October 28, 2011

Revisiting Eragon in the Wait for Inheritance

It goes without saying to anyone who has read the Inheritance Cycle, books 1 to 3, that what makes this dragon story stand out from all of the others is the character of Saphira. In fact, we are told early and often that dragons in Paolini's world are as self-aware, strong-willed and intelligent as humans are, but what we are not spoon-fed is the realisation of what a powerful character she is. We are told that dragons are more powerful, wise and majestic than humans, and Eragon feels she is a little bit alien to him in her nature. It's somewhat obvious that a dragon should have a very different character, personality and nature to a human but I'm not sure if anyone has really succeeded at it like Paolini. I mean, how does a human write a non-human character?
When looking at Saphira, she specifically reflects either the opposite or the extreme of characteristics that are most associated with being human. We know that to err is human, and Saphira, as far as I can tell, never makes mistake - not even in judgment. It's possible to disagree with her based on intangible ideals, but you can't really say that she's wrong about anything. She's kind of like Dr. House. You know you can't win an argument with her, even if you feel strongly contrary to her beliefs. Eragon, on the other hand, makes many mistakes and bad judgment calls throughout Book 1. He almost gets himself killed calling on Brisingr. Many, many times, he injures himself, and Saphira has to fly to his rescue.

On the other hand, Saphira is the extreme of certain human qualities. We tend to view our species as very self-motivated and selfish, putting ourselves first, but is anyone really so upfront about it? For example, Saphira says that protecting Eragon's life is more important than freeing the Empire. She is often against helping Arya and Murtagh in the flight to the Varden. She wants to make sure Eragon arrives there alive, and encourages him to leave the others behind. In Book 2, Eldest, she says that she will disobey his oaths of fealty to Nasuada if it means saving Eragon's life. Maybe Paolini is saying that we're too hard on humanity? How often do you get human characters that are so incorrigibly self-serving? For further evidence, she is outright against Eragon's vegetarianism (as am I, for that matter. He's a growing Rider!) and will not budge in the least, nor even admit the slightest guilt over grazing on animal flesh. It's great.

So on the whole, what's interesting about the Inheritance Cycle is that you have this major protagonist that is often overlooked as a character because she's not human. She even comes to replace Garrow as a parent-figure or Brom as a mage/guide. She's not Bill the pony; she's not even Shadowfax. Not some mount or method of transportation slash really cool weapon. She's not the Millenium Falcon - she's Han Solo. She's a foil to our hero - she's much more amusing and cynical and.... Dr. House-like... I've suddenly realised how much I like Saphira. How about you?

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  1. The Inheritance Cycle books are the novels by which I judge all other fantasy books, for precisely the reasons you stated in this article. It's a bummer the movies turned out so awful, although I doubt any movie would do them justice anyway.

    1. Yeah that is a shame. This might be nitpicky, but Saphira in the film felt more motherly than this alien, inhuman, selfish and yet always right kind of being I've come to think of her as. Or not quite a mother, but an annoying older sister, not a freaking -Dragon-!

      I think it would have been possible to do them justice; I mean look what Peter Jackson is capable of. Or George Lucas could do it (just don't let him near the script).

      And the biggest flaw for me was that ugly, garish art direction that sought nothing but to distinguish the series from LOTR. Sickening colours and glaring overuse of CGI. So sad.