Thoughts on Christopher Paolini's epic
Over the past few months I have been slowly reading through Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr, the 3rd book in his Inheritance cycle. The book so far has shown a remarkable improvement in both Paolini’s writing style and growth as a writer. That said, I have enjoyed what I have read until this point (about a quarter of the book left). The other night I came across a scene in the story that I felt was out of place in this epic tale of dragons, dwarves, and elves.
The scene in question involved the title character, Eragon, going to visit the mother of a dwarf who had died protecting Eragon’s life. As this dwarf mother mourned for her son, she prayed to the dwarf gods. This lead Eragon to contemplate a bit of theology. Take a look at the quoted section below and then we’ll continue.
She said, “Tonight Kvistor will dine in Morgothal’s hall. That I know.” She kissed her amulet again. “I wish I might break bread with him, along with mine husband, Bauden, but it is not mine time to sleep in the catacombs of Tronjheim, and Morgothal refuses entry to his hall to those who quicken their arrival. But in time, our family shall be reunited, including all of our ancestors since Guntera created the world from darkness. That I know.”
Eragon knelt next to her, and in a hoarse voice, he asked, “How do you know this?”
“I know because it is so.” Her movements slow and respectful, Glumra touched the chiseled fee of each of the gods with the tips of her fingers. “How could it not be otherwise? Since the world could not have created itself any more than a sword or a helm might, and since the only beings with the wherewithal to forge the earth and the heavens into shape are those with divine power, it is to the gods we must look for our answers. Them I trust to ensure the rightness of the world, and by mine trust, I free myself of the burdens of mine flesh.”
She spoke with such conviction, Eragon felt a sudden desire to share in her belief. He longed to toss aside his doubts and fears and to know that, however horrible the world might seem at times, life was not mere confusion. He wished to know for certain that who he was would not end if a sword should shear off his head and that one day he would meet again with Brom, Garrow, and everyone else he had cared for and lost. A desperate yearning for hope and comfort filled him, confused him, left him unsteady upon the face of the earth.
Part of himself held back and would not allow him to commit to the dwarf gods and bind his identity and his sense of well-being to something he did not understand. He also had difficulty accepting that if gods did exist, the dwarf gods were the only ones. Eragon was certain that if he asked Nar Garzhvog or a member of the nomad tribes, or even the black priests of Helgrind, if their gods were real, they would uphold the supremacy of their deities just as vigorously as Glumra would uphold hers. How am I supposed to know which religion is the true religion? he wondered. Just because someone follows a certain faith does not necessarily mean it is the right path. . . . Perhaps no one religion contains all the truth of the world. Perhaps ever religion contains fragments of the truth and it is our responsibility to identify those fragments and piece them together. Or perhaps the elves are right and there are no gods. But how can I know for sure? – Brisingr, p477-479
Notice several things here:
- Talk of grief and assurance of something beyond ourselves.
- The worldview that suicide denies entry into Heaven or the beyond.
- The longing for assurance that there is something bigger/ beyond ourselves.
- Human nature – to not want to relinquish control.
- Questions of where we come from/ who created us.
- Doubt – perhaps there are gods? perhaps there is not?
- Universalism – all religions have pieces of truth that eventually form Voltron and end up in the same destination.
- Athiesm -the elves. What is interesting about this is that the elves, in the world of Eragon, practice a sort of nature magic.
- Lack of absolutes – there is no absolute truth. What is true for me is not necessarily true for you.
I write all of this not to say that theology has no place in a tale of fantasy. (The Narnian Chronicles are a fantastic example of theology being weaved into a story in an indirect way.) I believe that discussions of such are good as long as they do not draw the reader out of the main story. In regards to this scene in Brisingr, I felt that Paolini dealing with Eragon’s struggle with faith, a struggle not let onto until this very moment in this 1000+ page series, was forced. Sure one could argue that Eragon is contemplating faith and the afterlife due to the death of his guardsmen. If this was true though, why didn’t Eragon go through a similar crisis when his mentor Brom died in the first book? Perhaps this theme of faith struggle is echoed in future pages of the series? Time and the speed of my own personal reading will soon answer that question in regards to Brisingr.
While I applaud Christopher Paolini’s efforts in exploring themes of doubt and faith, I also feel like I have been duped. As asked above, why suddenly have a conversation that hasn’t been apart of Eragon’s life or has been explored earlier in the series? The author’s worldview is unknown to me. I would love to know where he is coming from and if this specific faith conversation reflects questioning going on in his own personal life. For now I proceed with caution…there could be dragons about.
What do you think?