Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Trouble with Eragon

I've been pretty busy over the last few weeks, and very mentally drained at that. I haven't really had a whole lot of time to read, but I have been listening to Eragon and now the second book in the series, Eldest. I had heard a lot of buzz about Christopher Paolini and the Eragon series, both good and bad. I had seen the movie before reading the book and thought it was pretty decent for what it was. Everyone else at the time was seemingly uniform in their disgust, though I would often hear comments about how wonderfully Saphira was portrayed.
At first I was taken aback by the powerful descriptions in Eragon. I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but something about the way he described things was almost entrancing. As the story drove onward I began to narrow it down. By mid-book I had put my finger on it. In the beginning the vocabulary had been refreshing, almost exhilarating. I found myself wondering how on earth he had come up with a particular word in a description. But, as time wore on, it bogged down the story. The descriptions became painful roadblocks in the way of story progression. What plot conflicts there were seemed to be resolved much too easily. Eragon himself was a half-wit at best. He was a character I couldn't relate to, he was so stupid. The book would explain something and then chapters later he would ask a question that seemed to scream out that he paid no attention to anything that had transpired beforehand. I have little patience for stupid heroes. If I remember something from chapters back, he should too.
Another thing that really bothered me was the interaction between Eragon and Saphira. The dialogue for many characters throughout the book was clich├ęd and pretentious, but nowhere was it as bad as the conversations between these two characters.
Where Eragon was decent, Eldest has proven far worse. I find myself yelling at my computer, telling the vocal artist reading the story to just get on with it. Those beautiful, fancy words have since turned to ash in my mind. Overuse is probably a contributing factor, but I believe the biggest part of it has been how he feels he must share with us every imparting detail of the world he has created. I couldn't care less about a pit stop along the way, if it isn't important to the story you don't need to describe it in painful detail. It feels as if the book is almost completely description driven. It makes for a very boring journey. Also, I find that after a while I start noticing that I am no longer paying attention when he delves into another descriptive episode. That pains me as a reader or in this case, I suppose I am a listener. Either way it detracts from the story itself.
Another excruciating part about Eldest isn't just the unnatural character progression but the training. Oh woe the training. Why must we be subjected to the everyday schooling of Eragon? We aren't dragon riders... I mean, some training? Okay. All of it? Oh man... It just gives Eragon a plethora of opportunities to show us how big of a tool he is. Of course he takes every single one (and then some) to prove that he is a dunce. This is the last hope against the Empire? Heaven help us all.
This leaves me one last comment... which I will pose as a question and then expand with my own thoughts on the matter. How do you feel about poems and songs in fiction books?
I find them bothersome. I get so attached to the characters I'm following that I want to view their world through their eyes. When they start singing a random song I want to know the rhythm, the pacing, the cadence if you will. But if the song isn't a part of the plot... why? Why?! WHY!?!??! Eldest has quite a few of these. Poems, songs, patches of text in some language that none of us know. This bothers me to no end. If you want to write poetry, please do. But if it isn't central to the story, keep it out, PLEASE! It serves as nothing more than a distraction. One or two I can stand, but it if becomes a repeating theme throughout the story I will skip them entirely. If it becomes too bothersome, I may just put down the book entirely. I like a good story, but why should I have to work for it?
These are, of course, my opinions. As is often the case, some "fanboys" may be tempted to say something along the lines of, "Well if you don't like it, read something else." To this I would say that any author who would share such an opinion could never be great by any standard. Yes, Eragon has had a lot of success as a book, but unfortunately it would seem that much of that success can be attributed to Christopher's age. People say, "Wow this is so good for a 15 year old!" But what happens as he gets older? Eragon has been much better than Eldest, and it wasn't even that great to begin with. If Mr. Paolini is smart he will examine his writing and learn the value of good description. He will use the power of his words where it counts and let the story and plot drive the rest. He will make his characters earn their plot resolutions. It would serve him well to observe people and listen to how they speak. He would do well to listen to people who are smart, and a few that only believe they are. He may learn the difference in the way they speak. Truly wise men don't talk as if they love to hear themselves speak. Mr. Miyagi's infinite wisdom was not beautiful or robust. But it proved that he knew what he was talking about. "Wax on - wax off, Daniel-san." What does waxing a car have to do with Karate? Apparently a lot more than any of us expected.

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