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.
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.