It is a truth generally acknowledged that homeschoolers are protective and proud of their brethren. A homeschooler is successful? That’s a big win for the entire community. I might not know them, but I’m darn proud of them. That’s why I was so thrilled when I found out that the book I was reading was written by – you guessed it – a fellow homeschooler. I was already in a very festive mood after that, but guess my delight when it turned out that this author was not just a homeschooler – he was a homeschooled teenager! It was at this moment I knew I had to share this book with the world.
After graduating from homeschool highschool at age 15, Christopher Paolini started work on his debut: Eragon. 5 years later, in 2003, it was succesfully published by his parents’ company. The fantasy book starring elves, dragons and other beasties soon became popular, clearing the way for various sequels. Eragon tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who discovers a mysterious blue stone in the middle of a forest. He finds out there is much more to his past and future than he ever imagined. Together with Brom, the local village storyteller, he sets out on a quest filled with swordfights, magic and dangerous foes.
Eragon has a lot of similarities to The Lord of the Rings: there are dwarves; dragons; magic; an old mysterious man who helps the protagonist; a farmer boy; strange elven languages; Black Rider-like foes; and elves who came over the sea. However, the way the world and the magic work are very original. The setting isn’t just a slightly tweaked version of LOTR, it really is its own world with its own rules – rules that make the story very interesting. The violence is on the same level as LOTR, but the descriptions are darker and more vivid because of the way the book is written. There are descriptions of the aftermath of torture as well.
Eragon’s first motivation is revenge, which is obviously not a very Christian thing. This was a big hurdle to overcome for me to like Eragon. Revenge is just not a cool thing, and anybody who thinks so is confused. To non-Christians, his reason for wanting revenge may seem perfectly adequate, but we need to follow the example of Jesus, who forgave the soldiers as they were nailing him to the cross. Later, Eragon’s motivation changes, although the revenge arc stays: ‘No longer it was just vengeance […] that drove him. […] It was his duty to assist those without strength.’ I do feel as if the line between vengeance and justice is very thin in this book. You could say it’s that way in real life, and I’ll wager that’s true, but it’s as if the book tries to sell vengeance as justice. I would have appreciated a bit more distinction between the two.
The book has some animistic tendencies: the urge to worship nature. The sea is described as being emotion incarnate. A more jarring example occurs when Eragon and Brom arrive in a city where priests worship a nearby mountain in much the same way old priests in the Bible used to worship Baal. Eragon visits the temple erected for the mountain, where this happens: ‘Out of respect, Eragon knelt before the altar and bowed his head. He did not pray but paid homage to the cathedral itself.’ He does this because the cathedral is so old and has seen so much. That is nice and all, but the cathedral also emanates a feeling of sadness and cruelty. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s worth respesct, especially if it’s being used by a bunch of priests sacrificing their body parts to a mountain.
Something else Christians might object to is the presence of a herbalist who can read the future. In the book, tea leaves, divining cards and crystal balls don’t work. Dragon knuckles do, however. I felt it wasn’t really a necessary step to have Eragon’s future read, as he already had dreams that were driving the plot and all the reading did was give in-book spoilers. Some other minor problems are the use of the word b-st-rds and Eragon drinking and getting a hangover. The main bad guy is possessed by an evil spirit. On the other hand, that might actually be a Christian warning: in the book, if you open yourself up to spirits, you’ll never get a good spirit because all the good spirits don’t possess people. That’s pretty much how it goes in real life too.
One large theme in the book is that of finding identity: Eragon has to leave his home behind and find out who he is. By first describing Eragon’s home very lovingly, Paolini succesfully evokes the painful emotions associated with leaving the place. Eragon’s homesickness and bitter-sweet memories really resonated with me. In the book’s universe, people have a “real name” in the ancient language, much like the Bible tells that God’s people have a real name in His language. In the book, knowing this name gives you full control over another person. Another way to control others is to break into their mind. Both of these are seen as severe violations of a person’s rights and should only be done when absolutely necessary. Another thing that is interesting is that although you can also “read” the minds and communicate telepathically with animals, there is a clear distinction between them and humans: humans have rational thought, animals only instincts.
Eragon is oppossed to harming defenseless people. At one point, his companion Murtagh beheads a vanquished foe who is admittedly evil. His explanation: ‘No stranger’s life is more important than my own. […] What empathy can I afford my enemies? […] You must be willing to protect yourself and what you cherish, no matter the cost.’ Eragon retorts that you can defend any action that way: ‘It’s still murder.’ Later, he is told: ‘Learn what you can about Murtagh from this. Then forgive him.’ I really appreciated these scenes: Murtagh does something bad because of the way he grew up. Where other books would have seen this as ample excuse, in here his action is still seen as wrong. Murtagh’s background is acknowledged, but it isn’t seen as something that overrides his moral compass. Sadly, the main baddy does get a tragic backstory, but since he’s actually possessed by an evil spirit, technically speaking it’s the evil spirit that’s really the bad guy and they don’t get a justification for his actions.
Eragon later sees people preparing pitch to pour over an advancing horde of Urgals, which are this book’s version of orcs. He shudders, thinking it ‘a terrible way to kill anyone, even an Urgal.’ During the battle, somebody is described as having a ‘face disfigured by a vicious snarl’. This is a good person in a worthy fight, yet this is how he is written. It shows how much importance the book gives to mercy and how much the author abhors killing. I do want to add that somewhere else in the story, Eragon threatens a soldier with what is basically torture if he doesn’t give him information. That’s hypocritical considering his morals, no matter how important the information was or how high his emotions were. But on the whole, the book very clearly speaks out against killing and hurting others.
Something I loved was how Eragon’s sexual feelings are dealt with. That sounds wrong, but hear me out. At one point, he has rescued an elf, Arya, and needs to heal her wounds. This scene is useless, it needs to be there. To heal her, he needs to take off her shirt. She is lying on her stomach, don’t worry. Most books would either act like he has no reaction whatsoever, or include some very inappropriate paragraphs. My father has always been very honest with me about how boys feel, so it annoys me when books ignore it. In Eragon, Eragon does have feelings but what shines out most of all is his modesty: he doesn’t want to be touching Arya and is embarrassed by how he feels. Later, whenever he notices how much he likes the way her body looks, it makes him uncomfortable. This gives me a lot of respect for him: Eragon does feel things, but he surpresses the wrong things and focuses more on people’s personalities.
Eragon gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand there are good morals concerning respect for others. However, there are also a lot of occult and animistic ideas involved. Some of the violence may be a bit too much for some readers, depending on what kind of books you normally read. On the whole, I would say this book is okay to read, but you should be careful about what exactly the book is trying to tell you through characters’ actions. There’s good things and there’s bad things and it’s important not to lose your way.