Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Inheritance Cycle

Titles:   Eragon; Eldest; Brisingr; Inheritance

Author:  Christopher Paolini

Rating:  *  (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
             Recommended with Reservations

Audience:  High School

This series represents a fine freshman effort by a young author, although I would say each book is at least 100 pages too long.  The books rely heavily on magical machinations, which is to say plot is usually advanced by sorcerers, spell-casting and fortune-telling, along with a large dose of mind control and ESP, not to mention some violent battle scenes.  Thus it must be recommended with reservations:  for teenagers and families who don't mind magical influence in the epic battle between good and evil.

Christopher Paolini was a homeschooled youth in Montana when he began his Inheritance Series.  Eragon was family-published when he was yet a teenager and then picked up by Knopf/Random House in 2003.  He completed the 3 sequels in 2005, 2008, 2011.  All that to say he did not rush through the process, churning out predictable volumes every 12-18 months as happens in many series.

At the same time, the series does show a few flaws, which may not trouble young fantasy fans.  Some writing is over-descriptive, or "fakey."  The plots could be mistaken for a rehash of LOTR, except the main characters seem to ramble even farther in their quests, resulting in needless backtracking.

Philosophically the series seems to lack the strong sense of right and wrong present in LOTR.  15 year-old Eragon, when faced with the death of Garrow, his mentor, states "Only a merciless, uncaring world snuffed lives like candles before a wind.  What God would do this?"  Through telepathy, his dragon Saphira tells him "The only true guide is your heart.  Nothing less than its supreme desire can help you."

Toward the end of the book, when readers are deciding which characters can be trusted and who may betray whom, Eragon states "I don't know what's right.  There aren't any answers that make sense."  Clearly, a sequel will be necessary to sort out these issues.

Fighting is fairly brutal in the first book and can be expected to increase in sequels.  One slaughter is described with "stiff corpses, soaked in blood," and mentions a "barbed spear that impaled a baby."  There is a graphic description of the beating and wounds the elf, Arya, receives as she is branded and tortured.  In a final battle, the dwarf Torkenbrand is decapitated:  "his head landed with a hard thump."

Families will have to decide how much magic they're willing to invite into their literary discussions.  Eragon is cautioned to use magic wisely as spells are dangerous and can weaken him physically, or even take his life.  In addition to the controversial white vs. black magic debate, "good" witch Angela appears as a helpful, spell-casting and fortune-telling character.  Finally, one unique plot twist in this series is the use of telepathy between characters.  This can be a useful form of communication, or can be turned into mind-control, if a character is not strong enough to block others out of his mind.  This does add to the New Age feel of the books.

Courage and integrity are commended, as Garrow warns Eragon:  "Let no one rule your mind or body.  Take special care that your thoughts remain unfettered."  "One may be a free man and yet be bound tighter than a slave.  Give men your ear, but not your heart.  Show respect for those in power, but don't follow them blindly.  Judge with logic and reason, but comment not."  Not bad advice for our youth.

Another time Eragon is admonished:  "...many people have died for their beliefs; it's actually quite common.  The real courage is in living and suffering for what you believe."  The question remains, in what does Eragon believe?

In reviewing this series I read all of Eragon and part of Brisingr.  While cumbersome and tedious for me, many fantasy fans will revel in the country and language of Alagaesia, not to mention the volumes of places and characters they will encounter.  I also watched the 2006 movie Eragon and will warn parents that a PG-13 rating would be more appropriate than the PG rating it received.

For an overview of my philosophy on magic, click here.

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