I’ve been thinking about Christopher Paolini and the Inheritance series lately, and about the large quantities of virtual ink spilled over the years because of it. The series has a lot of problems with it – the derivative world-building, the Gary Stu protagonist, the clumsy insertion of the author’s views about things like vegetarianism, the screwed-up morality, the wildly unrealistic depictions of battle, and so on and so forth.
But I think a lot of the problems stem from the one thing: the author was growing up as he wrote the series.
In case you are unaware of this series, Christopher Paolini was a teenager when he wrote the book Eragon. He was initially self-published, but was almost immediately picked up by Knopf and became a bestselling author. Now, I am not saying that a young person cannot be a good writer. It doesn’t happen very often, as I’ve seen firsthand, but it can happen.
The problem is that if you read the Inheritance series, it becomes obvious that certain parts of Paolini’s beliefs, thoughts and behavior were… not set in stone. As a child, you more or less align with what your parents think and believe. When you’re a teenager, and sometimes even when you’re a twentysomething, you are figuring out what you think, how you see the world, and what you believe is right. Sometimes it ultimately aligns with what your parents think, and sometimes it doesn’t. The point is, those decisions and how you work them out are a part of growing up.
Take religion. The second book, Eldest, is extremely anti-religion, depicting the atheist elves as rational, intelligent and superior in every way, and the religious dwarves as overemotional unintelligent inferiors. Sort of like how many a douchebag atheist likes to depict the world, rather than how it actually is.
And then, at the beginning of the third book… he also features a chapter devoted to cannibalistic religious rituals that honestly feel like anti-Catholic propaganda by someone who doesn’t actually know anything about the religion.
And then… later in the book… Eragon encounters a god. It doesn’t make much of an impression, oddly.
And then in the fourth book, he sort of goes, “I dunno, maybe there are gods, but I’m so awesome and have so much power that I don’t need gods for anything, and obviously they don’t care about anyone anyway.” Which is really a very stupid and illogical perspective, especially written by a mere weak fleshy meatbag like the rest of us, but it demonstrates an evolution of thought over the course of the entire series and the better part of a decade. The perspective, which at least admits the possibility of gods, here is not the same as it was in Eldest. And while this conversation shows no deep or consistent theological musings, he still demonstrates more thought than he showed in Eldest, where the depth of his theological examinations was “LOL religious people suk and atheists are awesome.” At least he was answering points that actually sounded real, and didn’t do it in a condemnatory or bigoted manner.
Here’s another: vegetarianism. We return to Eldest once again, in which Eragon becomes a vegetarian when spending time with the Mary Sue elves. Because they’re elves, and everything they do, think and believe is absolutely perfect, and so on and so forth. This is depicted as the only moral way to live, and that animals should not suffer for human (or elf) consumption (despite Arya wearing leather clothes. Oops). I’m not going to get into a debate about the morality of eating animals, I’m just saying that this is what he presents as the unwavering moral thing to do.
And then… in Inheritance, Eragon starts being tempted by meat, and eventually he decides hey, if he’s offered meat socially, he’ll have a little, and that moderation is an acceptable way to live. After that, he starts eating meat again.
Again, it shows a change in perspective over several years, and it demonstrates that Paolini’s perspective wasn’t a particularly solid one. I’m not saying people older than their teens and early twenties can’t change their opinions or perspectives – far from it. I am saying that the time when Paolini wrote these books was a period when a person is still figuring themselves and their perspectives out.
And there are other things in the series that would point to the naiveté of youth and a lack of personal experience. For instance, the condemnation of the king levying taxes in the first book. Not excessive taxes, like in the Robin Hood folklore – just the fact that taxes exist at all. It’s very much a child’s understanding of how the world works, and it doesn’t do the book any favors to include such a childish perspective.
Simply put, Paolini was growing up and figuring himself out as he wrote these books. He would have been better served by waiting a decade before publishing anything.
For a comparison, let’s take George Lucas. When Lucas made the original Star Wars, he was considered a young bright star on the rise. But he was in his early thirties by then. He was a man. He had grown up completely. Hence why there isn’t a massive shift in perspectives over the course of the original trilogy. There are changes, such as the identity of Luke’s father, but those are more due to Lucas changing the story as he wrote it, rather than some kind of shift in the way he saw the world.
Anyway, since he has hopefully settled down in his opinions and viewpoints, I am going to give adult Paolini a chance to impress me with his new science fiction novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. As long as there are no screeds against meat or religion, anyway.