Eragon, Chapter 44: The Ramr River
Now that we know how our heroes will get their water, we get to spend the next page and a half listening to them discuss the best way to transport Arya. While it’s prudent to figure these things out before starting a journey, it makes for some really boring reading. It either needs to be glossed over in the narration (“They decided that the best way to carry the elf would be to strap her to Saphira’s belly, where she would be out of the way and easily protected should soldiers attack”) or a problem that they solve when they come across it (e.g., they start running out of water and Eragon is forced to come up with a solution). Giving us a blow-by-blow account of their decision-making process only serves to slow the story down and lessen the sense of urgency that we should be feeling right now. It’s been fourteen pages since they escaped Gil’ead, and so far the only interesting thing that’s happened is Eragon trying to heal Arya. There’s been a couple mentions of avoiding soldiers, but other than that they’ve just been arguing the entire time.
They finally get off their asses and head toward the desert, but not before some truly ridiculous dialogue:
“I always did like races.”
“And now we are in one for our lives!”
Thank you so much for spelling that out for us. I never would have been able to pick up on that fact if you hadn’t made such a terrible joke about it.
Though the soldiers of Gil’ead were far behind now, Eragon and Murtagh found themselves having to avoid new soldiers every time they passed a town or village. Somehow the alarm had been sent ahead of them. Twice they were nearly ambushed along the trail, escaping only because Saphira happened to smell the men ahead of them. After the second incident, they avoided the trail entirely.
Shouldn’t they have stayed off the trail in the first place? If I were on the lam, I’d be avoiding civilization at all costs. After all, the fewer people around, the fewer chances they’ll run into soldiers. And considering (a) we know that magic exists and there are multiple uses for it and (b) telepathy is a thing in this world, I don’t think it’s surprising that multiple towns have been alerted to the presence of what can only be described as enemies of the state.
Anyway, they pass all these towns without incident (including three paragraphs where Paolini describes them passing a town called Bullridge, because we desperately needed to know both the name of an unimportant town and the fact that they got past it with no problems whatsoever) and make camp for the day. When they wake up, Saphira expresses concern over the fact that Arya hasn’t woken up after three days. They all agree that it’s not a good sign, but since no one can figure out why she won’t wake up they can’t really do anything except keep moving.
“One thing first,” said Eragon. He soaked a rag, then squeezed the cloth so water dripped between the elf’s sculpted lips. He did that several times and dabbed above her straight, angled eyebrows, feeling oddly protective.
This would be a perfectly fine passage if it weren’t for the repeated emphasis on her appearance. Really, if you didn’t believe me before when I said that Paolini constantly describes how beautiful Arya is and how creepy and annoying it is, read those two sentences and try to tell me that Eragon is not objectifying this woman even as he tends to her. Would he feel as protective if she was overweight? Ugly? Male? Or is he letting his lust for her (because, remember, all he knows about this woman is what she looks like and that she was imprisoned and tortured by the Empire – there can be no love here) color how he thinks and acts around her?
ANYWAY, they have to cross the Ramr River, which is about half mile wide at the point they’re trying to cross, so Saphira has to fly them across in several trips. Murtagh crosses first with Arya, then Saphira has to take each horse across separately. (They freak out, of course. It never occurs to Eragon to try to calm them mentally or prepare them in some way, because why would you spare a dumb animal from becoming terrified and possibly hurting itself?) Then Eragon crosses, and aside from a mention that the soldiers are a mile away there is, yet again, no hindrance that our characters have to deal with. A few hours later they reach the desert. YAY MORE WALKING.
Chapter 45: The Hadarac Desert
Okay, so the first paragraph is actually pretty neat:
A vast expanse of dunes spread to the horizon like ripples on an ocean. Bursts of wind twirled the reddish gold sand into the air. Scraggly trees grew on scattered patches of solid ground – ground any farmer would have declared unfit for crops. Rising in the distance was a line of purple crags. The imposing desolation was barren of any animals except for a bird gliding on the zephyrs.
Sometimes Paolini writes a nice description. Sometimes. He seems to be better at describing locations than people, honestly.
“You’re sure we’ll find food for the horses out there?” queried Eragon, slurring his words. The hot, dry air stung his throat.
“See those?” asked Murtagh, indicating the crags. “Grass grows around them. It’s short and tough, but the horses will find it sufficient.”
How do they even know they’re going to reach those crags by nightfall? Especially if they’re going to rest first (which they do). And why is Eragon slurring while he’s speaking? I would think hot dry air would be more likely to make you cough while trying to talk.
It was the morning of the fourth day since leaving Gil’ead. They had already covered thirty-five leagues.
One thing I have noticed while reading through this series is how oddly specific Paolini gets when talking about distances traveled. It’s one thing to say that it’s, say, 36.9 miles from my apartment to my workplace, but if I stop for gas midway through my commute I’m not going to think “I’ve traveled 15 miles so far.” And this is not something I would normally harp on, since it’s possible Murtagh or Eragon has a general idea of the distance between the desert and Gil’ead, except it happens later on too – stuff like “he fell a thousand feet” during an aerial battle. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it jarring and it brings me out of the action.
In two days they get within a league of the edge of the desert. Not only was the journey not nearly as harrowing as Murtagh made it out to be, but they spent fourteen pages preparing for a journey that lasted six. I’m so glad I know how they got their water, aren’t you? Especially since Eragon only had to do it once.