"Eragon, I am your... I mean, Luke, I am your father."
Eragon is, to hear the author tell it: “… an archetypal hero story, filled with exciting action, dangerous villains, and fantastic locations. There are dragons and elves, sword fights and unexpected revelations, and of course, a beautiful maiden who's more than capable of taking care of herself.”
What he describes as the archetypal hero story is not the archetypal hero story, but instead a list of clichés that are often found in archetypal hero stories. The hero's story does not need dragons, elves, sword fights, dangerous action, and exciting villains. The hero's story only needs the hero character going on a journey or quest to discover something and then return triumphant changed by his new knowledge. As Joseph Campbell wrote in his 1972 essay collection, Myths to Live By: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: Fabulous forces are encountered there and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men." There's nothing in there about villains, getting the girl or anything like that. What Paolini has done is taken the skin of the hero's journey and called it the entire animal.
From its outset, Eragon is rife with problems. From poor use of imagery ("The Shade hissed in anger, and the Urgals shrank back, motionless." -- how do you shrink back and remain motionless at the same time?), to the language spoken by said Shade looking like a cat walked across the keyboard, to a bizarre ignorance of just how riding a horse works (how exactly can one have a “lap” when astride?), it’s just really, really bad. And the series only gets worse from there.
One of my favorite examples of just how bad it gets is the series’ ineffective archvillain, Galbatorix. There have been three books out of a planned four, and he has yet to make an appearance. No one even really talks about him. In the first book the one thing we learn about him that makes him currently evil is that he makes people pay taxes. The land has been at peace for a hundred years. He has absolutely no real impact on titular alleged hero Eragon's life when the book starts.
The much more sinister movie version of Galbatorix, played by John Malkovich.
This is the lay of the land when the book starts. You would think, then, once Eragon becomes rider of the dragon Saphira, Galbatorix would rush to gain the Dragon Rider's trust before others did. Instead, he sends minions after Eragon who don't engender much in the way of trust, and they insist on Eragon joining the king without giving him much incentive to do so. Killing Eragon's uncle also wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
The one time we "see" Galbatorix is in Brisingr when he fights against Oromis -- the last elf dragon rider -- using the body of Eragon's half-brother Murtagh as a mouthpiece. He expounds on things that he should have said to Eragon two books earlier:
"There is no need to continue fighting me. I freely admit that I committed terrible crimes in my youth, but those days are long past, and when I reflect upon the blood I have shed, it torments my conscience. Still, what would you have of me? I cannot undo my deeds. Now, my greater concern is ensuring the peace and prosperity of the empire over which I find myself lord and master. Cannot you see that I have lost my thirst for vengeance? The rage that drove me for so many years has burned itself to ashes. Ask yourself this, Oromis: who is responsible for the war that has swept across Alagaesia? Not I. The Vaden were the ones who provoked this conflict. I would have been content to rule my people and leave the elves and the dwarves and the Surdans to their own devices. But the Varden could not leave well enough alone. It was they who chose to steal Saphira's egg, and they who covered the earth with mountains of corpses. Not I. You were wise once before, Oromis, and you can become wise again. Give up your hatred and join me in Ilirea. With you by my side, we can bring an end to this conflict and usher in an era of peace that will endure for a thousand years or more.”
What good is it for him to say this to Oromis, when Oromis is already arrayed against him and has been for years? The likelihood of trying to change his mind is slim to none. But if Galbatorix were to say this to Eragon, there might actually be a chance that this could sway Eragon's mind. This is highly unlikely, of course, as Eragon isn't allowed to stray from the Hero's path and have doubts about what he's doing for long; and as a result, he is, in many ways, a more visible and effective villain than Galbatorix ever was.
Eragon, a new breed of "Hero".
And he just doesn't care. Never once do we see him regret the actions he does. He cries more over killing birds than he does over killing a man.
In the meantime we do not see Galbatorix do anything. Paolini says that he wants to save him for the big reveal at the end, but there has been no build up to him. No wondering what will happen when we see him. No rumors that he's trying to do something to stop Eragon. Or of any big plans. His reactions are even reasonable to what is being forced upon his kingdom. He's putting down a rebellion, a threat to his rule; a peaceful rule at that. And yet Eragon is the “Hero”.
To paraphrase Mark Twain: A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But The Inheritance Cycle accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.
Which is the best way to sum up this series.
-- Gabrielle Lissauer
Portions of this article first appeared at Eragon Sporkings.
Read The Opposing View
The Inheritance Cycle is Really Something
by Rachel Hyland