Eragon is Eragon, but he's also Eragon. Huh? Come again? The title of this book obviously is the name of our story's hero. (Although it's not his secret name—for more on that, see "Themes: Identity," but then rush right back here.) But our Eragon is not the first Eragon to come down the pike. He's actually named for another Eragon: an elf and the first Dragon Rider.
In this way, this seemingly super-simple title neatly sums up one of the central dilemmas that Eragon faces in this book: the burden of the Dragon Rider legacy. It's important to remember that Eragon did not go online to DragonRider.net and fill out an application to become one of these mythical heroes. Instead, he inherits this power with his name. In this way, the title both tells us who the book is about (Eragon), and also what the book is about (Eragon's quest to fulfill his legacy).
Pretty clever for a teenaged author, don't you think?
The Battle of Farthen Dûr is a nasty, back and forth slugfest whose conclusion ties up some loose ends for us. Throughout Eragon, we see the long arm of the evil King Galbatorix try to reach out and snatch Eragon and Saphira up in his claws. While the novel begins with them chasing the Ra'zac to avenge Eragon's dead Uncle Garrow, at some point the roles reverse and the hunters become the hunted.
After they're chased all the way to the Varden's hideout in the mountain of Farthen Dûr, though, the chase comes to an end. No more cat and mouse games. After the Urgals make their way into the tunnels under the Varden's city of Tronjheim, their backs are against the wall. It is time to get it on.
The Varden prepare defenses, and then wait for the Urgals to show their ugly mugs. When they finally do, we really wish this guy were on hand before the fighting starts to go down. In any case, the battle eventually goes the way of the good guys, after Eragon manages to slay Durza the Shade. Party time, right?
Well, not exactly. The battle has cost the Varden dearly, and they lose their leader Ajihad in a sneak attack. For his part, Eragon is pretty badly scratched up by Durza. As he lies in recovery, he reflects upon his newfound status as a legit Dragon Rider. It seems that the battle has given him the confidence to at long last accept his destiny.
Oh, and don't forget: Eragon is also visited in his mind by the Cripple Who is Whole. This voice promises Eragon answers and protection, and the last thing we see is his resolution to go with Saphira and seek this person out. Can someone say sequel?
When a book starts with a map, you know that the setting is going to be a big deal. A lot of fantasy novels (like The Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones series) start off this way. The idea is to give us a handy reference guide to this entirely new world that we'll be exploring. These new lands, with their own histories, politics, and geography, really go a long way in putting the "fantasy" into fantasy novels. And Eragon is no exception.
The setting for Eragon starts in the fictional country of Alagaësia. This land is under the rule of the evil King Galbatorix, who is charge of a larger piece of land called simply "the Empire" (not that Empire). In his travels, Eragon sees a lot of Alagaësia, as he leaves his sheltered valley of Palancar and the Spine Mountains to voyage to the plains and coast and cities of his home country.
Think about that for a second. Eragon, much like us, starts off not knowing very much about this land. Luckily for us, though, he's got a burning curiosity to see what's going on beyond the borders of his sleepy little village of Carvahall. As he travels from his protective valley to the wide open plains, then to the coastal lands, as well as to the bustling cities of this world, the world of Eragon opens up before us.
That world is modeled after what we know of the so-called Middle Ages of our own time. People ride on horses instead of in cars; they use swords instead of guns; they wear robes and tunics instead of hypercolor shirts. (Maybe we've revealed too much about our fashion sense here.) It's a world that we know only through history books, but it's one that is very vividly brought to life through Eragon's explorations. We can practically hear the blacksmith hammers ringing on the anvils and the horses gallop over cobblestone streets.
As if that weren't enough, Eragon's travels lead him out of this more familiar world of Middle Age cities and villages. We go with him beyond the borders of the Empire and beyond the king's control. He crosses the mighty Hadarac Desert and makes his way through the formidable Boer Mountains. It's as if the more extreme the landscape, the more intense the challenges will be for our hero. When he comes at last to Tronjheim—a city built inside a volcano—we know that our hero will be facing his toughest challenge yet.
In all, the setting allows us the chance to explore a whole new, though not entirely alien, world. It also reflects both the comforts and challenges of our hero. Ultimately, the detailed history and geography of the book are a big part of what helped to put Eragon on the… map. (We know, we know, but we just couldn't resist.)
P.S. For more on setting, check out what we have to say about the theme of "Exploration."
As an action-packed, plot-driven fantasy novel, Eragon is pretty straightforward and accessible.The most challenging parts of the novel involve the ancient vocabulary that's used by elves, dwarves, and magicians. Even still, there's a handy glossary at the back to help us both with definitions and pronunciations Thanks, Paolini. That should come in handy at our next book club meeting.
Yes, Saphira is a major character, and yes, she also happens to be a dragon. So what could she possibly have to symbolize? Let's take a look.
If you consider how closely linked Saphira is to Eragon (and you can't possibly get any closer than sharing a telepathic mental link—just ask Professor X), you might start to think, hmm, where is Shmoop going with this? We think that Saphira's development also represents Eragon's. For example, Saphira's birth (when she hatches out of her egg) is also a sign of Eragon's birth—not his actual birth, of course, but the birth of the person he's destined to become: a Dragon Rider.
As Saphira grows, Eragon develops right alongside her. Check out Eragon's reflections on the day of his sixteenth birthday:
At nearly six months of age, Saphira was much larger. Her wings were massive; every inch of them was needed to lift her muscular body and thick bones. The fangs that jutted out from her jaw were nearly as thick around as Eragon's fist (39.15)
Now why would we get these details on Eragon's birthday? It's clear that, as he ages and develops, so does Saphira.
One last example: the climactic battle of Farthen Dûr. Just before Eragon kills Durza the Shade once and for all, Saphira crashes through the roof and we see that "[h]er jaws were open and from them erupted a great tongue of flame, bright yellow and tinged with blue" (58.78). Is it a coincidence that, as Saphira breathes for the first time, Eragon is able to finally kill his foe?
After killing Durza, Eragon reflects that he's ready to assume the responsibilities of a Dragon Rider. Saphira can breathe fire and Eragon can step up to his destiny. We'd say they've both done some major maturing in this here book.
How can a sword be evil? Well, give it an owner whose title is "last of the Forsworn" and you're pretty much set. In the service of the wretched King Galbatorix, we can only shudder to think about what terrible deeds were committed by that sword. Still, after Brom kills Morzan, he takes the sword for himself, eventually passing it on to Eragon.
This sword seriously gets around.
Practically speaking, Eragon uses Zar'roc because he doesn't have another sword to fight with. As we know, he's also not swimming in cash and can't really buy another one. So this cursed sword is all he has. And it's not winning him any popularity contests, especially when he visits the Varden and the dwarf King Hrothgar: "I see that you carry an enemy's sword […] It does not please me to see this weapon" (55.31). So why would Eragon keep using it?
Maybe it has something to do with Saphira's advice. She tells Eragon
Zar'roc may have a bloody history, but that should not shape your actions. Forge a new history for it, and carry it with pride. (55.3)
Whoa. The sword almost becomes a symbol of Eragon's free will. Can he use his powers to make a change in the world? Or will he be doomed to repeat the events of the past? Dun dun dun…
When Eragon slays Durza with Zar'roc, we have our answer. Once used for evil, now Zar'roc is used for good. Eragon's is able to forge his own path in the world, to be his own person, and, ultimately, to create his own destiny. [Cue movie trailer music.]
The Varden are an interesting group. They are first and foremost rebels, outlaws, bandits for justice. They aim to kick the evil King Galbatorix off the throne and tear down the Empire that he's built. Sounds pretty sweet to us.
But when Eragon and Saphira finally visit the Varden in their mountain hideout of Farthen Dûr, the reality is much more complicated. As the Varden leader Ajihad explains:
the Varden are in an extremely delicate position. On the one hand, we have to comply with the elves' wishes if we want to keep them as allies. At the same time, we cannot anger the dwarves if we wish to lodge in Tronjheim. (52.64)
Hmm. Special interest groups, political maneuvers… sound familiar?
The politics that Ajihad must negotiate are really no different from the competing interests at work in any robust democracy. People who share a common country nonetheless strive for radically different things.
In this case, the Varden share a hatred of the Empire with the dwarves and elves, but the elves want the next Rider to be one of them, and the dwarves want the dragons booted out of Farthen Dûr for good. It's up to Ajihad to manage these competing interests in a role that's symbolic of any democratic leader, or president. We bet that King Galbatorix doesn't have this problem, but then again, tyrants tend to streamline government. That's because it's his way, or the off-with-your-head way.
Magic "is the basis for all power. The language describes the true nature of things, not the superficial aspects that everyone sees" (19.50).
Two things we learned from this Brom gem:
(1) Holy crap.
(2) Magic is a language.
We'll focus on the second part. Magic and language are completely intertwined. Brom tells Eragon, "if you wish to employ the power, you must utter the word or phrase of the ancient language that describes your intent" (20.22). In order to become a proficient magic user, then, Eragon must learn the "true" language of the world around him. This kind of powerful insight is required if he's going to be able manipulate reality. So it's not just about reading a bunch of hocus pocus out of a spell book, it's about crafting a true understanding of reality. Deep.
In this way, Eragon's development as a magic user is a symbol of his growth as a person. As he matures, his magical power grows, but so does his understanding and acceptance of the world. He's more cautious about wielding his power, since he's better able to process the consequences and has a better grasp of reality. Oddly, that grasp of reality comes by studying magic—but magic is a reality in the world of Eragon.
Eragon is set in an entirely new world, with its own created history, politics, and even geography. While we may recognize elements of this world in our own, we're dealing with fantasy here, folks. Frankly, nobody who lives in Alagaësia has ever read Shakespeare. Or Milton. Or, heck, even J.R.R. Tolkien. So, there are no real shout-outs to speak of, since the characters' references are all either to invented books or invented histories.