It's easy to
dismiss 'Eragon' by Christopher Paolini as derivative fluff for kids.
In a genre super-saturated with 'Lord of the Rings' wannabes, Paolini's
corner piece for a fantasy trilogy offers little that is new or original.
But don't discount the break-neck pace, some decent writing and an admirable
ability to stay on-topic and focused on a single-story through-line.
Readers of fantasy have been down all the paths trod here before. But
Paolini is smart enough to know this and offers up enough enthusiasm
to keep the mind switched off and the pages turning. We all know by now
that the book was famously started when Christopher Paolini was fifteen.
This is a book by a fifteen year-old kid for fifteen-year-old kids. If
there's more than a bit of fifteen-old boy rattling around in your battered
soul, then you might find something to like here.
The story here is as simple as the prose style. Boy meets dragon, and
is transformed from nebbish nothing into conquering hero. In the process,
the nebbish grows up, takes responsibility and learns to listen as well
as act. Life is pretty tough in the kingdom of Alagaesia. Eragon is the
farmboy who finds what proves to be a dragon's egg. Once it hatches,
it grows as quickly as he telepathically bonds with it. He gets an Obi-Wan
Kenobi-style teacher to help him learn the ways of the Dragon Riders,
and a Darth Vader style villain on his tail who is demonstrably NOT his
father. Visions of a captured elf-girl torment him until he meets her.
Battles, dwarves, and monsters follow on. You know. It's Fantasy 101.
For all the re-treads of every cliché that stuff nearly every
page of this novel, it's still pretty much fun. Paolini realizes that
he's not covering new ground, so he covers old ground really, really
fast. The chapters are short and paced for young adult reading. Actual
adults who have read just about every novel this one cribs from may cringe
now and again, but the combination of enthusiasm and the undiluted enjoyment
the author derives from his work manage to make the familiar pretty damn
Familiarity is probably the key to enjoying this novel. Seasoned genre-reading
vets can play a spot-the-influence drinking game that will have you sloshed
every three chapters. Young farm boy who becomes hero? Check. Grizzled
outcast who happens to have once been a decorated veteran? Check. Star
Wars? Check. LOTR? Check. Dwarves and elves? Plenty. Orcs, or in this
case Urgals? There! Short chapters? Great idea. Climactic battle? You
Readers who have no patience with derivative fantasy fiction will not
want to spend their time reading 'Eragon'. It's just not for you. This
is not the book you are searching for. But if your child wants to read
this book, if your child has read this book and wants to talk to you
about it, or if you just want to shut off your brain and enjoy derivative
fantasy by someone who themselves enjoys derivative fantasy and set out
to write something they -- and perhaps you -- would enjoy, then this
is that book. I read it easily and without complaint. I don’t know
if I will go back to this world, but my visit to Alagaesia was not unpleasant.
'Eragon' is not a book for most readers of this column; the familiar
fantasy tropes recycled for the three trillionth time are easily read
and easily dismissed. But Paolini is undeniably talented and mind-bogglingly
popular. That is quite a bit more difficult to dismiss, especially if
he is popular with your children.