Knopf Publishers released Eldest in August of 2005. This magical adventure takes place in the imaginary realm of Alagaësia. (It is important to note that Eldest is the second book in what will become the “Inheritance Trilogy.” Therefore, the reader would be wise to first read this book’s prequel, Eragon.) Eldest picks up three days after the end of Eragon. The story is told from a third-person omniscient view.
The vast scope of this 668-page novel allows Christopher Paolini to sprinkle it with nearly 100 characters. It seems as if every character has his supporting cast, while the supporting cast seems to have their own supporting cast and so on. Not only this, but the situation is compounded with the numerous references to famous deities and ancient kings. While this can be confusing, it does help create the feeling of an epic story. The protagonist is Eragon, a farm-boy who discovers a dragon egg and becomes the next Dragon Rider. Saphira is the sapphire dragon that Eragon discovered; she is Eragon’s closest friend and companion. Nasuada, the leader of the Varden, is a young woman who inherits that position after her father’s death. Orik the Dwarf befriends Eragon in the first book and travels with him in Eldest. Oromis is an Elf who fulfills the role of Eragon’s instructor and mentor. Another Elf is Arya, Eragon’s love interest and an Elvish emissary. Roran, a minor character in the first book, is Eragon’s cousin and must mature as he takes on a bigger role in this book. The Ra’zac are a pair of foul creatures that serve the Empire. King Galbatorix is the ruler of this kingdom, and it is his regime that Eragon and his friends strive against. Murtagh apparently dies at the beginning of the book, but later it is revealed that it was a feint, that Murtagh has betrayed Eragon, and that the two are actually brothers.
Because this is the second book in a three-part series, it does not contain as much action as the first or (presumably) the third. Much of the book seems to be preparing us for a final confrontation in the finale of the series. Eragon hints several times that he must eventually confront his nemesis, King Galbatorix. However, the time is not yet ripe. The plot of Eldest follows three story lines: that of Eragon as he receives his training, that of his cousin Roran as he flees the Empire, and that of the Varden, a group of rebels whom Eragon has become associated with.
At the beginning of Eldest, Eragon, Sahpira, Arya, and Orik make the long trek from the underground Dwarf metropolis of Farthen Dur to the Elf forest city, Ellesmera. Eragon and Saphira begin their training with Oromis immediately. Although Eragon knows much, he still has a large amount to learn about being a Rider. From Oromis he learns the uses of magic, perfects his fighting skills, and engages in many philosophical debates. Conflict arises between Arya and Eragon as Eragon seeks to win her heart, but Arya refuses to be seduced. Another source of conflict is the elves’ contempt of Eragon because he is a mere human. “How do you expect to defeat Galbatorix like this? I expected better, even from a weakling human.” P. 371 Shortly before the end of his training, Eragon attends the Agaeti Blodhren, a ceremony that celebrates the truce between elves and dragons. Here Eragon is healed of a wound he received in the first book, and his likeness is changed to resemble that of an elf’s.
Meanwhile, back in Eragon’s “hometown”-the town he fled with Saphira months before, Roran is in danger of his life. Because the Empire realizes that the new Rider’s (Eragon) allegiance does not lie with them, but rather with the Varden and elves, King Galbatorix has sent troops to capture Eragon’s cousin. Galbatorix hopes to ring information from Roran and to hold him for ransom in order to draw Eragon into his trap. Roran eventually convinces the village of Carvahall to flee with him to the safety of Surda, a country bordering the Empire. The village and Roran barely make the journey, but not without Roran’s fiancée being captured by the foul Ra’zac, servants of Galbatorix. Although Roran has reached his destination, he swears to hunt down the kidnappers and rescue his fiancée.
For several years, the Varden and the dwarves have co-existed in the city of Farthen Dur, both of them fighting the Empire. But Nasuada, new queen of the Varden, decides to no longer impose on the dwarves’ hospitality. She elects to move the Varden to Surda. Here they prepare for battle. Nasuada has heard reports that Galbatorix intends to wipe out the pesky Varden, and to claim the land of Surda as his own. Nasuada sends couriers to the elves and dwarves, asking for reinforcements.
These intricately woven plot threads converge at the end of the book. Eragon, hearing of the Varden’s plight, takes hasty leave of Ellesmera. Nasuada marches onto the Burning Plains at the southern end of Surda. And it just so happens that Roran lands his ship here—right in the middle of a battle. Eragon, riding Saphira, and surrounded by the Varden’s best magicians, marches into battle against a far superior host. The momentum of the battle shifts several times. The Varden seemed to have managed a victory when on the horizon appears a looming shadow. Another Rider! Eragon gasps. Can Galbatorix himself ridden into battle? Eragon fights the Rider, but his strength is spent and he succumbs. The Rider reveals himself as Murtagh, Eragon’s “friend.” Murtagh also reveals a dreadful piece of information—Eragon and he are brothers. Both are sons of Galbatorixes’s right hand man. One chose to follow in his father’s footsteps, the other did not. Because Eragon is his brother, Murtagh spares his life and flies away. The Varden had won. Eragon had lost.
Eldest, because it is the second book in a series of three, leaves the reader hanging. At the end of the book, Roran and Eragon reunite. Eragon pledges that he will assist his cousin in finding his fiancée and reeking vengeance on the Ra’zac. The story will continue in Book Three of Inheritance.
During Eragon’s training with Oromis, the reader is bludgeoned over the head with Paolini’s philosophies. Entire chapters are devoted to what the author presumably gleaned from his Philosophy 101 textbook. There is no subtlety here, but rather a brash parade of mind-numbing ideologues. The author is clearly “pushing an agenda.” The constituency of the agenda Paolini is pushing seems to consist of three major themes.
The first theme (one I found laughable) is Paolini’s driven desire to convert his readers to Vegetarianism. Upon his arrival in Ellesmera, Eragon quickly notices that the elves do not eat meat. Oromis has Eragon meditate in a glen for an hour each day. During this hour, Eragon opens his mind and “senses” the beings around him. Through this meditation, he experiences the consciousness of several different animals. When his lust for meat drives him to frustration, Eragon goes hunting with Saphira. Just as he puts the meat to his lips, Eragon is:
“Gripped by revulsion…as appalled by the fact that he had killed the rabbits as if he had murdered two people. Having been inside of a rabbit and having felt what a rabbit feels…eating one would be akin to eating himself.” P. 443-444
Wake up, Eragon. I assure you--you’re not a rabbit. It’s okay, you don’t have to be embarrassed about your ears. They look just like a human’s.
On the more serious side, the whole book is about warriors, great carnivorous dragons, and soldiers bathing in their enemies’ blood. Juxtaposed against this we find Eragon sitting in a glen, meditating on animal rights.
There is a logical problem with the Eragon’s conviction. Later in the book, he becomes advanced enough in his meditation that he can now sense plants. They too, he finds, are intelligent, and have many of the same thoughts as animals. Shouldn’t this convince Eragon to refrain from plants as well? In fact, shouldn’t everything that was ever alive be censored? I feel sorry for Eragon, as this will surely limit his menu!
Paolini’s second theme is an atheistic one. On his way to Ellesmera, Eragon stops in the dwarf city of Tarnag. Here he is introduced to the many dwarf deities. The elves, however, strongly disagree with their miniature counterparts.
“…who or what, do you worship?”
“You worship the concept of nothing?”
“No, Eragon. We do not worship at all.”
“…ask yourself this, Eragon: If gods exist, have they been good custodians of Alagaësia? Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny, and countless other miseries stalk the land….”
“The dwarves believe…”
“Exactly! The dwarves believe.” P. 542
While Paolini is busy shoving “faith vs. reason” arguments down the reader’s throat, he overlooks something very important. The dwarves believe, yes. So do the elves. The dwarves believe there are gods. The elves believe there aren’t. Paolini uses ugliness and death for an argument against God. Paolini overlooks the flipside of ugliness and death—beauty and life.
Romans 1: 18-22 shows that Creation is God’s mirror, displaying his glory so man is without excuse for ignorance, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”
The author’s third theme is closely connected to his second. With his denial of a deity, goes Paolini’s denial of an afterlife. Suddenly, the whole book doesn’t make any sense. If Eragon’s universe was a faith-based one or even works-based, it would make sense that Eragon wants to risk his life for thousands of people he doesn’t know. If Eragon believed he had to earn his way into God’s presence by doing good deeds, what better way but to save other peoples’ lives at the expense of his own? If he believed that God wanted him to sacrifice himself for others, then once more, what better way? However, this life is all that Eragon has. If I were Eragon, I would “hole up” in one of the beautiful elf cities, surround myself with things I love, and let the rest of the world do the same. Instead, he insists on pursuing a cause that has about a twenty-percent chance of succeeding.
While reading “Eldest,” a reader well versed in fantasy literature might feel as if he’s read this before. This is because Paolini copies heavily from Star Wars, “Lord of the Rings,” and several other lesser known works. The plot of “Eldest” follows Star Wars: “The Empire Strikes Back,” with almost predictable regularity. Meanwhile, the people, languages, cultures, and places feel as if one is re-reading the “Lord of the Rings.”
I believe Paolini has immense potential as a writer. Anyone who can plan a trilogy when one is fifteen and write nearly 700-page novels is worthy of praise. However, many times, Paolini seems to be “forcing” his characters too much instead of letting his characters “force” him what to write. For example, near the start of the novel, Ajihad, king of the Varden, dies. As he takes his dying breaths, he issues a few last commands for Eragon. Out of nowhere, Orik comes up and says, “Were you in time to hear his last words?” How is Orik supposed to know if Ajihad had any last words, and if he was killed instantly or not?
Another example of Paolini “trying too hard” is when Roran is in battle. Roran slices off his opponent’s arm, and the man cries out, “This is what comes from not shielding myself.” P. 138. If it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, this would be laughable. However, a man has just lost his arm. If I were that man, I would be screaming in agony, not commentating on how I placed myself in that woeful position!
Of all the many characters, there are two I believe Paolini developed very well. The first is Vanir, a minor character who spars daily with Eragon. While Eragon is a fair human swordsman, he is no match for the elf. Vanir’s contempt is evident in the way he moves and speaks around Eragon.
The second character is Roran. Roran is a man of the farm. Throughout this book, he matures until he can confidently lead his village into war. Roran also struggles between his personal interests (his fiancée, his farm) and doing what he knows is best for the village as a whole.
I found it hard to identify with any of the characters. Maybe this is because many came across as “flat.” Oftentimes it was easy to switch all the lines of dialogue without finding them misplaced. And because dialogue is what builds a character, the weak dialogue often resulted in weak characters.
Paolini has created a swashbuckling tale of good vs. evil. However, it will be interesting to see whether the fad surrounding the Inheritance Trilogy grows or dwindles as the years progress. Despite some of its glaring weaknesses, I, for one, look forward to the conclusion of Paolini’s trilogy.
“Se onr sverdar sitja hvass!” (May your swords stay sharp!)