Eragon is the first novel in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, who began writing at the age of 15. After writing the first draft for a year, Paolini spent a second year rewriting and fleshing out the story and characters. Paolini's parents saw the final manuscript and decided to self-publish Eragon. Paolini spent a year traveling around the United States promoting the novel. By chance, the book was discovered by Carl Hiaasen, who got it re-published by Alfred A. Knopf. The re-published version was released on August 26, 2003.
The book tells the story of a farm boy named Eragon, who finds a mysterious stone in the mountains. A dragon he later names Saphira hatches from the stone, which was really an egg. When the evil King Galbatorix finds out about Eragon and his dragon, he sends his servants, the Ra'zac, after them in an effort to capture them. Eragon and Saphira are forced to flee from their hometown, with a storyteller called Brom, and decide to search for the Varden, a group of rebels who want the downfall of Galbatorix.
Critiques of Eragon often pointed out the similarities to other works such as Earthsea, Dragonlance, and Star Wars. Reviews also called the book a notable achievement for such a young author as Paolini. Eragon was the third-best-selling children's hardback book of 2003, and the second-best-selling paperback of 2005. It placed on the New York Times Children's Books Best Seller list for 121 weeks. Eragon was adapted into a feature film of the same name that was released on December 15, 2006.
Origins and publication
Christopher Paolini started reading fantasy books when he was ten years old. At the age of fourteen, as a hobby, Paolini started writing the first novel in a series of four books, but he could not get beyond a few pages because he had "no idea" where he was going. He began reading everything he could about the "art of writing", and then plotted the whole Inheritance Cycle book series. After a month of planning out the series, he started writing the draft of Eragon by hand. It was finished a year later, and Paolini began writing the "real" version of the book. After another year of editing, Paolini's parents saw the final manuscript. They immediately saw its potential and decided to publish the book through their small, home-based publishing company, Paolini International. Paolini created the cover art for this edition of Eragon, which featured Saphira's eye on the cover. He also drew the maps inside the book.
Paolini and his family toured across the United States to promote the book. Over 135 talks were given at bookshops, libraries, and schools, many with Paolini dressed up in a medieval costume; but the book did not receive much attention. Paolini said he "would stand behind a table in my costume talking all day without a break – and would sell maybe forty books in eight hours if I did really well. [...] It was a very stressful experience. I couldn't have gone on for very much longer." In the summer of 2002, American novelist Carl Hiaasen was on vacation in one of the cities that Paolini gave a talk in. While there, his stepson bought a copy of Eragon that he "immediately loved". He showed it to his stepfather, who brought the book to the attention of the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. Michelle Frey, executive editor at Knopf, contacted Paolini and his family to ask if they were interested in having Knopf publish Eragon. The answer was yes, and after another round of editing, Knopf published Eragon in August 2003. It also led to a new cover, drawn by John Jude Palencar.
Inspiration and influences
Paolini cites old myths, folk tales, medieval stories, the epic poem Beowulf, and authors J. R. R. Tolkien and Eric Rücker Eddison as his biggest influences in writing. Other literary influences include David Eddings, Andre Norton, Brian Jacques, Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist, Mervyn Peake, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Frank Herbert. Paolini has also received inspiration from the two authors Philip Pullman and Garth Nix. In Eragon, Paolini "deliberately" included the "archetypal ingredients" of a fantasy book – a quest, a journey of experience, revenge, romance, betrayal, and a "special" sword.
The ancient language used by the elves in Eragon is based "almost entirely" on Old Norse, German, Old English, and Russian myth. Paolini commented that "[I] did a god-awful amount of research into the subject when I was composing it. I found that it gave the world a much richer feel, a much older feel, using these words that had been around for centuries and centuries. I had a lot of fun with that." Picking the right name for the characters and places was a process that could take "days, weeks, or even years". Paolini said that "if I have difficulty choosing the correct moniker, I use a placeholder name until a replacement suggests itself." He added that he was "really lucky" with the name Eragon, "because it's just dragon with one letter changed." Also, Paolini commented that he thought of the name "Eragon" as the two parts of it: "era" and "gone", as if the name itself changes the era in which the character lives. He thought the name fit the book perfectly, but some of the other names caused him "real headaches".
The landscape in Eragon is based on the "wild territory" of Paolini's home state, Montana. He said in an interview that "I go hiking a lot, and oftentimes when I'm in the forest or in the mountains, sitting down and seeing some of those little details makes the difference between having an okay description and having a unique description." Paolini also said that Paradise Valley, Montana is "one of the main sources" of his inspiration for the landscape in the book. Eragon takes place in the fictional continent Alagaësia. Paolini "roughed out" the main history of the land before he wrote the book, but he did not draw a map of it until it became important to see where Eragon was traveling. He then started to get history and plot ideas from seeing the landscape depicted.
Paolini chose to have Eragon mature throughout the book because "for one thing, it's one of the archetypal fantasy elements". He thought Eragon's growth and maturation throughout the book "sort of mirrored my own growing abilities as a writer and as a person, too. So it was a very personal choice for that book." Eragon's dragon, Saphira, was imagined as "the perfect friend" by Paolini. He decided to go in a more "human direction" with her because she is raised away from her own species, in "close mental contact" with a human. "I considered making the dragon more dragon-like, if you will, in its own society, but I haven't had a chance to explore that. I went with a more human element with Saphira while still trying to get a bit of the magic, the alien, of her race." Paolini made Saphira the "best friend anyone could have: loyal, funny, brave, intelligent, and noble. She transcended that, however, and became her own person, fiercely independent and proud." Saphira's blue tinted vision was in turn inspired by Paolini's own color-blindness.
Paolini added in archetypal elements of a fantasy novel like a quest, a journey of experience, revenge, romance, betrayal, and a 'special' sword. The book is described as a fantasy with Booklist writing "Paolini knows the genre well—his lush tale is full of recognizable fantasy elements and conventions". The book has been compared to other books of the fantasy genre such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Reviews have also felt that the plot genre is too similar to those other fantasy novels. The book was called a "high fantasy" by Kirkus Review.
A shade named Durza, along with a group of urgals, ambushes a party of three elves. After he and the urgals kill the other elves, Durza attempts to steal an egg, that one of the female elves carries, but is foiled when she causes it to vanish. However, he renders her unconscious with a ball of fire and has her at his mercy.
Eragon is a fifteen-year-old boy who has lived with his uncle Garrow and cousin Roran on a farm near the village of Carvahall, ever since his mother, Garrow's sister, left him there right after his birth. While hunting in the Spine, Eragon is surprised to see the blue dragon egg, which he believes to be a stone, appear in front of him. A few months later, Eragon witnesses a baby dragon hatch from the egg. Eragon names the dragon Saphira. He raises the dragon in secret until two of King Galbatorix's servants, the Ra'zac, come to Carvahall; though it is later revealed that they weren't looking for the egg at first. Eragon and Saphira manage to escape by hiding in the Spine, but Garrow is fatally wounded and the house and farm are burned down by the Ra'zac. Once Garrow dies, Eragon is left with no reason to stay in Carvahall, so he goes after the Ra'zac with his newly hatched dragon, seeking vengeance for the destruction of his home and his uncle's death. He is accompanied by Brom, an elderly storyteller, who provides Eragon with the sword Zar'roc and insists on helping him and Saphira.
Eragon becomes a Dragon Rider through his bond with Saphira. Eragon is the only known Rider in Alagaësia other than King Galbatorix, who, with the help of the now-dead Forsworn, a group of thirteen dragon riders loyal to Galbatorix, killed every other Rider a hundred years ago. On the journey, Brom teaches Eragon sword fighting, magic, the ancient elvish language, and the ways of the Dragon Riders. Their travels bring them to the city of Teirm, where they meet with Brom's friend Jeod. Eragon's fortune is told by the witch Angela, and her companion, the werecat Solembum, gives Eragon some mysterious advice. With Jeod's help, they are able to track the Ra'zac to the southern city of Dras-Leona. Although they manage to infiltrate the city, Eragon encounters the Ra'zac in a cathedral and he and Brom are forced to flee. Later that night, their camp is ambushed by the Ra'zac. A stranger named Murtagh rescues them, but Brom is gravely injured. Saphira watches over Brom as the night progresses, yet when morning comes they realize there is nothing they can do to save him. Brom gives Eragon his blessing, reveals that he was also once a dragon rider and that his dragon's name was Saphira, and dies. Saphira then encases Brom in a tomb made of a diamond.
Murtagh becomes Eragon's new companion and they travel to the city Gil'ead to find information on how to find the Varden, a group of rebels who want to see the downfall of Galbatorix. While stopping near Gil'ead, Eragon is captured and imprisoned in the same jail that holds a woman he has been having dreams about. As she is being dragged past she is revealed as an elf when her pointed ears are uncovered. Murtagh and Saphira stage a rescue, and Eragon escapes with the unconscious elf. During the escape, Eragon and Murtagh battle with Durza. Murtagh shoots Durza between the eyes with an arrow, and the Shade disappears in a cloud of mist. Then escaping, they run off. Eragon succeeds in communicating with the elf, whose name is revealed as Arya, and learns the location of the Varden. After some arguing, Murtagh decides to still travel with Eragon to the Varden but is still wary of them.
An army of Kull(Urgals who can grow up to 8 feet) reach Eragon right outside the Varden's entrance, but are driven off with the help of the Varden, who escort Eragon, Saphira, Murtagh, and Arya to Farthen Dûr the mountain hideout of the varden. When they arrive in Farthen Dûr, Eragon is led to the leader of the Varden, Ajihad. Ajihad imprisons Murtagh after he refuses to allow his mind to be read to determine if he is a friend or a foe to the Varden. Eragon is told by Ajihad that Durza was not destroyed by Murtagh's well placed arrow, because the only way to kill a Shade is with a stab through the heart. Orik, nephew of the dwarf King Hrothgar, is appointed as Eragon and Saphira's guide. Orik shows them a place to stay and introduces them to Hrothgar. Eragon also meets Ajihad's daughter, Nasuada, and Ajihad's right-hand man, Jörmundur. He also runs into Angela and Solembum, who have arrived in Tronjheim, and visits Murtagh in his prison. He is tested by two magicians, The Twins, as well as Arya.
Eragon and the Varden are then attacked by the Kull, as well as the rest of the Urgal army. Eragon personally battles Durza again, and succeeds in stabbing him in the heart with Zar'roc, but at a price. Durza manages to slice a deep cut like Murtagh's on his back. He then passes out, and is visited telepathically by a stranger while he is unconscious who tells Eragon to visit him in the Elven capital, Ellesméra.
Eragon received generally mixed reviews and was criticized for its derivative nature. Liz Rosenberg of The New York Times Book Review criticized Eragon for having "clichéd descriptions", "B-movie dialogue", "awkward and gangly" prose." However, she concluded the review by noting that "for all its flaws, it is an authentic work of great talent". School Library Journal wrote that in Eragon "sometimes the magic solutions are just too convenient for getting out of difficult situations". Common Sense Media called Eragon's dialogue "long-winded" and "clichéd", with a plot "straight out of Star Wars by way of The Lord of the Rings, with bits of other great fantasies thrown in here and there." The website did concede that the book is a notable achievement for such a young author, and that it would be "appreciated" by younger fans.
Favorable reviews of Eragon often focused on the book's characters and plot. IGN's Matt Casamassina called the book "entertaining", and added that "Paolini demonstrates that he understands how to hold the reader's eyes and this is what ultimately separates Eragon from countless other me-too fantasy novels." Chris Lawrence of About.com thought the book had all the "traditional ingredients" that make a fantasy novel "enjoyable". The book was a "fun read" for him because it is "quick and exciting" and "packed" with action and magic. Lawrence concluded his review by giving the book a rating of 3.8/5, commenting that "the characters are interesting, the plot is engrossing, and you know the good guy will win in the end."
Eragon was the third best-selling children's hardback book of 2003, and the second best-selling children's paperback of 2005. It placed on the New York Times Children's Books Best Seller list for 121 weeks. In 2006, the novel was awarded with a Nene Award by the children of Hawaii. It won the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award and the Young Reader's Choice Award the same year.
A film adaptation of Eragon was released in the United States on December 15, 2006. Plans to create the film were first announced in February 2004, when 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to Eragon. The film was directed by first-timer Stefen Fangmeier, and written by Peter Buchman. Edward Speleers was selected for the role of Eragon. Over the following months, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Chris Egan and Djimon Hounsou were all confirmed as joining the cast. Principal photography for the film took place in Hungary and Slovakia.
The film received mostly negative reviews, garnering a 16% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes; the tenth worst of 2006. The Seattle Times described it as "technically accomplished, but fairly lifeless and at times a bit silly". The Hollywood Reporter said the world of Eragon was "without much texture or depth". The story was labelled "derivative" by The Washington Post, and "generic" by the Las Vegas Weekly. Newsday stressed this point further, asserting that only "nine-year-olds with no knowledge whatsoever of any of the six Star Wars movies" would find the film original. The acting was called "lame" by the Washington Post, as well as "stilted" and "lifeless" by the Orlando Weekly. The dialogue was also criticized: MSNBC labelled it "silly"; the Las Vegas Weekly called it "wooden". Positive reviews described the film as "fun" and "the stuff boys' fantasies are made of". The CGI work was called "imaginative" and Saphira was called a "magnificent creation". Paolini stated he enjoyed the film, particularly praising the performances of Jeremy Irons and Ed Speleers.
Eragon grossed approximately $75 million in the United States and $173.9 million elsewhere, totaling $249 million worldwide. It is the fourth highest grossing film with a dragon at its focal point, and the sixth highest grossing film of the sword and sorcery subgenre. Eragon was in release for seventeen weeks in the United States, opening on December 15, 2006 and closing on April 9, 2007. It opened in 3,020 theaters, earning $8.7 million on opening day and $23.2 million across opening weekend, ranking second behind The Pursuit of Happyness. Eragon’s $75 million total United States gross was the thirty-first highest for 2006. The film earned $150 million in its opening weekend across 76 overseas markets, making it the #1 film worldwide. The film’s $249 million total worldwide gross was the sixteenth highest for 2006.