There are a number of things about these two books that fascinate me: 1) It is epic fantasy in the Tolkien traditio; 2) It’s written for youth; 3) The author started it when he was fifteen; and 4) The author was home schooled.
I’ve loved fantasy and sci-fi since I was about ten. I read Tolkien while recovering from a bizarre bone-marrow disease called osteomyelitis. It gave me lots of free-time. So I read LOTR and having been reading sci-fi and fantasy ever since. David Eddings, Orson Scott Card, Piers Anthony, Asimov, Burroughs, Nevin, you name it, I’ve probably read it (I can’t bring myself to put Rowling in that category, although I like the books).
So I’m always interested when a new writer comes on the scene and seems to take things by storm. These two books were both best sellers in 2002 and 2005, and the third book in the Inheritance Trilogy is due out in October of 2008. The youth market for sci-fi and fantasy books is one of the fastest growing book markets today, led by Rowling and Pullman. This young writer has managed to have a movie made out of his first book, and things look bright for him (I’ve heard the movie isn’t that great, but can any movie really be that bad with John Malkovich in it?).
But are they any good?
The short answer is yes, they are good. I would even go so far as to say excellent. The plot has subtle Tolkienesque characteristics to it, but the books do not have the feel of being a copycat. The characters are rich and develop well, especially the protagonist, Eragon, and his cousin/brother, Roran. There are elements of romance, but they have a charming adolescent angst to them. The battle scenes are awesome, and the mythology is rich and beautiful. I especially like the depiction of the dragons. Brilliantly done. There are also some plot twists that I truly did not see coming.
But what really fascinates me about the books, and which will make me want to buy the last book and read it, is the depiction of elves and dwarves. They are both considered ancient races, but one is scientific (the elves) and one is religious (dwarves). The elves are at one with the environment: they’ve vegetarian, can hear and relate to everything around them, and (in the words of today) have a small ecological footprint. They also do not believe in the gods, or any “higher power”. The dwarves, on the other hand, are deeply religious, love meat, and will have nothing to do with magic or dragons. They are both generally considered “good”, and have a polite but distant relationship.
Eragon, the protagonist, is an adopted brother of one of the dwarf clans, but he is trained in magic by the elves. While he has an appreciation for the dwarves, throughout the series thus far, he seems to be more and more drawn to the elves and their worldview.
So is Paolini going to become another Pullman and have an essentially anti-Christian (or at least anti-religious) worldview? I don’t think so. I think this is more a way of contrasting the two races than anything else. We’ll have to wait for the third book to find out about that.
In the meantime, these are great books, and youth and adults alike would enjoy reading them. I think I like them better than Potter. I’ll have to muse on that one.