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Friday, December 01, 2006

Christopher Paolini's moral fabric: Eragon

Christopher Paolini recently turned 23 years of age. He is the author of Eragon and Eldest, two big, and pretty good, books of fantasy. Eragon: Inheritance, Book One (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003) will soon be released as a movie.

I wouldn't say that Paolini has written ground-breaking fantasy, but few people have -- it's well-crafted, and a good read. In a lot of ways, he reads like a cross between J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin -- the elves are human-like, but immortal, and mostly hidden from humans, and have their own language, an old, magical language; there are dwarves, living underground, and unfriendly to other races; magic has rules, and must be taught; great care must be exercised in performing magic. There are some original elements -- dragons can't speak aloud, for example, and there are at least two intelligent species that are unique to Paolini's books. Religion, and worship, are described. Tolkien didn't do that.

I don't have any idea how the plot of the movie corresponds with that of the book, and, even if I did, I wouldn't give away any details. I prefer to consider the moral fabric of Paolini's books.

Every author has a world view. Here's an apparently secular take on what a world view is. Here's a definitely Christian take on the same topic (using worldview, not world view). The two are similar. They both say that a world view answers such questions as where the universe came from, what (if anything) is the difference between right and wrong, and what happens to humans when they die. It is also true that many people don't have a consistent world view -- they haven't carefully worked out answers to these questions. I don't know what Paolini's world view is, but I have gotten some hints from reading his books. This post presents some of what I learned about Paolini from Eragon. It is also true, of course, that an author's characters may have a different world view than the author, herself. Eragon is fiction, after all.

There is a definite sense of right and wrong. The Empire is evil, and Eragon's step-father is good.

Some of the characters question how bad things can be allowed to happen and challenge whatever gods may exist, because they have happened. (p. 91, 131)

". . . This magic -- for it is magic -- has rules like the rest of the world. If you break the rules, the penalty is death, without exception. Your deeds are limited by your strength, the words you know, and your imagination." (p. 139) Brom, Eragon's first teacher, also makes clear, and Eragon experiences at various points, that magic is not practiced without a cost -- at least some temporary tiredness, at most, death. It takes one's strength to use magic.

There are evil spirits in the world, that can possess humans, using them for their own ends. (p. 144, 437)

". . . Keep in mind that many people have died for their beliefs; it's actually quite common. The real courage is in living and suffering for what you believe." (p. 197) Brom speaking.

At least some religions are evil. On p. 247-8, one such, requiring human sacrifice, and spending too many resources on trivial matters, is described.

In the chapter "A Clash of Wills" (pp. 347 - 353) Eragon is very upset at Murtagh, who decapitates a slaver during a battle, while he is lying on the ground, seriously injured. Eragon thinks that the man should have had a chance, even though slavery is monstrous.

Eldest is more explicit on what I take to be Paolini's world view. I posted on that book here.

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Jeez. I love the book. I loved Harry Potter and the PofA. I hated the movie made after that. Oh and the series of unfortunate events. I liked that too. Despised the movie. For Eragon's failure as a movie, take their failures, multiply them by 57. :) thnx for listening.

Martin LaBar said...

I liked the book, too. I haven't seen the movie, or even any reviews of it (except yours!)


Anonymous said...

All three books were great and can't wait till the fourth one comes out. But the movie sucked. Dont even try making movies with the other two books.

Martin LaBar said...

I still haven't seen the movie.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

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