When I was 15, I read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I absolutely loved it. It was a fantasy with a princess and a dragon and magicians and secrets and I wished more than anything that I had written it. So I spent, like, a week plotting my own fantasy and inventing characters. There was a princess… and a dragon… and some magicians… You see where this is going. Eventually I realized that all I was doing was rewriting McKinley with different names. It wasn’t original and it wasn’t interesting. I decided imitation wasn’t the sincerest form of flattery and gave up the effort.

Christopher Paolini didn’t. He’s a weird home-schooled teenager “genius” who’s written this year’s pseudo-Harry Potter book of choice (according to the publishing industry, anyway). It’s called Eragon. It’s been getting a fair bit of hype so I picked up a copy last weekend. I regretted it as soon as I got home. There’s a gushing quote from Anne McCaffrey on the back! (I’ve never been able to get through a single Dragonriders of Pern book so her recommendation doesn’t exactly carry a lot of weight with me.)

It only got worse once I cracked it open. The first problem is the kid’s writing style. You can read some for yourself here. He actually says: “In my writing, I strive for a lyrical beauty somewhere between Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.” *snort* In practice, as far as I can tell this involves using lots of adjectives. Mountains are “forbiddingly solemn”, forests are “thickly treacherous”, and the danger is always “intensely palpable”. Once you get past the affected style, the story itself isn’t that bad… as long as you don’t mind rolling your eyes at the obvious influences. It’s like he put the Pern books, a complete set of Lord of the Rings, a dog-eared copy of Beowulf, and the shooting script of Star Wars into a blender and this is what popped out. He even prefaces the book with a map that might as well be Middle Earth. The story is full of elves, monsters, dwarves, men, dragons, men who ride dragons, etc. There’s no humour and no originality, other than in the combining of all these things. I keep waiting for hobbits to show up.

Am I being too harsh? I’m only halfway through, so maybe it gets better towards the end. Right now I’m just plugging along out of curiosity and duty. I dunno, maybe I’m just jealous that nobody ever offered to publish my derivative crap. At any rate, I can’t exactly recommend this one to the Potter fans yet.


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  1. not sure if i should admit this for all to see, but what the hell…..

    i recall apparently being so inspired by the movie “willow” that i did the same thing once, kris! ha.

  2. Never fear… I hated Eragon, too.

  3. interesting — review in the Guardian here said roughly the same thing about it being hugely derivative, but still thought the writing was pretty good… however — they did stress it was definitely for children, and not one they thought could make the cross-over like Potter or Pullman…

  4. The other problem I’m having is that it’s just BORING. It’s like Dahl’s famous critique of Tolkien, that it’s too serious and there aren’t any jokes. I haven’t laughed once so far while reading it. The Harry Potter books, even at their darkest, have a sense of humour and fun. So do the Lemony Snickets. This is just dour.

    (Sidenote: I actually burst out laughing towards the end of Stephen King’s “Wolves of the Calla” when I realized he’d worked in a reference to Harry Potter. Well done, SK.)

  5. I also hated his affected style of writing. In fact, I would go on to say I hated it so much it poisoned any enjoyment I would otherwise have been able to get while reading The Lord of the Rings later on. I *hate* it when people pull names of shit out of their ass now. It’s such a cheap way to get people feeling like something exotic is going on.

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