Top critical review
Teen Writers have Far Better Potential & Creativity
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 7, 2007
When Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, first came out, I refused to buy it. It was a story about a boy learning to ride dragons - a long lost art - which seemed to be cut-and-paste Dragonriders of Pern. It came out right when Lord of the Rings was turning into movies. The name of the lead character - Eragon - seemed to me a direct rip-off of Aragorn's name. Eragon was written by a teenager whose parents both worked in the publishing industry. It seemed clearly a case of publishing parents who had reworked their teenage boy's fan fiction words in order to make money for themselves.
Eventually when teenaged friends of mine began talking about it, I felt I should read it to at least participate in their conversations. After all, I adored Lord of the Rings, Dragonriders of Pern, Dune, etc. growing up. Surely I would find similar themes in this work that I could enjoy, even if the writing style was a bit unkempt.
I read the book through in two days. It was, as I had figured, rough in style. Despite his many kudos to his publishing team for helping him craft the beginning, the ending, the middle, the dialogue and the grammar, there were numerous problems in there that acted as roadblocks. Still, that was not the real issue. The real issue was that in pretty much every chapter I felt as if I'd read the story before.
A boy living with his not-parents. The boy happens to be away, returning to find the smoking home? Star Wars, check. The long-lost dragon egg that happens to open up to him? Pern, check. Just about every scene involving orcs, elves, dwarves and wraiths? Lord of the Rings, check. Desert scenes and "Bid'daum" (c'mon, Maud Dib backwards???) check. Epic battles and Hrothgar from Beowulf. The "true name" concern from Earthsea.
Just about every name used seemed to call up other books. Isenstar? Vanilor? Mithrim? Also, you get a token female near the end - and a token black person - but other than that the book is all about white guys. I realize you can have that complaint about JRR Tolkien who was born in 1892, and I do very much have that complaint. But it's an issue that should NOT be appearing in a book written in 2003.
Finally, many of the plot situations simply make no sense at all. He is learning to read in ONE WEEK? Looking at the map, distances that are covered are randomly long or short in time. Characters do things which make no sense at all but fit into the required plot line. You hear what they are planning to do in a given situation and think to yourself, "What in the world are they doing??" There were many times I could pretty much recite the dialogue along with them because it was so clearly lifted from book X or Y.
I am very much a person who likes fan fiction. I have read a lot of it! It is great for teens to have that creative outlet, to begin building up their skills. It is just like having a crush on a movie star before graduating to a real boyfriend or girlfriend. But nobody would call a crush a "real relationship". I would never dream of publishing fan fiction as an "original story". It really seems to me like Christopher's parents - being book publishers - took advantage of him and put his book out there without the thorough editing it needed in order to make money off of him. What if, instead, they had spent a few more years actually homeschooling him and teaching him how to write more independently, and let him make his OWN novel? Think of what he might have achieved! Instead, we are left with these obviously fan-fiction, derivative works, and the controversy that has ensued.
This really does GREAT harm to the many high quality teen authors who DO exist out there. Now they will be judged with the Christopher Paolini stigma, as in "well, only plagiarists exist in the teen writing world." Kaavya Viswanathan caused equal harm when her novel, written when she was 19, was found to be full of duplicated material. We then forget about REAL teen writers who created inspirational, unique works such as Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (age 19) and S.E. Hinton and The Outsiders (age 16). Even one of my favorite novels of all time - Pride & Prejudice - was begun when Jane Austen was 14. Please, let's not let Eragon spread the assumption that all teen writers can do is regurgitate the things they've read.
For people who say "I enjoyed the story" - I really encourage you to read the original stories by JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc. Those stories are also great for teenagers and are much more eloquent and rich in meaning. To have teens reading this instead is like reading "novel lite". Why listen to a tinny AM version of a song when you have access to the full, rich high quality MP3 of it?
Finally, the copy I picked up is the paperback with the movie cover. It has movie photos WITHIN the book - meaning even though I deliberately tried not to look at them, the "final scenes" images were right next to page 373 when I tried to keep reading. Talk about WRONG! What's next, a cover blurb that reveals the ending twist?