Study Guide

Eragon Themes

By Christopher Paolini

  • Language and Communication

    Language and communication? Seriously? In a book about dragons? Well, hear us out. We'd like to proclaim (hold on while we grab our megaphone) that language and communication bring the fantasy to life in Eragon. Ever wondered how to say "rock" in dwarvish? How about the magic word for "fire"? This book has the answers—just flip to the glossary at the back. No joke. This book comes with its own stinkin' glossary.

    Not only do we get strange, new languages in Eragon, but we also get new modes of communication. Eragon and Saphira have a mental bond that allows them to communicate telepathically, for crying out loud. That's some serious communication if you ask us. In the end, the way our hero talks to his dragon and to the rest of the world is a direct reflection of both his own power and the power of communication in general.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. If magic is just a language, as Brom teaches, then why can't everyone learn it?
    2. How does Eragon's mental link with Saphira differ from the other mental links he experiences in the book? 
    3. How much of Eragon's power comes from his ability to link minds with his dragon, and how much is his own innate strength? 50/50 split? More? Less? 
    4. What would it take to truly understand a person, the way Eragon and Saphira truly understand each other? 

    Chew on This

    Eragon's true power comes from his ability to link minds and communicate with every living being.

    In Eragon, magic is not some crazy power that comes from a wand. It's the natural result of truly understanding the world and being able to express that understanding in words.

  • Friendship

    The great metaphysical poet John Donne once wrote, "No man is an island." What he meant is this: nobody goes through life on their own. In Eragon, this is definitely the case for our hero. Though he faces down Shades, Urgals, and lots of other baddies, Eragon always has peeps in his corner to help him win the day. They range from a blue dragon, to an old warrior, to a skilled swordsman with a mysterious past. In every case, their friendship with Eragon goes to show that even the most heroic among us must depend upon the support of our closest pals.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How does Eragon's lack of a father growing up affect his reliance on the friendship of others?
    2. Is Brom a good friend to Eragon? Or are the lessons that he delivers done out of a sense of duty?
    3. Does Murtagh fight with Eragon for friendship? Or does he have other reasons? 
    4. Is Eragon right to question his friendship with Murtagh when he cuts off the head a defenseless man? 
    5. What do you make of Saphira's jealousy of Arya? Does she see her relationship with Eragon as a friendship or something more?

    Chew on This

    Eragon wouldn't be a hero if it weren't for the help of his friends.

    Eragon shows us that friendship is earned by acts of faith and not just given away freely.

  • The Home

    Carvahall, Eragon's home, is a sleepy little village tucked away in a secluded corner of Alagaësia. Imagine Smallville, Superman's hometown, except without any of the super-strong babies. (Heroes yes, but only the baby dragons are super strong.) But Eragon's home is more importantly his Uncle Garrow, cousin Roran, and the farm they tend together—you know, where the heart is. Our hero loses all of that early on in Eragon, and he's forced on a quest. And hey, maybe that quest will lead him to a place where he can find the same peace and security that has been taken from him by the forces of evil.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Which characters in Eragon provide stand-ins for the home and family that Eragon loses at the start of the book? How does each of these characters do that differently?
    2. What is it about his stay in Teirm, do you think, that makes Eragon feel so at home? 
    3. Compare/contrast Eragon's attitudes toward his home with Murtagh's attitudes toward his. Do you think they have anything in common when it comes to their view of home? 
    4. Why do you think his stay in Tronjheim makes Eragon feel so homesick, as compared to the other cities he has seen in his travels? 

    Chew on This

    In order to truly be a hero, Eragon must leave his home behind.

    Eragon can never truly abandon his home. His connection to his home, in fact, is what sustains him through his most difficult trials.

  • Strength and Skill

    In a land ruled by an evil king, brute power is what makes the world go 'round. Eragon's Alagaësia is no exception. The strong prey on the weak, and the weak have very little to say about it. But that's where our hero comes in. Does he defend the weak with a sophisticated P.R. campaign? Not a chance. He learns how to swing a sword, cast a spell, and ride a dragon. Power—both natural and supernatural—is the currency of influence in this world. The stronger Eragon gets, the more good he can spread in the world, and the more baddies he can beat (literally).

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. What is the source of Eragon's power? Does it come from within? From another person/being? Somewhere else? 
    2. Do you think Eragon would be as heroic as he is without all his powers? Do you see anything heroic about his character? Or is it the sword-fighting and dragon-riding that make him a hero? Explain your answer. 
    3. When Murtagh overpowers the slaver Torkenbrand and chops off his head, whose reaction to you side with? Murtagh's? Or Eragon's? Why?
    4. Do you think Eragon owes the growth of his skills more to Brom or to Saphira? Explain. 

    Chew on This

    Eragon shows us that strength without wisdom is meaningless.

    The development of Eragon's powers is directly related to the development of his maturity as a person.

  • Identity

    In the novel Eragon, Eragon is not really Eragon. Wait, let's try that again. What we mean is that the hero of our novel bears the burden (or gift, depending on how you look at it) of the original Rider, who just so happened to be named Eragon. Having your identity handed to you with your name may seem a bit of a challenge, and that's precisely what our Eragon has to work out in this book. Who is he, really? It's a question that he struggles with, and at the same time it's a question that seems to have been answered before he was even born.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Does Eragon see his name as a gift or a burden? Explain your answer.
    2. In what ways does Eragon's family situation (raised by uncles, never knowing his parents) undermine his sense of self and identity? In what ways does his family provide him with a sense of identity?
    3. Do you think Eragon's fate is already decided, thanks to his name? Could he go back to farming if he wanted to? 
    4. What is it about knowing a person's "secret name," do you think, that allows a magician to have power over someone else? 

    Chew on This

    Eragon would be a hero no matter what his name was.

    Eragon shows us that the legacy of those who came before you will determine your identity.

  • Fate and Free Will

    The role of Fate, or a person's "wyrd," is on a lot of characters' minds in Eragon. And that means it's on our minds, too. Saphira, the dragon, sees reality as a pre-ordained series of events. As a result, she doesn't stress much—life to her seems to happen as it's meant to. Eragon, on the other hand, has a harder time accepting the role of Fate in his life. Does inheriting heroic status, and a dragon to boot, mean that he's got no free will of his own? If he does have free will, which choices are the right ones to make? Big questions, right? Luckily, Eragon's got a host of friends to help him out with the answers.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Why do you think Saphira believes in fate so strongly? 
    2. According to his fortune, Eragon is one of the few people in the story with free will. How does that fit with his fate to be a Rider and inherit the original Eragon's legacy? Can one have both free will and, at the same time, be subject to fate? 
    3. Do you think that Brom's fate to fail in everything but one task makes him a nobler or more pathetic character? Why? 
    4. Is simply accepting your "wyrd," or fate, just a way to stop worrying about the consequences of your actions and decisions? 

    Chew on This

    Eragon shows us that a blind acceptance of destiny is a dangerous thing.

    Ironically, it's the intervention of fate that allows Eragon the chance to exercise his free will. (How about that?)

  • Good vs. Evil

    You want an epic struggle between two opposing moral poles of the universe? You've come to the right place. Eragon is more than just the story of a fellow and his dragon. They find themselves in the middle of a war to turn back an evil tide of monsters and magicians. It's not just a morality tale of rock 'em, sock 'em robots, though. Along the way, our hero must confront what it means to be evil, and how hard it is at times to be good. We think that he's a better hero for it, though, which makes him even good-er in our eyes! (Er, better…we meant better.)

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Does King Galbatorix have any other motivations than just to bring evil to the world? 
    2. What do you think of Murtagh's beheading of Torkenbrand? An act of good? Evil? A bit of both? Explain. 
    3. Would Eragon be so…good, if his foes weren't so evil? Does Eragon depend on the existence of evil in order to do good? Why or why not? 
    4. Is Durza the Shade a purely evil character? Since we get a wee smidge of his backstory when Eragon enters his mind, does that explain some of his evil actions to you? Or is he just a bad baddie, through and through? Why? 

    Chew on This

    Eragon exists in a universe where there is either good or evil. There is no middle ground.

    Eragon's most heroic quality is his ability to question the application of terms like "good" and "evil" to explain people's motivations. A real hero looks beyond simple labels.

  • The Supernatural

    As a novel smack dab in the fantasy genre, supernatural is front and center in Eragon. You want elves? This book's got 'em. How about dwarves? Lots of dwarves here. Magic, dragons, evil monsters? Check, check, and check. One of the central journeys of the book (you could argue that is the central journey) is the transformation of Eragon himself from a regular old turnip farmer into a master of supernatural abilities. His world is entirely changed by supernatural forces and he must enter a whole new reality of magic and mysticism. Luckily, it's a ride that we as readers get to go on, too. Sweet deal.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Are there some things about the supernatural (like dark magic) that should never be known, never see the light of day?
    2. Which of the two worlds—his regular, human world or the supernatural, magic world—do you think Eragon is most comfortable in? Explain your answer.
    3. Do you think that being supernatural (e.g., an elf, dwarf, or dragon) acts as a barrier to understanding human beings? Or is it somehow helpful? Why do you think so? 
    4. Do you think that Eragon's supernatural powers change his character in any way? Or is he the same farm boy at heart? Why? 

    Chew on This

    Despite its supernatural elements, Eragon is a very conventional story about one boy's maturation into adulthood: this is a coming-of-age story, through and through.

    Without his supernatural powers, Eragon could not be the hero that he becomes.

  • Coming of Age

    When we first meet him, Eragon is a simple farm boy, scratching out a living in a forgotten corner of his world. When we say good-bye to him at the end of the novel, he's transformed into a full-fledged Dragon Rider. The bulk of Eragon is about the journey he takes to make that transformation and assume the power and responsibility that he's inherited. At the end of the book, his newfound maturity can be seen as the climax, or turning point, of his story. No more turnips for this guy. He may have come into the story a boy, but he rides off on Saphira as a man.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. Do you think Eragon could have reached the same level of maturity without Brom's teachings? Why or why not? 
    2. Even though you aren't a Dragon Rider (we don't think), how do Eragon's challenges of growing up (making mistakes and learning from them) mirror your own experiences? How are they different? 
    3. Why is it important for Eragon to become an independent person, as Ajihad wishes for him to be? 
    4. Are you convinced that, by the book's end, Eragon has learned all he needs to know to be a Rider? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In the book, Eragon's maturity can be measured by his abilities as a fighter. The better a fighter he is, the more mature we know him to be.

    It's not his strategy in battle that marks Eragon's maturity. It's his understanding of the wider world and his role in it.

  • Exploration

    When a book begins with a map (the way our 2002, Alfred A. Knopf edition of Eragon does), you know that you're in for exploring. As readers, we follow Eragon all over Alagaësia and even beyond. Through his travels, we learn more and more about the world he lives in: its people, its customs, and its conflicts. Exploration is more than an exercise in geography, though. For Eragon, his travels are a journey that lead him to a stronger sense of self, and a deeper understanding of his responsibilities as a powerful Dragon Rider.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Do you see life, as Brom does, as one big process of travel and exploration? Does his metaphor make sense to you? How about death? Do you see it as "the greatest adventure of all"? 
    2. How might Eragon's enthusiasm for exploring new places be a potentially dangerous thing? (Consider his experience in Dras-Leona, for example.) 
    3. Compare your attitude to Eragon's: how do you feel about exploration? Is it something you love to do, or would you rather stay at home around the people and things you know? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    The most important voyage Eragon undertakes can't be traced on any kind of map. It's an internal voyage, a quest for finding his true self.

    Part of what makes Eragon heroic is his willingness to explore new places and encounter new people and ideas.