I’ve had a lot of people show up here at Semicolon looking for a Christian perspective on the fantasy series by Christopher Paolini that begins with the book, Eragon and is continued in the sequel Eldest. I’m assuming that people are interested in the books partly because of the movie version of Eragon that debuted a couple of weeks ago. So I thought it might be useful to re-run my reviews of the two books. As you can tell from reading the two reviews, I liked Eragon a lot more than I did its sequel. I do think the anti-Christian, atheistic message becomes much more blatant in the second book, but the first book is enjoyable as story and shouldn’t corrupt any young minds. I haven’t seen the movie and can’t comment on it, but Steve at Flos Carmeli saw it with his eight year old son and had this to say: “It was sufficient to entertain, entrance, captivate, and otherwise stimulate the mind and imagination of an eight-year-old boy. And so, it served its purpose well. Is it as good as other films that might do the same? Probably not.”
Semicolon book reviews (written last year 2005):
First of all, I like fantasy. I’m a Tolkien fanatic, and I’ve read and enjoyed Anne McCaffrey, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen Lawhead, Carol Kendall, and John Christopher, to name a few favorites. However, I don’t like fantasy that gets too New Age-y or heretical. It doesn’t have to have Christian themes, but I prefer that it not be blatantly anti-Christian. (I will admit that I’ve never read Harry Potter nor have I read the Dark Materials books by Pullman because I was afraid both series would be just “off” enough to annoy me. Please don’t beat me up (figuratively) for not reading these. I know I may be wrong about either or both series.) So when I heard about Eragon,, a very popular fantasy novel mostly about dragons, I adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Dragons can be used to glorify evil in the wrong author’s hands.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised by Eragon. I wouldn’t say that the novel was profound or made me think deep thoughts, but it was a really good story, as advertised. I can see Tolkien influences in it as well as some resemblance to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, but Eragon is not a cheap copy of anyone else’s fantasy as far as I can tell. Christopher Paolini, a homeschooled teenager when he wrote the book, knows how to tell an absorbing story that kept me reading until after midnight last night just to see what would happen to Eragon and his dragon friend Saphira.
Maybe you already know the story of the writing and publication of Eragon: Christopher Paolini finished homeschool high school at age fifteen. He could have gone to college, but he decided to wait a while and write a book instead. He read books about writing, wrote his own book, and then showed it to his parents who owned a small publishing company. Christopher’s parents published the novel, and Christopher himself went on an author tour in the Northwest where his family lives to promote the book. Someone with connections in the publishing world read the book and liked it, and Knopf (Random House) re-published the book. It became a best-seller in 2003-4.
Eragon is the first book in a projected trilogy called the Inheritance trilogy. I will be getting the other two books in the series when they’re published in order to find out what happens next in the land of Alagaesia. I will also suggest that Computer Guru Son read this book. He’s been reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in anticipation of the release of the much-hyped movie version. He really should like Eragon.
NOTE: If you’ve not read Eldest by Christopher Paolini nor seen the movies from which it borrows freely, here there be spoilers!
An orphan boy who knows little or nothing about his parentage grows up on his uncle’s farm far from the political center of the Empire. Because the boy accidentally finds something that evil Emperor wants, the Empire sends soldiers to capture the boy. He escapes, but they destroy his uncle’s farm and kill his uncle. He is befriended by a wise mentor who teaches him to use the forces of “magic” to protect himself and to defeat his enemies. He pursues the agents of the Empire and eventually is able to rescue a young woman who has been captured by the Empire, but his teacher dies at the hand of the Emperor’s soldiers. Our young hero travels through many dangers to join the forces of the rebels against the Empire, and he is able to help them win a key battle fighting an Imperial army. However, he is wounded in the battle, and he comes to realize that he must have more training if he is to finally defeat the Evil Emperor and his henchmen. He goes to a hidden land and finds there another teacher whom he calls “Master.” His training involves swordplay, meditation, and learning the many uses of magic. Before his training is complete, he must leave to go and help the rebels who are under attack by the Emperor. Near the end of part 2 of the story, the hero finds out that his father is really the Emperor’s right-hand man, an evil traitor.
Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?
How about this? A young immature hero travels with a dwarf and an elf through a mythical land. They must find a way to defeat the Evil Lord of the land who wishes to make all living creatures his slaves. Only an alliance of men, elves, and dwarves (with a few other assorted creatures thrown in for good measure) can hope to defeat the overwhelming forces of evil.
OK, one more. Dragons hatch from eggs and upon hatching choose a human partner, a dragonrider, with whom they share a telepathic connection. The dragonrider and his or her dragon work together to keep the peace and defeat the enemies of peace. They are almost inseparable and come know each other in a way that mere friends cannot understand or emulate.
I don’t mean to be too critical, and there are many things to like about Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Trilogy, the first two books of which are Eragon and Eldest. But I must say that as I read through Eldest, in particular, I kept feeling as though I had read this story before somewhere. I like fantasy, but this trilogy is far too long and not nearly as absorbing as the stories it borrows from. As you can read in my review of Eragon, I began by being skeptical about that book, and ended up liking it very much. However, Eldest just didn’t hang onto the goodwill built up in my enjoyment of Eragon. I found myself skimming–a lot.
I did like the parts about Eragon’s cousin, Roran, and the villagers that Eragon left behind when he left to become a hero and pursue revenge against his uncle’s murderers. I also enjoyed the description of the elves’ celebration of Agaeti Blodhren which featured a sort of craft/poetry exhibition in which each person in attendance brought something he had created or written. The battle scene was well done, but hard to follow, probably because of the aforementioned skimming (my fault).
I’ve had many people come to this blog looking for a Christian perspective on Eragon. I certainly can’t claim to give The Christian Viewpoint on the books, but I do have a couple of observations. First of all, I don’t believe The Inheritance Trilogy derives from a Christian worldview. Religion is dealt with in this second book of the trilogy. The dwarves are polytheistic; they worship many gods represented by idols of stone, including a creator-god named Helzvog. Their beliefs and practices sound rather Norse in origin. Humans, according to Eragon, “lacked a single overriding doctrine, but they did share a collection of superstitions and rituals, most of which concerned warding off bad luck.” Basic pagan superstition. The elves of Alagaesia, however, the epitome of the fantasy’s civilization, do not worship anyone or anything. When Eragon asks his master what elves believe, this is the reply:
We believe the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that. by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat. . . . I cannot prove that gods do not exist. Nor can I prove that the world and everything in it was not created by an entity or entities in the distant past. But I can tell you that in the millennia we elves have studied nature, we have never witnessed an instance where the rules that govern the world have been broken. That is, we have never seen a miracle. . . . Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny and countless other miseries stalk the land. If this is the handiwork of divine beings, then they are to be rebelled against and overthrown, not given obeisance, obedience, and reverence.”
So in the world of Alagaesia, we can choose between pagan polytheistic idol worship, pagan superstition, and “enlightened” closed-system scientism. Those options are limited and short-sighted. In addition, the themes of meditating and becoming one with nature and wielding magical powers for the good of all humanity are not Christian, but rather New Age spiritualism.
If you’ve read Eldest and disagree with my opinion, you’re free to share your ideas about the book in the comments. I’m rather disappointed that with such a promising beginning in Eragon, Mr. Paolini didn’t give us a better sequel.