Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Criticism: Paolini's Eldest

Apparently, they are making a movie of Eragon. This is a travesty.

In case any of you are unaware of this wretched novel, it is a truly sickening piece of trash by a pompous teenager named Christopher Paolini.

All right, this is not true. Eragon is not a terrifying example of pretentious post-modern excrement. However, its sequel, Eldest, is the sort of insignificant rubbish that makes one want to shove knives down one’s throat.

Here is commentary by my friend Clay on Eldest.

So, I finally finished it. I just took a day and sat down and forced myself to read the whole thing.

It did get a little better as it went on, but it was still really bad. And, even then, it had rough patches. Did you notice whenever Eragon had to learn something he always had like a day to learn it and they only went over it once and then he all-of-a-sudden knew it! For example: the Dwarven Gods, The Elves' hand gestures and proper titles (all that -elda crap that I still don't understand and was never explained), and large groups of peoples' names ('He worked at memorizing every one's name' WHEN?! Maybe when they were being CONSTANTLY ATTACKED). Also, everyone has 7,000 names because every sect of every race calls everyone something different. (Nusualda or whoever had several, one I remember from the Krull) Plus when you add on all the elven endings to every ones' names...)

Anyway, besides getting slightly better as it went on, it has very very very bad rough patches. Especially during his training with the elf, where it seemed to get kind of preachy about life and religion and anything else I have a firm belief that the author feels strongly about. Did you feel like this? Do you think Eragon still believes in the Dwarf Gods? What's he going to do about that? If I were him I'd still observe the traditions. I mean he can't defy a races religion (especially when he, ceremoniously[wrong word?], IS a dwarf).

I was rather upset that his system of magic wasn't explained in more detail, but I have a feeling I'd be even angrier if he had, because he'd probably screw it up for me. When I read Eragon I thought 'this is a really cool magic system, I've never seen or heard of anything like this!' (have you? I think it's strangely unique. Think he stole it from something else?) But when it is mentioned in Eldest it feels less cool and more impossible. You can either just say the word 'fire' and hope your own scalp doesn't catch on fire, or you can say 'fire arrow' and hope your arrow doesn't explode, or you can say 'light my arrow on fire', which is a complex sentence needing grammar, which is slightly upsetting.

The descriptions... I ended up, at one point, just reading the first line of every paragraph and anything in quotes and I still understood what was going on. I like books that just give me the meat. I can imagine what the lace on the chair looks like in my own head, I don't need the author to go on about it for paragraphs on end. In fact everything was described in such extremes I had difficulty telling when something was actually going to be difficult. Such as in the last battle. Every other paragraph was 'Eragon's power was completely and utterly, uselessly, drained as that of a large brown funnel after all the golden syrup has drained out of it slowly, like molasses, back into the lack-luster bottle that held it in tact with the utmost grace.' Yet Eragon kept casting and was, decidedly, not 'completely and utterly, uselessly, drained'.

I'm definitely not reading the third one. I'll just make it up in my head. I didn't like the ending at all. I didn't even REMEMBER who Murtagh (something like that) was, it had been so long. If you recount most of the book almost NOTHING HAPPENED AT ALL. He goes on at length with his stupid adverbial (adjectivial didn't sound right) descriptions so often the book is mostly description (in detail, I might add). I felt empty inside, really. It had very little plot (Arya) except what happened at the end and even that was stupid and anyone could have written that. 'omg he's your brother!!! DUN DUN DUN!!'. So stupid. I was really upset about that. And how the hell is Murtagh more powerful than Eragon? WHEN did he train? Besides not having time to train, even if he did have someone really powerful training him, he's not blessed or whatever (elven looking, you know?) so, WHERE is he drawing his power from? Is the freakishly old elven-blacksmith going to end up making a new weapon for Eragon? This is the author's style...

Let’s go over some of Clay’s points.

1. Eragon’s amazing ability to be awesome—This is because Eragon is a Mary Sue. In case anyone does not know what Mary Sues are, here you go: a Mary Sue is a character created for the author (and sometimes the reader) to use for the sole purpose of self-insertion. Mary Sues have very few faults, and the faults that they do have usually turn out to be virtue. (Examples: “I love my friends too much”, “I’m too generous with my money”, “I steal from the rich to feed orphaned kittens”.) If you do not believe that Eragon is a Mary Sue, just read the description of Eragon in the beginning of the first book. Then flip to the back and take a look at the author’s photograph. Ha!

2. General preachiness about life and religion—This is the preachiest book I have ever read. Now, I have no objection to authors who include their philosophical views in their books, even when I disagree with them. For example, Sartre and Dostoyevsky are two of my favorite writers. And Camus, although he frightens me, is a master craftsman. However, these authors deftly weave their points into the plotline, so that at the end of the novel, the reader is left thinking, “Aha! I understand! The writer is trying to make Point X! And it makes sense from the story!” In Eldest, however, the reader is stuck in the middle of the book, reading a tedious “narrative” in which the Wise Old Man Archetype lectures Eragon on How There Is No God and How People Who Believe In God Are Stupid. Word. For. Word. Hello? Mr. Paolini? Can you at least learn subtlety? I have no doubt that in the third book in the trilogy, Eragon will make his break with religion, although if the author is feeling particularly magnanimous, Eragon may come to accept that other people, who are not wise enough to be Wise Old Man Archetypes, are stupid enough to need religion. (Like in Marx, right?) If the author isn’t feeling high-minded, I predict that Eragon will single-handedly convert the entire world into a religion of Post-Modern Vegetarianism. Mr. Paolini writes as though he has just taken an Introduction to Philosophy course and gotten much too excited. He is the proverbial kid in a candy store. (I am tempted to take this metaphor too far. Let’s say that Kant is represented by gummy worms, and that Aquinas is the Tootsie Pops…)

3. Superfluous Verbosity—and long-winded wordiness.

I have some of my own to add.

4. Inane Clichés—The series is filled with them. Like every other stupid fantasy novel, the main character (Eragon Everyman) is in every way normal and average but at the same time inexplicably different and slightly uncomfortable with his provincial neighbors. But THEN—surprise!!!—a magical being drops into his lap and announces “Only you, Mr. Everyman, have the power to SAVE THE WORLD!” Of course there is an aloof and beautiful princess who is ridiculously far above him, but we have no doubt he’ll eventually rise to her level. She is an elf, naturally. All of the elves are better than all of the other characters, and everything they say can be taken as straight from the author’s mouth. The plot deals with the typically dull themes of Respect for All Life, Responsibility Comes with Power, etc. (It’s as if Post-Modernism was a big rock that was slammed down on Mr. Paolini’s head and melded with his brain.) This is not to mention the equally mundane plot devices such as The Magic Sword, The Journey on Which We Meet Lots of New Cultures, and The Main Character’s Personal Journey of Growing-Up-Ness. Naturally, the Evil Villain is a Dark Dictator that wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Shockingly, the mysterious character Murtagh turns out to be Eragon’s BROTHER! I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet that the EVIL VILLAIN turns out to be Eragon’s FATHER! (I know! You are shocked!)

5. Appalling Use of English—Who edited this book? Here is an actual quote: "Keep thine back to a wall, Shadeslayer. Capricious, they are... What will you do with thine horse?... On mine honor, you will return to find him fat and sleek." And I couldn't even find the part where they use "thou" as a direct object. At first I thought the author was ineffectively trying to establish a cultural variation of speech, but then I noticed that this use of English is pervasive throughout all cultures in the book, including the Almighty-Elves-Are-The-Best Culture (which is treated as the author’s own personal voice). Now I think that Mr. Paolini was just trying to sound “archaic” and “urbane”, so he just threw in some obsolete words, assuming that since he didn’t know how to use them properly, none of his readers would, either. Let’s review, Mr. Paolini. Thine and mine before vowel sounds, thy and my before consonants. Thou is a subject, thee is an object. It is NOT acceptable to simply add “-est” and “-eth” indiscriminately to the end of verbs (or, I add with a shudder of horror, other parts of speech); they are conjugations that accompany the pronouns “thou” and “he/she/it”. In short, Mr. Paolini, when you try to look smarter by using words you don’t understand, you end up looking STUPID.

The worst part of this fiasco is that I am afraid that I will have to read the third book, simply because I have read the first two. It also seems wrong somehow to own two books of a trilogy and not the third. Only… how else can I punish the author for his infantile posturing without boycotting his book? This is a mystery that must be pondered.

My only recourse is to spread the news about the atrociousness of this book, and to beg responsible guardians to protect their children from Mr. Paolini’s blatant philosophical proselytizing, his tiresome clichés, and his unforgivable grammar.