I guess it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about the lack of updates; I’ve been having a rough summer (partially because my computer died and I lost a lot of stuff that I stupidly didn’t back up) and haven’t been feeling a lot of motivation to write anything, let alone work on a new blog post. This means, of course, that my self-imposed goal of finishing Eragon by the end of the summer is unlikely to happen – since, y’know, it’s fall and everything. I’m going to shoot for finishing by Christmas. That’s five chapters left (including today’s review), a followup post, and a special surprise post at the very end. After that, I’ll be reviewing Wizard’s First Rule.
And now, on to the part you actually want to read.
Eragon, Chapter 56: Arya’s Test
CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses rape/sexual assualt.
Eragon meets up with Orik the next day, and the first thing he does is ask about Nasuada. We learn that she’s “totally devoted to her father and spends all her time helping him” and has apparently manipulated his enemies behind the scenes several times without anyone knowing. Which begs the question, why the hell does Orik know this? It makes her sound cool and all, but if no one ever found out she was in control of these situations, how can Orik be telling Eragon about it? Would it really be so hard to reveal this in a later action scene? Or would that be taking too much attention away from our boy hero?
Orik also tells Eragon that no one knows who Nasuada’s mother is; Ajihad brought her to Farthen Dûr alone when she was a newborn and raised her by himself. Eragon muses that Nasuada also grew up without a mother. This goes absolutely nowhere, and has no emotional impact on either the characters or the reader, because it’s being conveyed in a detached manner by a character that has no stake in the situation whatsoever. Why should I care that Nasuada has no mother when even Eragon doesn’t seem to care? He has no emotional reaction to it, just a random thought that she shares a similar background with him, and that’s it. He moves on to ask about the testing he’s supposed to do, and doesn’t return to the topic for the rest of the book.
They head to a training field outside of Tronjheim, where some guy named Fredric is waiting to evaluate Eragon. He asks how strong Eragon is (which I think is a weird question: wouldn’t it be better to ask what he can do, then test his strength?). Eragon replies that he’s “strong enough” because he uses magic, and Fredric says he’s more concerned with Eragon’s physical prowess in battle.
“Do you know how to use any weapons besides that sword and bow?”
Eragon thought about it. “Only my fists.”
Please point out where you’ve used your fists, Eragon. The only time you threw a punch is when you got into that little fistfight with Murtagh, and as I recall that ended with the both of you getting pinned to the ground by an angry dragon. At any rate, Fredric seems to like this answer, but his good mood vanishes when he sees the Twins coming toward them. They’re here to test Eragon’s magical abilities.
Shrugging, Eragon followed with Saphira. Behind him he heard Fredric say to Orik, “We have to stop them from going too far.”
“I know,” answered Orik in a low voice, “but I can’t interfere again. Hrothgar made it clear he won’t be able to protect me the next time it happens.”
Everyone expects the Twins to push Eragon past reasonable limits, and Ajihad’s okay with that? Small wonder they’re such arrogant sadists, if the boss lets them get away with anything short of murder.
The Twins ask Eragon if he’s decided to join Du Vrangr Gata, and they’re obviously angry when he says no. Then they tell him that his test is to complete the tasks they give him… which is pretty much the standard definition of an ability test, isn’t it? Did we really need that spelled out for us? Anyway, Eragon’s first task is to lift a rock to eye level.
That’s easy enough, commented Eragon to Saphira. “Stenr reisa!” The rock wobbled, then smoothly rose from the ground. Before it went more than a foot, an unexpected resistance halted it in midair. A smile touched the Twins’ lips. Eragon stared at them, enraged – they were trying to make him fail! If he became exhausted now, it would be impossible to complete the harder tasks. Obviously they were confident that their combined strength could easily wear him down.
But I’m not alone either, snarled Eragon to himself. Saphira, now! Her mind melded with his, and the rock jerked through the air to stop, quivering, at eye level. The Twins’ eyes narrowed cruelly.
“Very . . . good,” they hissed.
If it weren’t for the fact that the Twins are obviously enjoying this, I would say that they’re probably pushing down on the rock to see how Eragon holds up against opposing magical forces. It’s one thing to see that he can perform a simple spell. It’s another to see how he does when he meets resistance. But that would be giving this book too much credit.
It’s also becoming really annoying how lazily the Twins are written. It’s like a double whammy of bad writing: not only are they obviously evil villains, but they’re entirely interchangeable. They don’t have individual personalities, or even individual names, and they could easily be merged into one character and the story would lose nothing. The only reason they’re even twins in the first place is so Paolini can have creepy evil twins who do everything in unison. That’s how twins work, right?
In a break between two of the tasks, he asked her, Why do they continue this testing? Our abilities were clear enough from what they saw in my mind.
Eragon sounds like a whiny high schooler who doesn’t want to take his final exam. “But why do I have to take this test? I already did all the homework, the teacher should know how smart I am!”
He catches on to the fact that the Twins want to learn more words from the ancient language, and Saphira tells him to speak softly and simply. The testing continues for over an hour (which makes him sound even MORE like a high schooler when he complains that he’s hot and thirsty), until the Twins come up with their final test.
Finally the Twins raised their hands and said, “There is only one thing left to do. It is simple enough – any competent user of magic should find this easy.” One of them removed a silver ring from his finger and smugly handed it to Eragon. “Summon the essence of silver.”
Eragon and Saphira have no clue what the essence of silver even is, let alone how to summon it. Eragon doesn’t even know the word for silver, though he is smart enough to figure it’s part of the word argetlam. Eventually he decides to combine arget with the word for invoke, but just as he’s opening his mouth to speak, he’s interrupted.
The word rushed over Eragon like cool water – the voice was strangely familiar, like a half-remembered melody. The back of his neck tingled. He slowly turned toward its source.
A lone figure stood behind them: Arya. A leather strip incircled her brow, restraining her voluminous black hair, which tumbled behind her shoulders in a lustrous cascade. Her slender sword was at her hip, her bow on her back. Plain black leather clothed her shapely frame, poor raiment for one so fair. She was taller than most men, and her stance was perfectly balanced and relaxed. An unmarked face reflected none of the horrific abuse she had endured.
Did we really need another description of her? Was Paolini afraid we’d forget she’s super beautiful if he didn’t repeat it every time she appears? Because I remember from the last five times you described her. I really didn’t need a reminder.
Remember that bolded phrase. It’s going to be important in just a little bit.
Arya scolds the Twins for lying to Ajihad about Eragon’s abilities and asking him to do “what only a master can do.” She tells them to leave, then summons the essence of silver herself – which is a glowing ghost-image of the ring? The Twins turn tail when they see it, and then Arya stalks over to the training field, where everyone stops to stare at her. Lovely.
Eragon was inexorably dragged forward by his own fascination.
Yes, I got that you were infatuated with her from every other interaction you’ve had with her. You really didn’t need to hammer that in.
A large circle formed around Arya. Looking only at Eragon, she proclaimed, “I claim the right of trial by arms. Draw your sword.”
She means to duel me!
NO SHIT. And here I thought she meant to bake you a cherry pie.
Eragon reluctantly stepped forward. He did not want to do this when he was exhausted from magic use and when there were so many people watching.
“Waaaaaaah, I don’t wanna fight the elf! I’m hot! I’m tired! There’s too many people! WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Besides, Arya could be in no shape for sparring. It had only been two days since she had received Tunivor’s Nectar. I will soften my blows so I don’t hurt her, he decided.
She was clearly well enough to perform master-level magic. This is just another excuse for Paolini’s dumb pseudo-chivalry to rear its outdated head.
They stare at each other for a bit, weapons drawn, then Arya attacks and it’s immediately clear that she’s stronger than he is.
Belatedly, Eragon remembered Brom’s warning that even the weakest elf could easily overpower a human.
HA ha ha it’s so funny how Paolini sets up Arya as this badass beauty, then immediately undermines that by reminding us that she could be 98-pound weakling and still kick Eragon’s ass. So she’s super tough, but not so intimidating that Eragon doesn’t still want to bone her.
Also, does Eragon ever remember Brom’s teachings before he gets himself in hot water? I’ve lost count of how many times he’s remembered what Brom said after he does something he shouldn’t have.
He had about as much chance of defeating Arya as he did Durza. She attacked again, swinging at his head. He ducked under the razor-sharp edge. But then why was she . . . toying with him? For a few long seconds he was too busy warding her off to think about it, then he realized, She wants to know how proficient I am.
THAT IS THE POINT OF A TRIAL, YOU MUD-BRAINED CLOD! SHE’S SUPPOSED TO TEST YOUR ABILITIES SO THEY KNOW HOW GOOD YOU ARE AND WHAT AREAS YOU NEED HELP IN! HOW DID IT TAKE YOU THIS LONG TO FIGURE THAT OUT?
This prompts Eragon to “[begin] the most complicated series of attacks he knew.” Which basically means he throws everything he’s got and the kitchen sink at her. Predicably, Arya beats him, but this is apparently enough for him to pass her test.
Dazed, he slowly straightened. Fredric was beside him now, thumping his back enthusiastically. “That was incredible swordsmanship! I even learned some new moves from watching the two of you. And the elf – stunning!”
But I lost, he protested silently.
You just realized you wouldn’t be able to beat her four paragraphs ago! How are you stunned that you lost when you know she’s more powerful than you are and you know full well she was testing you? You clearly did well if everyone is congratulating you.
Arya walks off to a spot about a mile off, motioning for Eragon to follow her. For some reason he flies over instead of walking, which gives us a chance to witness this lovely exchange between him and Saphira:
As they soared toward the knoll, Eragon saw Arya running below them with clean, easy strides. Saphira commented, You find her form pleasing, do you not?
Yes, he admitted, blushing.
Her face does have more character than that of most humans, she sniffed. But it’s long, like a horse’s, and overall she’s rather shapeless.
Eragon looked at Saphira with amazement. You’re jealous, aren’t you!
Impossible. I never get jealous, she said, offended.
You are now, admit it! he laughed.
She snapped her jaws together loudly. I am not! He smiled and shook his head, but let her denial stand.
It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that women in fiction tend to get pitted against each other, usually as romantic rivals. It’s kind of concerning that Saphira is jealous of Eragon’s obvious romantic interest in Arya, however.
Now, you could argue that Saphira is upset because Eragon is paying attention to someone other than her, and he’s the main person she interacts with … except she was never jealous of Brom, or Murtagh, or Orik. Even if you narrowed it down to women, she has no problems with him talking to Angela or Nasuada. She never makes negative comments about their appearances. It’s only when Eragon shows an interest in romance that she gets jealous. Why? What’s the point of having Saphira feel envious of Arya? It just makes her come across as really creepy – especially when you combine that with the overprotective mom vibe she’s got going on.
Arya greets Saphira in the ancient language, then tells Eragon that she owes him for saving her life. Eragon asks how she wound up in Gilead, and Arya asks him to walk with her. She tells him that she was ambushed by Durza, captured, drugged, and taken back to Gilead. Galbatorix ordered Durza to find out where the egg went and everything she knew about Arya.
She stared ahead icily, jaw clenched. “He tried for months without success. His methods were . . . harsh. When torture failed, he ordered his soldiers to use me as they would. Fortunately, I still had the strength to nudge their minds and make them incapable. At last Galbatorix ordered that I was to be brought to Urû’baen. Dread filled me when I learned this, as I was weary in both mind and body and had no strength to resist him. If it were not for you, I would have stood before Galbatorix in a weeks’ time.”
Eragon shuddered inwardly. It was amazing what she had survived. The memory of her injuries was still vivid in his mind. Softly, he asked, “Why do you tell me all this?”
“So that you know what I was saved from. Do not presume I can ignore your deed.”
Also not a surprise: the fact that Arya was almost raped.
This incident is boiled down to two lines, recounted in the past tense, and only said to make Eragon feel sorry for her. It never gets brought up again. We have no idea how this affected Arya, because she never shows any outward signs of being affected and we never see the story from her point of view.* Arya tells Eragon that she was almost gang-raped in prison, and his response is to ask why she’s telling him this.
I’d also like to point out that it’s remarkably convenient that Eragon’s love interest is threatened with rape, but that threat is neutralized so she’s still untouched, and Eragon still got to save her and be a hero. Paolini gets to have his cake and eat it too – Arya has a traumatic backstory, but she’s still “untouched” and therefore okay for Eragon to lust after. It makes me wonder how Eragon would have reacted if she had been raped… but honestly, I don’t really want to find out.
I’m just going to leave this quote from Linkara of That Guy With The Glasses here (source). While Linkara is talking about an unrelated comic book, I think it highlights the problem with using rape as a plot device and/or cheap instant backstory quite nicely – and the problem with Paolini throwing it in as an afterthought.
Rape is not a subject to be treated lightly, and certainly not something to be used in the way it’s used here. Rape is often employed by writers, not because they have a story they want to tell about rape, but because rape is something that “happens to women.” Not in the real world sense, of course, rape is something that can and does happen to people from all genders, ages, and walks of life. But in the hands of a lesser-skilled writer, rape is generally employed as a “thing that happens to women.” And it is no less evident than in this book.
This story is not about Sue Dibny’s rape. Sue is essentially a prop, and we only see the rape in how it affects everybody else. The rape is used only as a catalyst for other characters. We don’t know how she recovers from the incident. Where is HER story? For that matter, WHY did this have to be a rape? It could have been anything else. A kidnapping. An attempted murder. Instead, it goes for rape for two reasons: One, the assumption that rape is something that “happens to women,” and two, to give the veneer that this is a “mature” story, edgy and more adult. But the story is not handled in an adult way. A mature story would’ve focused on the rape itself and show how it affected Sue as a character. Instead, it’s nothing more than a red herring, added for shock value. You can’t just throw adult elements into the story and ignore them. You have to deal with the consequences of it.
Eragon asks if Arya will go back to Ellesméra. She says she can’t leave yet, because Ajihad needs her help. However, she thinks Brom has taught him well enough for him to proceed in his training.
“You mean for me to go to Ellesméra?”
Eragon felt a flash of irritation. Did he and Saphira have no say in the matter?
If you want proper training as a Rider? No, you don’t have a say.
Arya says that he won’t have to go for a few weeks at least. Eragon asks her what the Twins were trying to make him do, and she gets huffy and says they wanted him to summon the “true form” of silver. What would this accomplish? Who knows! It’s just another place where the characters all confirm that they hate the Twins, but nothing is ever done about them.
Eragon mentions he dreamed about Arya and that he scryed her from his dreams. Instead of running away screaming, Arya says she sometimes felt someone watching her, and that she’s never heard of anyone being able to “scry in their sleep.” Oh look, yet another person pointing out how special Eragon is. How novel. Eragon asks what the tattoo on Arya’s shoulder means, adding that it looks like the one on Brom’s ring. Arya inspects the ring and says the symbol is a yawë, and the ring is “a token given only to the most valued elf-friends”. She says to hang on to the ring in case he needs to gain favor with the queen, but not to tell anyone about her tattoo.
Eventually Eragon heads back to Farthen Dûr, where he finally remembers that he can visit Murtagh – but not before a bit of lunch! I know Murtagh’s not going anywhere, but you’d think he’d be a higher priority than snacktime.
It’s okay, though, because it turns out Murtagh has a pretty cushy setup going on. He’s not allowed to leave his room, but as long as he’s on his best behavior he gets all his meals delivered to him, anything he wants to read from the library, a writing desk, a bed, a rug, and more. I guess we can’t have Eragon living it up while his friend suffers in the dungeon.
Eragon laughed, and with a wondering smile seated himself next to Murtagh. “But aren’t you angry? You’re still a prisoner.”
“Oh, I was a first,” said Murtagh with a shrug. “But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that this is really the best place for me. Even if Ajihad gave me my freedom, I would stay in my room most of the time anyway.”
“You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words.”
I’m still not sure how most people would know who you are in the first place. As it’s been said before, Morzan kept his son a secret, and Galbatorix didn’t exactly parade you around the kingdom declaring who you were. If you submitted to a mind probe and came out clean, Ajihad could tell people who you are – but then that would cause more trouble than it’s worth, especially since you’re worried about people trying to attack you. Speaking of which, most of the Varden should be smart enough to realize that if Ajihad let you in, he’s okay with you being there, and attacking you would be just as bad as attacking another resistance member.
The boys talk for a while. Eragon asks about Nasuada visiting, and Murtagh seems to have developed a bit of a crush on her:
Murtagh’s gaze shifted into the distance, and he shook his head. “No, she only wanted to meet me. Doesn’t she look like a princess? And the way she carries herself! When she first entered through that doorway, I thought she was one of the great ladies of Galbatorix’s court. I’ve seen earls and counts who had wives that, compared to her, were more fitted for life as a hog than of nobility.”
Eragon listened to his praise with growing apprehension. It may be nothing, he reminded himself. You’re leaping to conclusions. Yet the foreboding would not leave him.
Paolini never goes into detail about what this “foreboding” is, so I’m forced to come to the conclusion that Eragon has a crush on Murtagh, and doesn’t like hearing that Murtagh might like someone else. That would be a lot more interesting than his attempts to pursue Arya.
Also, does anyone else just love that little dig at noblewomen there? I love it when women are compared to animals to show how much a guy loves a girl.
The chapter ends when Eragon asks how long Murtagh is going to hide away in his room, and Murtagh says he’s content for now.
*At least, not as far as I’ve read. I haven’t managed to get through Inheritance yet, so I don’t know if he ever does write a chapter from her POV. But isn’t it funny how we get to see the story from the perspective of Eragon, Roran, Saphira, Nasuada, and probably someone else I’ve forgotten about, but we never see it from Arya’s side? It’s almost like Paolini finds it easier to relate to a fictional creature than a woman designated as the love interest in a relationship she doesn’t want.