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Christopher Paolini connects the dots

Eragon imageI read Eragon and Eldest over this past winter break, the first two novels in a planned fantasy trilogy by teenage author Christopher Paolini. These books have been a publishing sensation, and the movie version of Eragon is already in post-production with John Malkovich cast as the evil King Galbatorix. Fortunately, I didn't know any of this when I read the books. My review is untainted by preconceived notions.

Don't misunderstand me -- I'm not saying these books are the best thing to hit fantasy literature since The Deed of Paksenarrion, but they are solid. The narrative flows smoothly and the plot is compelling (more so in Eldest than in Eragon). Although the story gets off to a slow start, by the end of the second book you can see the outlines of what promises to be a really ass-kicking Big Battle in the third book.

eldest imageMost of the story concerns Eragon, a (what else?) teenage kid who finds an egg that hatches into a blue dragon named Saphira. Eragon and Saphira bond emotionally and telepathicially, are attacked by hideous monsters of evil, and flee their small farming village at the base of the mountains in the company of an old magician named Brom. Soon we learn that the oppressive King of the realm, Galbatorix, has reason to fear (and therefore to kill) Eragon and Saphira. The stage is set for adventure.

Eragon is a likeable kid, sure, but he's not particularly interesting. Then of course, neither is Harry Potter. Just like in JK Rowling's books, the most interesting characters are part of the supporting cast (think Hermione and Professor Snape). Saphira the dragon can be a snarky, narcissistic, fire-breathing little bitch, which is why she's so cute. Eragon's friend Roran's separate adventures are in many ways more compelling than Eragon's own.

One criticism of these books that I'm sure has been leveled before is that they're too derivative -- of JRR Tolkien, of Anne McCaffrey, of Raymond E. Feist. It's true that most of the elements of Paolini's story can be found, somewhere, in these authors' books. But then again, you can say that about almost all fantasy authors (China MiƩville excepted). At least Paolini writes well, which is something many fantasy authors can't do.

One influential author whose influence is almost invisible in Paolini's story is JK Rowling. Paolini's debt to Rowling is not as much in the story itself as much as in the decision by Alfred E. Knopf to publish it. Think about it: before Harry Potter, how many publishers would have tried to market books this thick to young readers? Not many. Harry Potter made everyone realize that small people can love thick books, and Paolini is one of the beneficiaries. If you agree with me on the merits of the work, so are his readers.

Comments

Saying they are derivative is an understatement. I don't know if he went off-course with the second book, since I didn't read it. However, Eragon is Star Wars with dragons. Every character and every plot element is directly taken from Star Wars, with the minor exception that, instead of attacking the death star, the rebel alliance defends its home base in the climatic scene.

Of course! Now that you mention it, it's so obvious. I'm embarrassed I didn't see it.

I will say though that Star Wars itself is a very archetypal story, derivative of works from every age of man from the stone age all the way down to the Carter administration. I think even George Lucas would admit that.

So if Eragon is derivative of Star Wars, that in itself doesn't count against it.

Right now i'm reading eragon/it is a very good book so far i'm almost done reading it(page 440)

i also want to commit that eragon the movie should be coming out at the end of this year.

well i always wanted to say " i can't wait in till the movie comes out and finish eragon so i can read eldest

for those reading this i recomend these books to any body who likes combat magic and swords plus dragons

Paolini is following Campbell's Path of the Hero, just like Lucas did. Eragon is not derivative of Star Wars, they're both steeped in Campbell.

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