“Everything I did was only possible because my parents were dedicated and loving enough to homeschool my sister and me. My mother, a former Montessori teacher and author of several children’s books, took the time to instruct us every day. Aside from textbook lessons, she had us perform many exercises designed to stimulate our creativity.” ~Christopher Paolini
Meet Christopher Paolini: Homeschool Graduate & Best-Selling Author
How many people do you know who have written a best-selling book, had it turned into a major motion picture, and earned a six-figure income… before the age of 21? Not many, I’m sure, but such is the life of Christopher Paolini.
Christopher Paolini was born on November 17, 1983. He grew up in the remote and scenic Paradise Valley, Montana, where he still lives a relatively secluded life with his family on the edge of the Yellowstone River. His parents, Kenneth and Talita, met as members of the Church Universal and Triumphant, a survivalist sect best known for their extensive mountainside complex of bomb shelters. Kenneth served as a guard and Talita was a teacher in the on-site Montessori school. Later, the couple left the cult lifestyle because “we weren’t willing to surrender our family to the group.”
Kenneth and Talita Paolini homeschooled Christopher and his younger sibling, Angela. They wanted their children to have time “to watch the clouds, to have thinking space.” It also allowed them to tailor lessons around each child’s interests. They made frequent trips to the library where Christopher liked to check out classics, mysteries, fantasy and science fiction. Christopher claims to have read 3,000 books and watched 4,000 videos, and says he’s unbeatable at computer games, although he admittedly knows “nothing about math.”
Christopher and his sister Angela entered the American School independent study program when they reached high school. Christopher finished high school at the age of 15 but postponed going to college. Since he didn’t have anything else to do, Christopher decided to combine his interests in fantasy, mythology, and writing to create a novel for his own enjoyment. This project which started out as a hobby became an incredible educational experience in itself. Christopher even learned iron forging so he could try his hand at making knives, swords, and armor.
Christopher wrote an epic story about the adventures of Eragon, a 15-year-old farm boy, and a dragon named Saphira. All of the characters came from Christopher’s imagination except Angela, named after his sister who happens to like cats. The fantastic world of Alagaesia resembles the dramatic landscape surrounding the Paolini home – broad sweeping valleys, dense forests, and the jagged Beartooth Mountains. Besides gazing out his window at the magnificent view, Christopher likes to go camping and hiking there too.
Though inspired by daydreams, Christopher was very disciplined and methodical in the way he went about teaching himself how to write a novel. First, Christopher read several books on the craft of writing. “I began educating myself with the Writers Handbook series, Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and most importantly, Story by Robert McKee. Though Story is intended for screenwriters, I found McKee’s principles and advice invaluable for structuring a novel.” Next, he devised a nine-page plot outline for the entire series. It took Christopher a year to write the first draft of Eragon, followed by another year revising it.
Christopher has said about his prose, “In my writing, I strive for a lyrical beauty somewhere between Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.” Just like Tolkien used to do, Christopher invented new languages especially for his tale. He based the Elven language on Old Norse, while Dwarf and Urgal words were made up from scratch.
The story of the title character, Eragon, who has a mysterious parentage and wields a magic sword, was obviously influenced by Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders, Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, Icelandic sagas, Beowulf, Le Morte d’Arthur, and even Star Wars. Christopher says that classical music like Beethoven’s symphonies and Wagner’s “Ring” cycle put him in the mood for writing. He wrote the final battle of Eragon while listening to “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff.
Talita and Kenneth thought their son’s manuscript was unique and well-written, so they decided to publish it themselves. They had already started their own company, Paolini International LLC, by which they self-published two books critical of cults (400 Years of Imaginary Friends and Psychic Dictatorship in America) and another focusing on Montessori techniques (Play and Learn with Cereal O’s).
The Paolinis spent a whole year editing Eragon as a family activity – correcting grammar, moving sentences, fixing continuity, etc. Christopher drew the maps, interior artwork and original cover art, a dragon’s eye. In 2002, the manuscript was finally sent to press. The first edition of Eragon was a paperback priced at $22.95 retail, and discounted to $14.00. Mint signed copies of the first edition Eragon are now worth thousands of dollars!
Promoting Eragon became the family business; and the Paolinis were experts at book marketing. They designed an educational program around Eragon that encouraged children to read and write. Christopher and his dad traveled from town to town for over a year presenting that program in schools, libraries, and bookstores. Christopher would dress up in “a medieval costume of red shirt, billowy black pants, lace-up boots, and a jaunty black cap.” They sold 10,000 copies this way.
Christopher’s big break came when a student at one of the schools he had visited showed the Eragon book to his stepdad, Carl Hiaasen, author of Hoot and Flush. Hiaasen was so impressed that he recommended the book to his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House. As a result, Knopf expressed an interest in acquiring the rights to the entire series, making Christopher an offer for a three-book deal.
This led to another editing of the novel along with a new cover drawn by John Jude Palencar. Knopf’s edition of Eragon was released on August 23, 2003. Christopher Paolini suddenly became a New York Times bestselling author at the age of 19. Soon after, Eragon was optioned for a movie which was eventually released in 2006.
The sequel, Eldest, was released in August 2005. It also hit the #1 spot on the New York Times best-sellers list. The third book in this series is called Brisingr and was released on September 20, 2008. Visit these web sites to find out more: www.alagaesia.com (the official Eragon web site) and www.shurtugal.com (the largest Eragon fan site).
The Eragon Inheritance series appeals to teens who can identify with the main character. Nevertheless, the books have also developed a strong fan following among fantasy enthusiasts and dragon lovers of all ages. Even younger kids are inspired by the themes of loyalty, trust, and determination in the series. These are books that both parents and children can enjoy reading together.
Christopher Paolini is certainly an inspiration to homeschooled students everywhere. Like many homeschoolers, he wasn’t afraid to tackle projects by educating himself. Christopher was able to pursue his passions and develop his talents to a higher level than is possible in an ordinary school setting. He also learned that a little hard work and persistence pays off. Hopefully, his success story will motivate other teens to try and make their dreams come true.
“I hope that Eragon will leave you with the same sense of wonder that I had while writing it. I do believe in magic—the magic of stories to give you wonder, awe, and revelations. Such feelings can come from small things; in a fey vision of fairy dust swirling in marble moonbeams, or at the end of an epic where a wave of emotion washes over you, sweeping away the mundane world for a moment. Either way, I hope that you find something special in Eragon, something from the other side of the looking glass.” ~Christopher Paolini