I give every book fifty pages, sometimes sixty. But if I’m not hooked by the end of those sixty or sixty pages, it’s time to toss the current book and try another. Life is too short to waste your time on lousy books.
And “Eragon” (Alfred A. Knopf; 2003), by Christopher Paolini, is a great example of a lousy book.
Almost “Plan 9 From Outer Space” Bad
“Eragon” is yet another pale imitation of the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffery, with a bit of Tolkien and C.S Lewis thrown in. The story is the standard world ruled by evil dictator, world’s only hope lies in a young, misunderstood kid. Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series was complex, three dimensional and poetic. “Eragon”, in contrast, is stilted, predictable and flat as a pancake.
Besides the borderline plagerism from the venerable Anne McCaffery, there is also such a lack of how basic biology of large animals work that it gets far too distracting. In “Eragon”, a gigantic telepathic dragon grows in a mere six months after hatching. Even aligators need about ten years before they grow to full size.
About First Novels By Teenagers
Granted, this was Paolini’s first novel, published when he was a mere seventeen years old. You could give him some allowance for inexperience. Yet, if you contrast this debut book of a teenager to another teenager’s debut book for young adults, “The Black Stallion” (1941) by Walter Farley, the latter is far well crafted.
In “The Black Stallion”, readers are completely immersed in the world of Alec Ramsey, who is nearly the same age as Eragon, the title character in Paolini’s book. Both come across a remarkable animal that they can ride. There, any similarity ends. “The Black Stallion” stitched together pieces from all kinds of stories that Farley knew very well to make a rollicking good book. Its pattern of boy and wild animal saving themselves from a horrible fate has been done before and copied many times since.
And the details are far more readable than in “Eragon”. Although set in another world, you never feel as if you are a part of it. You see a tiny bit based on cliches and stereotypes and borrowings from many other books. The reader gets the distict impression that Polini was making it up as he went along and then never bothered to go back and edit out what he didn’t know or any other poorly written section. Readers have seen this lazy writing and editing far too many times.
But in “The Black Stallion”, you enter a far richer fantasy world of first a boat, then a desert island and then World War II era Flushing, New York. Not many people can relate of traveling on boats across the Atlantic, being stranded on a desert island and then living to Flushing. This is completely different territory to set a book in, and Farley pulls it off better than Paolini is able to pull off the world of “Eragon”. Perhaps this is because Farely wrote what he knew rather than he hoped to know.
Fantasy writers have to know their fantasy worlds intimately. Tolkein developed entire new languagues for his alien races in order to give his immortal works more reality. J.K. Rowling even listed what book titles were in Hogwart’s library in order to better understand her fantasy world. Paolini never makes this attempt to immerse himsel in his fanatasy world in order to make we readers believe tht it just may exist.
“Eragon” is all hype and no story. But it makes a great doorstop.