i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Paolini's Eragon - book review

January 24, 2007

I chose to read Christopher Paolini’s Eragon mainly because it’s a best-selling young adult fantasy novel that just came out as a movie. Since several people have accused my book of being young adult fantasy (which may or may not prove to be the case), I figured I’d better read something from the sub-genre in order to figure it out.

I must confess that I would not have finished reading this book had I not felt morally obligated to do so, being my choice and all, and me being a Graduate Student instead of an undergrad (you know, cuz that changes everything, right? Um. Sure.)

Long story short: I'm glad this book came free from the library, and I won't be reading the sequels.

The story just felt run of the mill to me. My thinking, within a few chapters, was something like this:

“Oh, here we go, a boy at the threshold of manhood, finds a magical object and is forced to go on a quest, and finds himself and, naturally, a hot little lady on the way. The pair will team up and defeat a dark force, definitely related to the Shade on first page and to the afore-mentioned magical object and, ultimately, prevail.”

And that’s exactly what happened, with plenty of loose ends left untied so that the sequel will have some material to get started with. Nothing really surprised me about the story. There were, I admit, some wonderful scenes and nice sensory details here and there, but for the more part? Eh. I rushed to finish so I could move on to something better.

Luckily, before I could complain too much about the rather sloppy writing replete with adverb atrocities, dialogue-tag blunders, and way-too-many info dumps (ixnay on the whole “Dragon Tales” chapter), I happened to flip to the About the Author page.

Turns out Paolini, the precocious little scamp, was a mere fifteen years old when he wrote this. (I probably should have known this, huh?)


When I was fifteen, I was puking out horrid little stories about psychotic cheerleader squads and my first fictional alter ego, a butcher-knife wielding Mariah who killed off her enemies with bloody flair. Enemies who, by the way, had the exact same names as all of my real-life foes.

[Just imagine, if you will, what could have happened if my parents had owned a publishing company. *shivers* ]

Paolini, at 15, wrote a novel that became a best-seller.

I can’t exactly expect a kid to have mastered the English language and vanquished all writing demons, especially if I’m nearly twice his age and my first novel is so terribly embarrassing that I would burn all the copies if I could force myself to spark ‘em.

He’s one of those kids that drove me wild with jealously when I was younger. You know the type: Doogie Houser. Need I say more?

In fact, now that I think about it, I’m certain that’s part of the appeal. Had this novel been written by an adult, it might never have gotten the time of day. Instead, it’s a halfway decent tale written by a teenager. [For kids! By kids! What a hot marketing concept!] - Note: After I finished writing this, I checked out the amazon reviews. I am not alone.

Paolini’s already had at least one other novel published, maybe more, but that doesn’t mean he can write. He’s riding a publishing wave at the moment, (Send my regards to J.K.) but I wasn’t impressed enough to read more in the series. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there to feel that way. (Am I?) I figure the true test of whether Paolini can write is when I pick up one of his books in another ten years and see how his writing has changed. I’ll let you know what I think then.

P.S. Hah! I love the beautiful irony of this quote:

"The real torture with Eragon came in the editing. I discovered that editing is really another word for someone ruthlessly tearing apart your work with a big smile, all the while telling you that it will make the book so much better. And it did, though it felt like splinters of hot bamboo being driven into my tender eyeballs."

Oh, friend, you haven't even gotten started.

Moira at 8:27 PM :: Comments (1) :: ::

Although I cannot confirm the source, I have heard through the grapevine that this book was littered with mass appropriations (that's the polite, postmodern term for plaigerism). Since I don't know enough about fantasy or young adult literature, I have no idea of the reality of that assertion.

One thing I do know is that the book has given the impression (at least to the people I've asked who read it) of a couldn't-get-laid-in-highschool-so-I'll-write-a-book-to-make-up-for-my-inferiority-complex
impression. I never once heard about how it fits in to the fantasy archtypal. Again, in high school I wrote poetry about how bleak and dark the world looks, then I learned that that type of poetry is absolute schlock. It doesn't take much skill to copy our own experiences. Nor does it take much skill to tell what poetry is just a parroting (with perhaps a slight metaphorical tinge) of our own experiences.

General rule of thumb: poetry centered on the ego rarely makes for a good read. Slit-my-wrist poetry was never good, is not good, and I pray to God that no one will ever think that someday it might be good. So, I think the part of the book that probably makes it suck is not the language, the plot, or even the cliches. It's probably bad because it is based on an egocentrical archtypal rather than a collective unconscious.

(Keep this between you and me, but a good 75% of genre literature is guilty of that... postmodern rubbish!)

Posted by: Evan at January 26, 2007 2:29 AM
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