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Old 04-23-2007, 10:05 AM   #1
nekokami
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Eragon and Eldest

I was sick in bed a couple of weeks ago and desperate for something new to read. I'd acquired digital copies of Eragon and Eldest and figured, what the heck.

Eragon fell into the "mostly harmless" category. The youth of the author, Christopher Paolini (15 when he started the book) shows somewhat. Paolini set out to tell a "hero's journey" story and doesn't stray from the path. This makes the plot seem very familiar to anyone who's read much fantasy (or watched Star Wars). I was a little disappointed that Paolini had apparently borrowed so many common fantasy elements (e.g. elves and dwarves) without extending or re-interpreting them at all.

Eldest was more interesting. I think Paolini set out to deconstruct nearly every stereotype or cliche in Eragon. The difference between the writing quality of the two is considerable. Some may find the philosophizing in the middle tedious -- I found it relevant to the plot. After reading Eldest, I went back to look at Eragon again and I think the stereotypes in the first book are somewhat deliberate. Interviews with the author that I've subsequently read seem to confirm that Paolini intended this contrast between the two books. I'm interested to see where he'll go with the third. If my guesses are right, the events of the first two books will be re-interpreted yet again, with nothing as simple as it appeared on first read.

If you don't like "high fantasy," skip these, obviously. If you've read a lot of fantasy, you may want to consider Eragon as a tribute to the classics, rather than as a completely original work. It's probably worth reading before Eldest, though, which uses Eragon as a foil to contrast with different interpretations of events and themes. You'll probably need to completely disregard the marketing hype in order to enjoy either.

Happy reading,
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Old 04-23-2007, 12:04 PM   #2
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Thanks for this, neko -- I read Eragon and found it well written but also thought the charicaturization and plot development was a bit ... immature. Because of that, I decided that while I didn't really think it was bad, I had other things of more interest to me than reading its sequel. Taking your comments into consideration, however, I might just revisit that decision, so I appreciate the insight.
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Old 04-23-2007, 12:34 PM   #3
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While this isn't really my favorite genre, I have heard people consistently say that the book is much much much better than the movie, so I would hope that the movie doesn't turn away people that would enjoy the book.

... of course, that's nothing new about books turned into movies, is it?
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Old 04-23-2007, 12:48 PM   #4
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The book is not just better than the movie. It's a completely different story with almost no common elements.

I would thoroughly agree with the review, that the second book is a far richer experience than the first. The first was incredibly derivative, pulling story and characters from Sci-Fi and fantasy almost wholesale but still not a bad read if you can overlook some of the most glaring instances.
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Old 04-23-2007, 02:43 PM   #5
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I haven't even bothered with the movie. I've noticed that in interviews Paolini is always rather careful in his remarks about the movie, generally saying things like "The movie is Fox's interpretation of my story" or similar. I watched the Harry Potter films hoping for bits of info about the backstory (particularly insights into that marvelously ambiguous character, Snape), but I don't see any point in subjecting myself to a bad copy of a weak first book.

As far as that first book goes, heck, the kid was 15. I can cut him some slack. The thing I find interesting is how he was able to make use of that when writing the second book-- the immaturity of the first book comes across somewhat as the immaturity and simplistic viewpoint of the main character, and the improvement in the second book fits nicely with the character becoming more mature. Paolini did plot out all three books before writing the first one, so while some of this may be by chance, some may be by design.

As examples of changes between the two books, I found myself mentally complaining about a variety of points in the first book, e.g. generally weak female characters, dwarves borrowed wholesale from earlier authors with no enhancements (why doesn't anyone ever show us females and children?), very similar names and invented language words to Tolkein, farm boys displaying outrageous levels of previously unsuspected talent, all-evil intelligent races, wise magical creatures which choose their riders, etc. All of these were addressed at least in some measure in Eldest, usually very strongly from the first few pages, with hints of more to come in the third book. If I'm right in my suspicions about where he's going with the story, that third book has some very strong potential.

Paolini commented in an interview that when he received the audio version of Eragon and listened to it for the first time, he found himself cringing. I think every author has moments of "I can't believe I wrote that." I've heard that Knopf's editors did a lot of work with Paolini helping him clean up the first book, and a bit more might have been good, but again, I now suspect that some of the derivative content of the first book is deliberate, for contrast with the second book. If Paolini were to rewrite Eragon, I'm sure there are many things he would change. But I think his efforts would be better invested in finishing this trilogy and then going on to other stories, which is apparently what he plans on doing.

Just my 2 cents,
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Old 04-23-2007, 09:17 PM   #6
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I totally agree that the movie was almost a completely different story, much to my disappointment. I guess I had high hopes, considering how much I enjoyed the book, but when have they ever had a really good book-to-movie conversion? Anywho, you miss a ton 'o character development in the movie, quite disappointing.

I enjoyed both books quite well, though I don't philosophize too much about authors sticking to cliched characters; i.e., elves, dwarves, dragons, etc., as I expect to find these types of characters in the fantasy books I read placed in that type of setting. I actually find it quite annoying when an author attempts to redevelop a prototype from exisitng genres and call them something else.

I guess the final thing to remember about this trilogy is that Paolini was only 17 when he started it, so you have to take into mind his mindset and target audience (not necessarily us adults).
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Old 04-24-2007, 12:09 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Azayzel
... but when have they ever had a really good book-to-movie conversion?
The Princess Bride -- but that's the only one that comes to mind off-hand.
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Old 04-24-2007, 01:19 PM   #8
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@Azayzel, one example I liked of an author re-interpreting a common fantasy element (elves) is Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos books. Another is C. S. Friedman's The Madness Season, which doesn't use the word "vampire" until 3/4 of the way through the book, though by most common definitions the main character is one. It's easy to forget now that Anne McCaffrey's dragons were a pretty radical re-interpretation at the time that she first published "Weyr Search." I like this technique when it's done well, and isn't just a re-labeling of an old element with few new ideas incorporated. Then again, I like modern retellings of fairy tales as well.

@NatCh, I agree on The Princess Bride, and I wonder how much of that was due to the author (William Goldman) also being the screenwriter.
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