Eragon: Worth the Hype from My Childhood?

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Recently, I’ve been going through lots of books that I should have read a long time ago. Books like Heir to the Empire and Cinder are ones that have been on my radar for years, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading them until now.

Eragon is also one of those books, although in this case, I did try to read it sooner. I picked up Eragon in high school but I couldn’t get into it so I didn’t get very far. Recently, my husband reread the books and begged me to give them another chance. He grew up reading the series and he adores it.

I surrendered and gave it one more try. This is the result.

Why Critique Books?

Let me start out with a brief preface for those of you who don’t know me yet (hello, by the way!). My purpose in critiquing books is not to say that the book or its author is awful. I’m not trying to say that I know everything there is to know about writing to book, or that I’m even right in my assessments/opinions. My motives are twofold:

  1. To break apart stories so we can learn what makes them successful or unsuccessful and apply those elements to our own stories or know what to avoid
  2. To dispel the myths that popular books are “perfect” and that writing a book as “good” as a well-known author is an unattainable goal

It’s comforting to know that a good story is a good story. No one has any secret special knowledge that makes their story better. As long as you take the time to learn and practise the art of writing, you have the same potential as a famous author to write something that people will remember for years to come – perhaps even more potential!

The Good Stuff

Without any further ado, let’s begin with the good things about Eragon.

1. Dragons

I love dragons; they’re my favourite fantasy creatures. If nothing else, I’m grateful to Christopher Paolini for leading the world into a dragon craze. Stories about dragons were fairly few and far between before Eragon made its debut, so I’m glad that this book made them popular and didn’t depict all dragons as evil creatures!

2. A Big Accomplishment

Writing a fantasy series this detailed is no small feat, and to write it at 15, and then to publish it and have it become a worldwide sensation is nothing short of amazing. Even if you were to despise the book itself, you have to admit that’s pretty incredible.

I’ll be honest. I tried very hard to come up with more good stuff but…this was all I could think of. So let’s move on to…

Not So Good Stuff

Let me begin this section with this: as I already said, I recognise that Paolini was a teenager when he wrote Eragon. That being said, I don’t factor that into my review. A book is a book, good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter how old the author is. I’m reviewing this book just as I would any other.

1. Mundane Plot

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about Eragon is that the plot is pretty much a copy-and-paste fantasy quest and well…the complainers aren’t wrong.

Now, every plot is copy and paste to some degree. Romances all follow the same pattern. So do cosy mysteries and epic fantasies. This works because each author takes the beaten path and makes it their own, inserting unique elements that distinguish their story from all the rest.

I didn’t get that from Eragon. The plot was utterly predictable from beginning to end because I’ve read it before. We all have.

2. Heartless

In order to create the story of Eragon, it feels like Paolini took the Hero’s Journey, shoved stuff into it, and called it a day. Many “important” events that occurred didn’t make sense within the story itself because it was all about fitting things into a cookie-cutter plot rather than using the plot as a starting point to craft a good story.

Because of this, I didn’t feel any depth in the story or its characters. Was I upset when Brom died? No, because I never felt the connection Eragon had with him. Should Brom have even died in the first place? No, because it only happened to fulfil the “death of the mentor” beat in the Hero’s Journey. There was no actual point to it in the story.

The characters were cookie-cutter as well without any distinguishing personalities. Unfortunately, Eragon was the worst. After reading the whole book, I still don’t know him. What are his quirks? How does he feel being thrust into such a huge role? Why did he completely forget about his cousin in the last half of the book? How is he an actual person and not just a mindless character?

3. Irrelevant Climax

One of the reasons why the plot failed to hold my attention is that there’s not a clear goal, a clear villain, or a clear “time limit” that gave a sense of urgency to the story. These are the things that drive the plot of a book, and without them, the middle of the story feels aimless and the climax falls short. Eragon is no exception to this. Eragon’s priorities seem to switch every few pages, making it unclear what the overall goal is, never mind his own personal thoughts and goals. Why should the reader care that the dwarf city is attacked at the end? It holds no personal ties for Eragon and has nothing to do with the rest of the events in the book.

The climax also failed to succeed because of the lack of a real villain. Durza wasn’t really introduced until halfway through (maybe even later?) the book. Moreover, he’s not even responsible for 99% of the trials that Eragon faces throughout the story, so I was pretty confused to find that the story considered him to be the “big bad” of the book. Eragon only encounters him twice, and the second time, he’s killed in about 0.2 seconds without ceremony.

How does this little kid manage to kill some super evil and practised dark wizard dude? It fits in the Hero’s Journey. As long as it follows that, it doesn’t have to make sense within the actual story, right? [insert sarcasm here]

To be honest, this book had one of the most underwhelming climaxes I’ve ever read.

4. Plot Is King

The previous three points I mentioned – plus all of the other issues I had with the story of Eragon – boil down to this.

In Eragon, it’s abundantly clear that the plot drives the story, not the characters. When you look at the best stories, you’ll notice that the characters, who are the bridge between reader and plot, drive the action of the story. Their decisions change events and mould the story organically.

Here, we have a plot that pushes the characters instead, making the story feel forced, confusing at times, and disjointed. Eragon has little to no say in what happens in the story – random stuff happens to him, and he reacts. That’s the story, and it’s pretty uninteresting without the colour of well-developed characters to add some variety. The end result is that the plot doesn’t feel related to Eragon (especially the climax) and the story becomes lopsided in favour of the plot…when the book is literally named Eragon.

5. Rookie Writing Mistakes

In addition to the plot issues, another thing that made it difficult for me to get through the book was the writing style. Paolini’s narrative makes massive mistake after massive mistake, so much so that I was groaning in agony by page 2. (Again – I’m not giving him a free pass because of his age when he wrote this, although I would hope that he’s a much better writer now!)

Although this also has to do with plot, the many time jumps in the book made for huge blocks of uninterrupted text recounting what was happening over several days or weeks at a time. I struggled to make it through these sections of the book because the writing was dry and nothing interesting was happening.

What really bothered me the most, though, was that Paolini fell into the fatal exposition trap that goes against probably the number one rule of writing. Any time anything or anyone new appeared, the story stopped so that the new thing could be described in detail before moving on. It happened throughout the entire book. There was no subtlety, no guessing to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Everything was laid out plainly, making the writing style itself simply unexciting.

A Disappointment, or a Learning Experience?

I realise this sounds pretty harsh. Again, I respect the fact that millions of people love this book and the series, but in this post, I tried to take an honest look at how Eragon holds up against good storytelling. As you can see, I found it pretty lacking.

It was disappointing to find that a sensation like Eragon didn’t meet my expectations, but I have heard that the Inheritance Cycle gets better as the books go on. While I have no intention of continuing the series right now, from what I know, I think that Eragon was a learning experience for Paolini and he managed to pull together a pretty awesome story arc between all four books in the end. I can’t quite imagine what it must have been like to pen a novel like Eragon at 15. Even if I’m not a fan of the book, I certainly tip my hat to Paolini for working hard enough to make his dreams a reality.

So hey, bestsellers aren’t foolproof. As I mentioned last week, it’s not hard to stand out in the book world – just write well, and learn from the mistakes of other books.

Happy writing!
-E.J.


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Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.

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