Christopher Paolini’s fantasy Dragon series Inheritance Cycle was a rocky roller coaster of ups and downs, tracking the author’s growth as an artist and adult.
The 2002 smash hit novel Eragon followed the titular farm boy character as the teenager came into his own as a Dragon Rider. Stemming from the prodigious teenage mind of Paolini, the series was often compared to the formula the Star Wars series crafted. And for me, that was both cozy and okay.
In this iteration of Subjectify Media’s Third Thursday Throwbacks, our team continues to discover media of the past that catches our interest and is deemed worthy talking about again. While they may not be current, the different shows, movies, books and more that we cover will enchant you in ways you may not have imagined.
Follow me on this journey of magic, Elves, royalty, war, love, violence, and passion as I tangle myself in the roots of the Menoa Tree, ending with a moving and well-paced finale to the tetralogy.
Eragon felt like a familiar story I had already read or watched somewhere else. Eragon’s enthusiasm, soon coupled with his grief and revenge for his slain uncle, drove the youth to join storyteller Brom and young Dragon Saphira on a grand and beautiful trek through the magical nation of Alagaësia. Hunting the Ra’zac, the bird-like humanoids that killed his uncle, Eragon soon realized the evil forces of King Galbatorix of The Empire were interested in recruiting Eragon and his Dragon into their ranks. For points of reference, Paolini included a hand-drawn map and glossary of words used in the various languages of Alagaësia. It was a bit overwhelming to constantly refer back to the map and glossary, but both pieces were fairly impressive technical feats.
I found my best approach to getting through all of the books in the Inheritance Cycle was to simply keep pushing through. Though the first book had the most memorable set pieces and magical discoveries, a few beats carried on to the point of boredom. Having attempted and failed to make it through the Inheritance Cycle as a teen, I knew the only way I’d finish the four-book series this time around would be to let my mind gloss over some of the tedious political scenes.
There were plenty of moments of grandeur to capture my interest in Paolini’s descriptions of the landscapes of Alagaësia. Two that stood out to me were Eragon’s observations of the cathedral of clouds in the Hadarac Desert storm, along with the end-of-the-day conversation Eragon and Saphira had while overlooking the hills at sunset near the city of Teirm.
Paolini’s obvious strength was his ability to convey vistas, with him attributing this natural talent to his upbringing in the mountain valley of Paradise City, Montana. Paolini noted in both Eragon’s narration and his post-book interviews of the author’s fascination with the overwhelming power of Mother Nature. She could change at a moment’s notice, and Her power ruled over all. Beautiful and dangerous, storms and landscapes proved to be most of Eragon’s main adversaries in the first book in the series.
Eragon’s newly hatched Dragon Saphira’s sudden growth was goofy, and her ability to speak and understand complicated concepts from a young age was far-fetched. I made the conscious effort to “just go with it”; if I fought that tide, I might never make it through the other instances of Dragon magic deus ex machina. I rarely found Saphira interesting, although I wanted to. I was invested in Eragon’s struggles, but Saphira always felt powerful and wise enough to fend for herself.
Around when Eragon’s teacher and travel companion Brom died at the hands of the Ra’zac, our second series protagonist joined the fray. Teen heartthrob Murtagh was the thirst trap we all fell for. I have always found myself attracted to male characters with tortured pasts and a desire to rise up from their disturbing childhoods (see: Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender).
As the series progressed, this formula paid off in dividends. Paolini’s tellings of Murtagh as the darkest of the books’ tritagonists proved compelling and dynamic. In particular, Murtagh’s strength in defying the malicious intents of the mind-reading Twins was inspiring, and sold him as a character worth investing emotional interest in. Murtagh was hesitant to join Eragon in the rebellion against The Empire, demonstrating the caution Eragon needed to proceed with as he joined The Varden’s forces.
A crutch Paolini leaned on was the brutal torture of women. Elvin royal Arya was the first of the three captured and tortured women in the series. Her tale of defiance for the sake of protecting Saphira’s egg broke my heart more so than the others to come. As a one-off, it might have been acceptable, maybe, for Arya to have endured such extended tortures at the hands of Durza the Shade. This habit of handing over women to evil king Galbatorix and his henchmen was tired and dated. The tortures were described in detail, with the worst to come in Paolini’s finale. Come the final book, it was almost as if Paolini felt a driving thirst for more extreme violence, what with his self-described interest in crafting an interwoven horror story. More on that to come in Inheritance.
Despite her disturbing introduction, Arya was my standout favorite character in the series. I’m confused about where everything about her came from, but the interview after the fourth book’s audiobook narration between Paolini and editor Michelle Frey helped clarify Arya’s strength and balance. In the interview, Frey spoke about how she helped guide Paolini to let Arya act outside of Eragon’s volition. Frey wanted Arya to not fit Eragon’s romanticized view of the Elf. This influence on Paolini’s young mind was a saving grace, as it kept me interested in many of the action sequences involving the heir to Elvan land of Ellesméra’s throne. After all, it was Arya who set up Durza’s kill for Eragon. Eragon’s critics and even Eragon himself acknowledged the farm boy’s right-place-right-time heroism. Thank you, Arya.
Angela the Herbalist’s fortune-telling was fun, but also pigeonholed the series. With Eragon being Paolini’s first major publication, he let himself fall prey to the attractive trap of telling your whole story before the conclusion of the first book. From there on out, the Inheritance Cycle was painfully predictable. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy most of my time reading from Eragon’s perspective; I did. Eragon’s character fought to leap off the page, and nearly escaped his predestined actions, but was often reigned back in by the clean-cut defined events of Angela’s dragon bones.
Eldest marked the low point of the Inheritance Cycle. Told in a split perspective between Eragon and his cousin Roran, I was immediately made aware of just how boring life was in their hometown of Carvahall. Roran was dry as all jerky. Every time the narration switched to the hammer wielder, I groaned and pushed on. It felt like work to get through Roran’s contrived story of rebellion and revenge upon the Ra’zac.
The unfortunate choice to focus so much (nearly half of the book!) on a non-magic, non-Rider brought down what otherwise could have been an interesting observation of Eragon’s growth. Having read the entire series, I came to the easy conclusion that yeah, anyone important to Cycle was introduced in the first novel. There was no need to exacerbate, say, the widowed Birgit’s simmering revenge on Roran. The Ra’zac murdered your husband, Birgit, not Roran.
The start of the book was more depressing than it had any right to be. Paolini made the decision to save the rebel Varden leader Ajihad’s death until after Eragon’s finale, setting the tone for the drudgery of the political scenes to come. Murtagh made an exit from the limelight, which was a shame. He had a lot more to experience with Eragon, as the revelation that Murtagh was the infamous Morzan’s son would have further evolved their dynamic outside of their confrontations on the battlefield.
Eragon fully came into his own in Eldest, but somehow, that didn’t stagnate his character arc. Full of the magic prowess he gained from ancient Dragon Rider Oromis, skill-wise, Eragon was nearly as ready as he would ever be to take down King Galbatorix. The Elves aided in healing the back scar Eragon received from Durza, as well as transformed the boy into being more Elven. These upgrades leveled up our hero, preventing much else from hindering his training in swordplay and magic. Some cute moments spiced up Eragon’s slightly angsty personality, like the scene where he didn’t understand how a bathtub worked, or where he kept cutting himself shaving (what a relief it must be to use magic to remove body hair!).
Nasuada was a fit leader to follow in her late father Ajihad’s leadership, with her standing up against the elder council’s influence by staying true to what her father would do in times of war. She was a breath of fresh air, and helped keep Eragon’s journey more intriguing through his slow-paced conversations with the Dwarf clans. Orik was a kind friend to Eragon, and was also a happy-go-lucky shell of a plot device to marry the Dragon Rider to the Dwarven race.
Elva’s character and abilities were unlike anything I’d ever read. Saphira and Eragon’s blessing of the babe in the first book struck a particular chord with me. After Elva’s blessing, Saphira’s words of fate and destiny relying on one’s actions gave me hope for a deviation in Eragon’s arc (alas, his life still stuck to Angela’s readings).
Elva, with her ability to foretell and feel others’ pain, proved to be an interesting chess piece. She was a wrench in the system for both sides of the war. Her overall malice and power made the witch child a dangerous being. With purple eyes and a disturbingly deep voice, Elva was like something out of a Miyazaki film. Her intentions weren’t clear, but that was a good thing. Even Angela, what with her mysterious expanse of power and knowledge, knew to take Elva very, very seriously.
The finale’s fight at the Burning Planes proved Paolini’s prowess at set-building, along with his epic reveals and action sequences. Murtagh was forced to fight for Galbatorix, leading to Dwarf king Hrothgar’s swift demise. This choice felt like Paolini’s attempt at patching up the misery of starting off Eldest with Ajihad’s death. This time, the author chose to end the book with the depressing death of a king, rather than start the book off with one.
Killing the Ra’zac was long overdue, and made for a dark and action-packed introduction to book three, Brisingr. Roran’s plot armor continued like never before during the Ra’zac battle. The fact that he was able to simply smash in the heads of the very, very powerful Twins, let alone aid Eragon in a hand-to-hand battle against some of the most formidable enemies of The Varden, was far-fetched. Paolini wanted to ensure Roran was solidified as being worthy of fighting by Eragon’s side, despite the hammer wielder having had no formal battle training, let alone any magical abilities.
Paolini made a decision to extend the series into a fourth book when Eragon, the character, told the author to keep Eragon’s hometown antagonist Sloan alive. While reading Brisingr, I thought this was a mistake. As it turned out, the payoff of sending the butcher to the Elves in Ellesméra was worth the setup (further discussed in my Inheritance review). I do not know how all of the material in both Brisingr and Inheritance would have fit into one book, even without the Sloan subplot. Perhaps this decision gave Eragon a new volition, thus driving him to make other decisions down the path of the butterfly effect.
Another beautiful moment came during Arya’s grass ship scene, paired with the glowing spirit orbs in the forest. This scene solidified her and Eragon’s romance, and painted the picture of Paolini’s magical world in his most successful foray yet. The spirits were defined as being wild, energy-driven entities, and much like Mother Nature, could not be so easily tamed. This scenario set up an interesting plot for Varden sorceress Trianna, which has yet to come to fruition. Eragon’s shock at Trianna using spirits for her magic was fitting, but Arya seemed to know the difference between a Shade’s usage of them versus a sorceress’.
The prophecy about Eragon needing to get a weapon from the Menoa Tree finally came to fruition, thanks in part to Saphira’s violent attempt at getting the Mother Tree’s attention. This was one of the few moments where I found Saphira to be as funny as I was told she was supposed to be. Paolini finally found his stride in Saphira’s character in Brisingr.
The process of making the Dragon Rider sword Brisingr was detailed and impressive. I can only imagine the amount of research and editing it took to illustrate all of the careful processes it takes to craft a sword. Whether or not the processes were technically correct, I was colored very, very impressed.
It was revealed that Brom was Eragon’s father, relieving both Eragon and the reader of the angst that came with our hero and Murtagh sharing the exact same lineage. The Selena backstory was intriguing, and made me eager to hear more about what made The Black Hand and mother to Eragon and Murtagh tick.
Eragon made a big decision in using Brom’s powerful ring when he did, which was an appropriately lackluster moment. I always knew it would be, as the ring alone wasn’t enough to put a dent in Galbatorix’s armor. Talks of wards and their importance for keeping people alive in fights amped up the stakes of the battles of magicians. The hype was building, and with Murtagh’s red dragon Thorn growing at a fast pace, Eragon was going to need to find a lot more power and support, fast.
Murtagh made a brief mid-book battle appearance, seemingly only to be delivered the vital information of how one can change their True Name if one’s being changed enough. This gave Murtagh the answer for how he would later break free of the evil king’s slavery, as was necessary, if not a little ham-fisted.
Master Oromis’ death was sad but fitting, seeing as he taught the young Dragon Rider all Oromis could. The introduction of the Eldunarí added a level of intrigue to the story of the Dragons, as Eragon was made privy to the fact that as long as this heart of hearts stayed intact, a Dragon’s soul would never leave this plane of existence.
Arya became a Shadeslayer, but in my opinion, she already was one. Her prowess and stamina to take down the new Shade were impressive and epic. Arya proved herself a threat to The Empire’s evildoings in her actions, solidifying the Elf as worthy of everything her heart desired. Eragon made important decisions of mercy in the final battle, giving me more reasons to root for our introspective and emotionally intelligent teen boy wonder.
I’m torn about the final book in The Inheritance Cycle. So much of it flowed naturally, but the brutal disfiguring and dehumanizing torture of Nasuada marred an otherwise keenly written and fun finale.
Midway through the book, Murtagh took Nasuada captive at King Galbatorix’s behest in an attempt to have her swear magically binding fealty to The Empire. Without going into detail, at all, what followed was degrading and far outside the tone of the rest of Eragon’s adventures. When reflecting on the fourth book, it’s sad to acknowledge the first thing I’ll think of is that of Nasuada’s extended, prolonged, microscopically described mutilations.
I already knew Galbatorix was an irredeemable tyrant. However, Nasuada’s conversation where she questioned his motivations spoke to the intriguing moral quandary of a madman. The proceeding acts Murtagh was forced to commit on Nasuada, followed by his apologetic aftercare and protection, supposedly lead to an authentic romance.
Yes, Murtagh was enslaved. Still, having Nasuada form a budding romantic relationship with him was not endgame, cute, or good. Her affection for Murtagh was a proxy Stockholm syndrome, but it wasn’t presented as such. The final note I’ll make on this poor decision in storytelling: Women do not exist to be Things, and should not be the exclusive targets of continuous torture in fiction.
Thinking beyond the thick fog that is Nasuada’s gruesome torture, I can appreciate the grind and organization it took to bring together the various races of Alagaësia toward the common goal of freeing the Nation’s peoples. Despite his intense fascination with how far he could push YA torture scenes, Paolini worked hard to give every race their due screen time. Throughout the book, Eragon spent a good amount of time with members of the Elves, Dwarfs, Werecats, and Urgals. The ways in which the main representatives and leaders of each race uniquely agreed to fight with Eragon were precarious and wonderfully crafted.
There weren’t many moments in Inheritance where I found myself bored or feeling like it was hard work to get through. One particularly interesting sequence came in Eragon’s venture to Vroengard to fulfill the remaining advice from Werecat Solembum’s prophecy. The process of Eragon learning his True Name (not sure why Paolini decided to not write True Names out) was fun and fantastical. Glaedr’s enthralling tale of the last great Dragon battles was forever imprinted on my mind.
— Christopher Paolini (@paolini) December 27, 2021
From there, the pace of Inheritance continued to impress me. Preparing for the final battle against Galbatorix, Eragon gathered up all of the remaining Eldunarí and was sent right off into action. Even Roran’s sieges and final stand against The Empire’s soldiers were moving and cinematic.
Elva was key to winning the battle against the Dragon Egg Destroyer King. Her coming around to help Eragon navigate Galbatorix’s trap-laden castle brought a welcome peace and acceptance between their intertwined fates. It may have been that after Eragon helped fix the cleft lip of Horst and Elain’s baby, Elva came to understand Eragon’s intentions in the witch child’s failed blessing. After all, if Elva didn’t tell Eragon to duck in his final battle of the series, the half-cocked Galbatorix may have beheaded Eragon. That was a pretty big deal.
It was rewarding to see Murtagh break free of his mental chains, although his moral struggles during his final sword fight with Eragon were concerning. If Galbatorix didn’t stop the blade, Murtagh would have succeeded in delivering a deadly blow to Eragon. It took some pretty serious flesh wounds for Murtagh to make his final decision to betray Galbatorix. Maybe Murtagh knew he had to stall for time. Or maybe it took up until Brisingr was deep into his gut for Murtagh to choose to join the Light Side.
I’m not sure why Arya was allowed to enter the final battle in Galbatorix’s throne room, but it seemed as though she had that sort of staying power in any context. Eragon snuck in one last deus ex machina with his “I want him to understand” wordless spell, giving Arya her time to shine her brightest. Despite Galbatorix knowing the Name of the Ancient Language, Arya bided her time and knew precisely when and where to use the Dragon-slaying Dauthdaert weapon on the King’s massive Dragon Shruikan. Badass.
The last 100 pages or so did a decent job of cleaning up all of the loose ends, the most emotionally significant of which was the restoration of Sloan’s eyes. I thought there was something very subtle about Eragon simply… forgetting about Sloan altogether. Even though Eragon actively knew the butcher’s daughter Katrina was right there in Ellesméra, it never occurred to him to find a conclusion to The Sloan Problem.
When Eragon considered whether it was crueler to tell Sloan he meant to continue Sloan’s sadness, or the truth in that Eragon simply forgot about Sloan, Paolini cut Eragon’s strings. Though Eragon was left feeling empty, his killing Galbatorix allowed Eragon to move on past the atrocities of his childhood, along with all of the horrible events that led to the act of healing Sloan. In Eragon’s mind, all’s well that ends well.
As all of the post-battle conversations settled out, Eragon made a wise decision to depart Alagaësia with the Dragon eggs. Eragon’s conversation with Nasuada explaining his decision was expertly executed. It was a callback to Nasuada’s direct questioning of Galbatorix, wherein Eragon was able to solidify his reasoning by repeating the same logic and set of morals Nasuada held true.
Eragon had become all-powerful. The Name of the Ancient Language granted the user the ability to take or do practically anything. Arya, Murtagh, and Eragon became Gods amongst men. While all three understood the power they wielded, I couldn’t help but worry what demons of Murtagh’s past would resurface in an attempt to rip The Name from his mind. This new conflict, along with the assumed appearance of Selena aiding Roran in the final battle, may fill the pages of the forthcoming fifth book in Eragon’s adventures.
The final pages of book four left me feeling as empty as Eragon did after he vanquished Galbatorix. In Inheritance’s post-book interview with Frey, Paolini related his stress of pushing through those last pages to meet publication. He also spoke to the struggles he had to overcome in getting past some personal issues preventing him from writing as much as he wanted to. It’s a comfort to know I should have felt a tad bit cheated by those final pages. Paolini may have had variations of dialogue and scenes he wanted to play out before Eragon’s departure from Alagaësia. I hope Paolini is able to repair and recover from what must have been a traumatic and rushed goodbye to Eragon.
Audio Book Performance by Gerard Doyle
Gerard Doyle was a master voice actor with the ability to draw in any reader via his seemingly endless supply of believable voices and sounds. From the timbre used with his famous Dragon voices, to the cool tone he gave the Elves, there was nary a moment in the series where any reader would feel left out of the magic.
The aforementioned Dragon voices were so expertly crafted, you simply needed to hear them to understand what made them so awe-inspiring. Doyle utilized a throaty growl when he spoke as Saphira in Eragon. Doyle seemed to have planned on her voice being in his middle range, as in the second book, Eldest, he had room in his throat to let his grovel go even lower for the golden Dragon Glaedr.
This became an even more impressive feat with the introduction of the various Eldunarí Dragons in Inheritance. As if Paolini wanted to give Doyle a grand finale, the author wrote of how Arya’s green Dragon Firnen had a surprisingly deep voice. Doyle rose to the challenge, and somehow had just a little left in the tank to bellow out Firnen’s earthshaking tones.
Doyle must have realized the strain these throaty growling voices were putting on his precious, perfect vocal cords, as he swerved a quick right in the companion novel The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. Instead of growling out voices, Doyle substituted in a respectable breathy, somewhat rough pallet-based sound for Saphira.
The Dragons stole the show, but Doyle’s prowess continued within the different dialects he chose for human characters. Two that come to mind are Angela and Murtagh. Doyle twisted and swallowed his vowels to fit their regional variants of speech to great effect. Angela and Murtagh’s voices were so incredibly unique from any other character in the series. It was almost as if Doyle wanted to flex his ability to curate different dialects at the drop of a hat, as there were countless examples like Angela and Murtagh in character-exclusive vowel placements. Likewise, Elva’s snide, controlled tone painted a vivid picture of the purple-eyed girl better than even Paolini’s descriptions.
The Urgals sounded appropriately stilted and uncomfortable speaking in the Human tongue, while they sounded more natural in their grunt-laden native tongue. The Ra’zac were spitty, vile creatures, as was the Shade Durza. The Dwarfs spoke in a choked, fat-tongued manner, which could be a bit hard to listen to at times — at no fault to Doyle’s interpretation of Paolini’s in-text dialect.
If you have the chance to re-read the Inheritance Cycle via audiobook, I would highly recommend giving Doyle’s performance a go. I promise you won’t be disappointed.