things that have been disproved in the real world.) I’m also pretty sure witches would just make do with the same “frogs” they were using before, or find a way to use other animals as spell components. Besides, all their spells can’t be dependent on toads, can they?
Maybe I’m just sick of the quirky, misunderstood genius living in Unenlightened Times whose “revolutionary” ideas are concepts that are widely accepted in the modern world. It’s not a bad character concept, but it shows up so often it’s starting to become a cliché. And here it’s not even that interesting; Angela’s not inventing gunpowder or discovering the secret to human flight, she’s debating whether two separate creatures are the same species or not. Somehow I don’t see this coming back to help Eragon save the day.
Finally Brom and Eragon go next door, where Jeod’s wife answers the door. She’s reluctant to let them in until Brom asks her to tell Jeod that a friend from Gil’ead is at the door, after which Jeod comes to the door himself and is clearly shocked to see Brom alive. When Brom asks if they can talk, Jeod claims his house isn’t safe and takes them to the ruling lord’s castle, where all the business owners are required to have their headquarters. Once inside, Brom and Jeod greet each other with a truly weak attempt at witty banter on Paolini’s part, and then Jeod demands that Brom tell him what he’s been up to since the last time they saw each other.
Brom relaxed into a chair and pulled out his pipe. He slowly blew a smoke ring that turned green, darted into the fireplace, then flew up the chimney. “Do you remember what we were doing in Gil’ead?”
“Yes, of course,” said Jeod. “That sort of thing is hard to forget.”
“An understatement, but true nevertheless,” said Brom dryly. “When we were . . . separated, I couldn’t find you. In the midst of the turmoil I stumbled into a small room. There wasn’t anything extraordinary in it – just crates and boxes – but out of curiosity, I rummaged around anyway. Fortune smiled on me that hour, for I found what we had been searching for.” An expression of shock ran over Jeod’s face. “Once it was in my hands, I couldn’t wait for you. At any second I might have been discovered, and all lost. Disguising myself as best I could, I fled the city and ran to the . . .” Brom hesitated and glanced at Eragon, then said, “ran to our friends. They stored it in a vault, for safekeeping, and made me promise to care for whomever received it. Until the day when my skills would be needed, I had to disappear. No one could know what I was alive – not even you – though it grieved me to pain you unnecessarily. So I went north and hid in Carvahall.”
Eragon clenched his jaw, infuriated that Brom was deliberately keeping him in the dark.
Brom has kept Eragon in the dark for a long, long time. For all the information he’s imparted to his young charge, he’s omitted just as much and made no secret of this fact. By this time Eragon shouldn’t be surprised. He should, however, be considering why Brom might not want to tell him anything.
This is something I still can’t figure out. I can understand why Brom would be reluctant to bring up his past as a Rider, since there’s a lot of pain and loss associated with his memories of that time, but outright refusing to tell Eragon anything about it undermines his credibility as a mentor. It’s one thing to present knowledge as a historian, where regardless of expertise you’re still removed from the information by decades, if not centuries; it’s another to have first-hand experience to draw from. It might take some convincing, but I’d be willing to bet that Brom’s teaching would sink into Eragon’s head a bit better if Eragon’s thinking, “Well, he’s a Rider so he’s got to know what he’s talking about,” the entire time.
Now, that’s not to say that Brom owes Eragon an explanation for everything. He shouldn’t have to answer to every question Eragon voices. If he wants to keep the more personal aspects of his past private, that’s his business, but it doesn’t help Eragon to be left wondering what the hell is going on.
That said, I have no idea why the hell Brom and Jeod are bothering to be secretive when they’re being so transparent. It’s obvious they’re up to something, since they keep giving Eragon sidelong glances the entire time. If they wanted to have a private conversation, they should have sent Eragon into another room for a bit.
Brom finally gets to the point and tells Jeod about the Seithr oil. When he asks about shipping records, Jeod tells him that all the books in the room they’re currently in contain the records for a single month, and the records they want are kept by an administrator and there’s no way in hell they’re getting in to see them legally. Then Brom sends Eragon out to check on the horses like he should have done before he started talking about “secret” stuff.
It’s not fair, he complained to himself. If only I could hear what they were saying.
Oh, Eragon, you whiny little brat. It’s good to know that whenever I start to get on your side, you’ll always be there to drive me away.
Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Eragon figures out a spell to listen in on Brom and Jeod’s conversation, and tunes in just in time to hear Jeod talking about how his business is suffering. There’s mention of a man called Ajihad, a place called Tronjheim, and the fact that Jeod is worried about traitors causing the empire to suspect that he’s been sending supplies to Tronjheim, which resulted in the loss of one of his ships. Eventually Brom starts wondering where Eragon is, and the boy pops up just in time to leave the castle and head back to Jeod’s house.
As they reentered the main body of Teirm, Brom said, “So, Jeod, you finally got married. And,” he winked slyly, “to a lovely young woman. Congratulations.”
Jeod did not seem happy with the compliment. He hunched his shoulders and stared down at the street. “Whether congratulations are in order is debatable right now. Helen isn’t very happy.”
“Why? What does she want?” asked Brom.
“The usual,” said Jeod with a resigned shrug. “A good home, happy children, food on the table, and pleasant company. The problem is that she comes from a wealthy family; her father has invested heavily in my business. If I keep suffering these losses, there won’t be enough money for her to live the way she’s used to.”
Oh, Jesus tap-dancing Christ on a Pogo stick, of course the only reason his wife could possibly be upset about her husband’s financial troubles is because she might not be able to keep the same quality of life she’s accustomed to. She couldn’t possibly be worried because her husband’s business is failing, which could plunge them into poverty if Jeod gets fucked over hard enough, or utterly devastate her family since her father poured a bunch of money into Jeod’s business. If we completely ignored the fact that she’s married to an older man, in what was likely an arranged marriage considering her family’s wealth and status, Jeod’s current troubles would still be more than enough of a reason to be unhappy.
And, hey, let’s not forget that the only thing Helen could possibly want is what all women want – babies and a nice house! And if they don’t get it, they’re horrible bitches because all women are a goddamn monolith, and who can really understand them? Women, am I right?
Fuck, I wish Paolini would just forego female characters altogether, because when he doesn’t we get horrible caricatures instead of anything resembling an actual woman.
The next two pages are a bunch of stupid filler. They stop for dinner, Eragon goes to check on Saphira outside of town, Jeod mentions he needs to be inside the gates before sundown or he’ll be locked out, Eragon gets stuck climbing a cliff to get to Saphira, they talk for a bit, Saphira suggests asking Brom about using magic to check out the records, and Eragon makes it inside the gates just before they close, rendering the whole warning pointless since it provided absolutely zero obstacles. NEXT.
Eragon comes back to Jeod’s house to find his host and Brom in the study. He asks Brom how long they’ll be in Teirm, and Brom says it depends on whether they can get access to the records and how long it takes to find the information they need.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to help,” Eragon said, shifting uneasily.
“Why not?” asked Brom.
Eragon lowered his head. “I can’t read.”
When I first read this, I thought this was great. It would be highly unlikely for Eragon to be able to read. He’s a farmer, a peasant; he’d be lucky if he could write his own signature, let alone be able to read a word on any papers he might have to sign. Finally, I thought, Paolini got something right!
Brom straightened with disbelief. “You mean Garrow never taught you?”
“He knew how to read?” asked Eragon, puzzled. Jeod watched them with interest.
“Of course he did,” snorted Brom. “The proud fool – what was he thinking? I should have realized that he wouldn’t have taught you. He probably considered it an unnecessary luxury.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
You mean to tell me that Eragon could have learned to read at any time if Garrow had just decided to teach him? How did Garrow, of all people, learn how to read? Did Brom teach him? Why didn’t Brom teach Eragon? Does Roran know how to read, and if he does, who taught him – Garrow or Brom? What’s the point of attempting to make your character realistic if you’re going to follow it up with even more unrealistic elements?
After discussing a book that Eragon pulls off the shelf, Eragon is led to his room. Here he asks Brom about Saphira’s suggestion to use magic to find the records. Brom tells him that’s scrying, and it can’t help them since you can only scry people, places, and things that you’ve already seen before, which means that if you scry someone but they’re in a place you’ve never been, you wouldn’t see their surroundings. That makes scrying seem rather inconvenient – how are you going to see what’s going on in a place if it’s full of people you’ve never met? – but whatever. Eragon asks a few more questions about the process, and Brom makes him promise not to try scrying until they leave Teirm, but tells him the words he needs to do so anyway.
Eragon mentions that he’d like to try scrying Roran to check up on him, and he and Brom discuss the possibility that the Ra’zac would come after Roran. When Eragon says maybe he should just reveal himself to draw the Ra’zac away from Roran, Brom tells him they’d still chase Roran, and that Roran is going to have to fend for himself. Brom left him a letter explaining things, though, so it’s okay! He’ll be completely fine. Won’t have any resentment or reason to think that Brom is crazy whatsoever.
Brom reassures Eragon that it’s okay, because Galbatorix won’t have Roran killed as long as he thinks he might be able to sway Eragon to his cause. He leaves Eragon to ponder this:
“Galbatorix wants your willing cooperation. Without that, you’re worse than useless to him. So the question becomes, If you are ever faced with this choice, are you willing to die for what you believe in? For that is the only way you will deny him.”
The question hung in the air.
Brom finally said, “It’s a difficult question and not one you can answer until you’re faced with it. Keep in mind that many people have died for their beliefs; it’s actually quite common. The real courage is in living and suffering for what you believe.”
And if we knew what Eragon believed in, that might actually be a poignant statement.
* These are just examples of characters that are widely hated within their canons’ respective fanbases. Personally Dobby doesn’t make me feel much one way or the other, and I happen to like Dawn. Jar Jar and Scrappy can go jump in a volcano, though.
Times Eragon is noted as being special: 1
“You have a unique name. Few have ever been named after the first Rider. In my life I’ve read about only three people who were called such.” Eragon was startled that Jeod knew the origin of his name. (pg 184)