Inevitability

As is fashionable these days (and to avenge Kristine and Roman, though it was really their own fault because they didn’t listen to my advice XD), here is my Bone To Pick with Eragon.

I’ve never seen the movie, I’ve never read the book (or at least gone beyond more than a few sentences). But once upon a time, just after the fresh success of Harry Potter (and that certainly was some time ago), I had happened to be browsing in a bookstore, and, upon passing an enormous table with the more recent popular books of that time, saw the picture of a dragon on a cover. I was immediately interested. Picked up the book, opened to a random page, read around three sentences, skipped to the other paragraphs just to make sure it wasn’t an isolated case, figured that would be enough, and put the book down. “That’s strange. It reads like it was written by a teenager.” Flipped to the author section. “Oh, it is.”

The style of prose had already turned me off during the first reading; I remember thinking that it wouldn’t be able to hold my interest for more than a few sentences – it wasn’t interesting in its own sake nor was it trying to do something new. I can’t remember which sentences I had read those years ago, so I just checked for excerpts of the book online (I can’t be bothered to buy the book). The opening paragraph from the prologue:

Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world. A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air. He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.

Hmm.

To be blunt, my eyes starting wandering off from the words around that time.

[…] Between these two rode a raven-haired elven lady, who surveyed her surroundings with poise.

I remember having a hilarious read about a die-hard Tolkien fan who couldn’t stand seeing the adjective “elven” preceding a noun referring to a person or a collective of people. I have to say I can relate. Maybe it’s a personal bias on my part. Elvish v. Elven. My definitions may be makeshift, but I do think, for the greater part, notwithstanding nitpicking, “Elvish” denotes a heritage of Elves. “Elven” suggests that a person has the features of an Elf, but is not necessarily an Elf. Ticks me off a bit, that. Not that I have anything against “elven”; it’s fine by me in explanatory sentences found in reviews or blurbs, but when “elven” + “noun for person”, I tend to skip a few sentences.

Elven trees. Now there’s something.

Digressing. And that was a very personal bias, colored exceptionally by the influence of Tolkien. (In one of his letters, Tolkien did mention how it irritated him to no end that people mixed up “elvish” and “elven.”)

Anyway, I tried reading the rest of the excerpt of the Prologue, but it reminded me too much of the fantasy I wrote when I was around fifteen (i.e. needs a heck lot of work. Had tremendous fun writing it, but getting it published would be a pipedream). Prose dry and functional, and not in a clean Hemingway sense. Dialogue wooden. Plot is going to be limited and derivative (look for ragtag band of rebels somewhere). It’s fine, if not natural, to write that way as a teenager, as long as a lot of editing is going to be done afterwards. In fact it’s a good start to get someone writing. The trouble with Eragon is that I was reading the published product already.

I’m not sure I like how some critics defend it in the name of Children/Young Adult books. The children’s books I had read were a lot more original and had a lot more spark in them, even as I read through them again now. You just can’t put it next to Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Norton Juster, or Hugh Lofting. I have my differences with Rowling and Harry Potter (I stopped at the fourth book; friends said the series just went downhill from there), but as much as people said she ripped what off from who, HP is still densely filled with a lot of “Hey-why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-that” bits (or if they are ripped off too, then at least it was done so with a lot more subtlety) and still makes for a very imaginative world, instead of Someone-Else’s Trademarked World displaced into Another-Else’s Trademarked World.

Or how the “hero’s journey” archetype is an old story in the good sense, that it is timeless. I love old, timeless stories, as long as they’re told in a new way. I think there’s very little in Eragon that’s new.

(There’s actually a dwarf called Hrothgar. Poor anonymous-author-of-Beowulf.)

Maybe I am sour-graping at how something rather immature can be published, which is, I think, mostly why I don’t want to watch the movie (though the more I look at the book excerpts, the less I think so. And the movie was supposedly worse than the book). But the main Bone I’m Picking is that the author’s age can’t be an excuse for writing that needs a lot of work, children’s book or not.

Still, congratulations to Mr. Paolini for actually finishing two novels, though. Not too mean a feat.

Disclaimer: My personal opinion is that I’ve just gotten big-headed since coming back from Sydney and getting a publishing deal for one single short story.

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10 thoughts on “Inevitability

  1. A Globe and Mail writer reviewing the Eragorn video game said that the game was so badly designed that, at one point, he simply closed his eyes and hit the “attack” button until the enemies stopped screaming. When he opened them, he’d finished the level.

    Note to self: don’t write like that.

    Hrm, maybe I should get you to ghost-edit mine terrible fanfict?

  2. Hahaha, I have gotten wind of the video game from reading about Eragon in digg. That’s a pretty scathing review! (though movies still the rule the roost as being the most tactless, I think)

    I think I really have gone big-headed.

    Your “terrible” fanfic? I’ve always gotten the idea that your fanfics are quite polished and of the “intellectual” sort (sometimes I get the feeling I don’t understand half your references, especially with the wine fanfic with Altena, hehe).

    Hey, which fanfic are you working on, currently? Thought all your Noir ones were completed.

  3. Yeah, Shopping Mission is done–

    Chloe: FREEDOM!

    –…you’re in the next one, you twit…

    Chloe: *stabs*

    Ow. Anyway, next up is Azuvengers, my stab at superpowered Azumanga Daioh. Fun.

  4. Hey, is this the person I met with kyu last time at Starbucks Shangrila during the signing? (No names, no manes.) Glad to see you online! 😉

    Seriously, I never picked up the book and have no intention of watching the movie. (The CGI looks just like that– CGI. Eh.) Ironically, you have a good point about Paolini’s book sitting next to Dahl or L’Engle. A lot of people say that most of the genre books on shelves suck and I just realized that, despite the said YA tag, it will take a while before the current explosion of YA books sort themselves out to those that suck and those that will become classic. (Personally, I love Garth Nix’s stuff.)

    On the other hand, I read that Paolino’s book was first published via vanity press but thanks to his parents’ efforts, they caught the attention of a major publisher. Imagine, going school to school just to advertise their kid’s book? Now that’s dedication…

  5. Yeah, it’s me. Wow, never imagined that Banzai Cat would actually leave pawprints here, haha.

    Luckily, there’s still a lot of “classic” YA stuff in our bookstores here; at least for that I’m thankful. (I was expecting the worst, during a recent visit to the YA section.)

    Yes, I noticed the vanity press thing is a pretty huge issue too, though you’ve got people like Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe who self-published too. Haha, I did read about Paolini dressing up in a cape to advertise his book.

  6. The thing that bugs me is this: I hear so many people complaining about Eragon and yet, how did it rise to the top in the first place? I don’t want to be too hard on the guy as I am no Tolkien die-hard, but I also understand your (and everyone else’s) points. It’s still nothing special. Though the movie was a bit enjoyable… maybe because of Saphira. 😉

    (Sidenote: my girl friends were squealing over Eragon. They didn’t care if the novel was badly written, or the movie adaptation was badly played out. The fact of the matter was that Eragon was hot. And illegaly so.)

    Dropping by and adding you to my feed reader!!

  7. Hey, I’m just your normal blogging feline, yanno. And sorry for the pawprints. I promise to wipe my paws from now on. 😉

    As for the vanity thing with Poe and Whitman, heh that’s one long debate right there but won’t go into that here. 🙂

  8. I read the book and saw the movie and your analysis is right on. For me what bugged me were the farmers having to get the crops in before the frost and it was turnips and carrots. I garden and I know these root crops are frost resistant and there is no need to rush. Flying dragons who talk I can buy but his ignorance of basic gardening challenged my ability to suspend disbelief. kids lit can be great both the examples you listed as well as Kenneth Graham and EB White.It never ceases to amaze me what kind of crap can become popular (I stopped 1/2 way through the much over-rated Harry Potter). good luck with your short story.

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