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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia - Christopher Paolini A tie-in book to the world of Eragon which is, like all tie-in books, both unnecessary and redundant, and totally satisfying to the faithful. I can't count myself as an Eragon fan. I could feel the charm of the first book as an exuberant, greasy, adolescent theft/homage of its source material; it's like The Lord of the Rings, Dragonflight, and Star Wars had a baby and its head popped off. But later books in the series deepened their ponderousness, and I simply will not sit for some snot-nosed kid wowing me with his insights. I've read the books you've read, kid, and you're not bringing me anything new.

Sorry. I totally did not mean to go so mean there. I'm honestly okay with these books, even while I sneer at them a little, because I feel like they come from a place of (sometimes misplaced) love. This book was clearly produced by the same people who manufactured Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons - though, caveat: I haven't actually bothered to make sure this is so. The book itself is expensively produced, with Alan Lee-ish art and Pat the Bunny-style flaps and things to feel. Elven textiles! The fur of some beast! Etc. My daughter (5) absolutely demanded we bring this home from the library, and has been begging me to buy a copy. The text itself is kind of horrible, written in an Eragon first person that you either love or hate:

The first book I owned was a history of Alagaƫsia called Domin abrWyrda (Dominance of Fate). A wise man once told me that studying the lessons of history provides us with the courage and insight to choose the correct path. This advice has served me well. May it do the same for you, young Rider.


This quote pretty much encapsulates everything that this wrong/right about Inheritance Cycle. The freaking consonant salad that typifies all the names, which riff on Tolkien without having any of his linguistic prowess; the high-handed "wisdom" which says absolutely nothing at all - seriously, I know there's an lolcat about how we are doomed to repeat history or something, but studying history does not form courage in the breasts of its students, though it might give them some insight into which way the hammer might strike this time - but, and this is a big but, the statement ends on a you. There's so much you in this book it might as well be second person, and that's where the appeal lies (or possibly lays - I have never been good with those verbs.) You're the Rider. You're the one on the quest. Paolini completely nails the desire for self-insert into these fantasy texts. He does it himself, and generously invites you along.

So here's the part of the review that is a total digression. I've been chatting a bit about Fifty Shades of Grey, because apparently the NYT quoted some person as saying this book is "relighting a fire under a lot of marriages". Anyway, 50 Shades is a fan fiction of Twilight, and is being discussed as a fan fiction in regards to publishing trends, the problem with Kansas, the end o' the world, blahblahblah. I mean, obviously 50 Shades is total pulp, a if you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like book. And I've been seeing a lot of talk about fan fiction and whether it counts, etc.

I don't understand how 50 Shades has anything to do with Twilight, insofar as the set up and plot seem not to have anything to do with vampires and Mormonism. Maybe it's because the writer began by using the names from Twilight? And their personalities as a rough approximation as the personalities in her book? (And, I would like points for not putting scare quotes on, like, half of the words in this paragraph.) What I'm getting at is that Eragon, and six million other books in any other genre, are ultimately fan fictions. I'm neither defending nor attacking this; I think originality is overrated, and when one is dealing with genre fiction, probably beside the point. I'm just trying to point out that while we have this neat new phrase, "fan fiction", it's not like what these writers are doing is new or different. I mean, take a gander at The Sword of Shannara, which is such a blatant rip-off of Tolkien that it made my eyes bleed. And is also heavily beloved by many people for whom it was a gateway drug into the more considered fantasy of Tolkien, Peake, &c.

So, anyway, I'm running out of steam here. I guess I'm just trying to say that plenty of books are crappy, but they are often crappy in a way that is satisfying to those who are looking for a genre high that mirrors their original genre high. This book is pretty much that - a hit of something that if you love, you'll love. This isn't going to save any marriages, but it might make bedtime easier if you have a five year old girl who likes dragons. Bully for that.