It has been at least four months since the last time I got on Inheritance Cycle’s case, which is entirely too long. So it’s time to rectify that now. A longstanding complaint of the series is the lack of culture within the world of Alagaësia, specifically among the humans of Carvahall. One of the ways Paolini could have fixed this would have been by adding more religion, which is surprisingly absent for a good portion of the first book, despite the fact that there is no logical reason for religion to not play a larger role in the narrative.
It is entirely possible that Paolini himself is either an atheist or agnostic. However, this is not something that I have heard him say specifically regarding his own religious views. Like many people, I assumed that Paolini shared his religious beliefs with his elves—who are agnostic—because the elves represent Paolini’s version of an ideal culture. As such, I should point out that Paolini is well within his right to give an anti-religious message to his stories if he so wants. And indeed, his books do take a very atheistic stance during Eldest. He is also within his rights to give us a story with characters who completely lack faith.
Despite this, many of the different races have their own religious beliefs—the dwarves’ religion is probably the most developed among all of them—so there are many different ways I can take this post. However, for our purposes, we are just going to discuss the humans for the moment.
Probably the most influential religious people among the humans are the worshipers of Helgrind—who believe in ritual sacrifice and the removal of their own limbs to lessen their connection to their physical bodies—but this faith is hardly explored well and it is rightfully scorned upon by our protagonists as being barbaric and evil. This faith is also limited to one town and does not affect the world of Alagaësia at large.
That said, different towns and villages tend to have their own religious views, especially the ones more isolated from the larger cities. The character Brom came from the village Kuasta, where people were very superstitious. As such, Brom used to carry some strange habits that his fellow riders used to mock him for, like knocking on a doorframe three times before entering the room. Once again, this is not very well explored. We never find out why Brom used to do this, only that he did.
However, Brom’s past happened before the books even start, so it’s not a huge issue that we never learn about Brom’s superstitions since he eventually grew out of them. What is a huge issue is that the people of Carvahall, another isolated little village and Eragon’s hometown, don’t have any of their own beliefs or traditions that help to define Eragon’s character and way of life throughout the series. We know they hold superstitions about the Spine, a dangerous mountain range, which does make it all the more powerful when in Eldest the whole of Carvahall run away from the Empire by crossing it—but Eragon himself doesn’t hold any superstitions about it.
We do discover that the people have certain traditions that they follow. When Roran and Katrina marry, they cross their wrists and a ribbon is tied around them, binding them as one. Additionally, when a person dies, we know that the villagers would place hemlock on the deceased’s chest. Unfortunately, we are once again never given any context as to why they uphold these traditions, why they bind their wrists with ribbon or use hemlock as opposed to another plant for their deceased. These things do not necessarily need to have a religious purpose behind them, but that would be the easiest way to justify these traditions in a manner the audience can understand. By not letting us know the beliefs and reasons behind these actions, they not only have very little meaning to the inhabitants of Carvahall—who only seem to practice them whenever it’s convenient for the plot—they have very little meaning to us, the audience. Had these traditions been removed from the story, the characters’ lives would hardly change at all.
It is highly unlikely that a people would partake of these traditions without a sort of purpose. In real life, Catholics partake of the Eucharist every Sunday, not “just because”, but due to the historical value and meaning behind the act. Additionally, as a culture, we do not use rings and white dresses for weddings for no good reason. Many of our traditions and cultural norms—including things like making the legal drinking age twenty-one—stem from hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago, and they all having meaning behind them.
The lack of culture and faith from the inhabitants of Carvahall, however, is probably most apparent when Eragon is talking to a dwarven priest and learning about their gods. At no point in time does Eragon ever think that what the dwarves believe contradict what he believes, and at no point in time does Eragon compare their traditions to his own. This tells me that religion, up until this point, has never had any kind of huge impact on his life. He just nods along with what the dwarf says. Then later, when he meets Oromis, who is more of an atheist, Eragon just nods along and accepts whatever Oromis has to say on the matter.
Religion is used in many ways to explain things that we do not yet understand, so for the people of Carvahall, it makes very little sense that they would not have some kind of faith. As I said, Paolini did not need to make any of his characters religious. That’s his prerogative. However, as I also said earlier, adding a religion would be the easiest way to have given the people of Carvahall and Eragon more culture, because as of the current books, they are sorely lacking. If Paolini still wanted to have an agnostic or atheistic message, he still could have done that by making Eragon oppose the traditions of Carvahall. Eragon himself struggles on occasion between whether or not he believes in the gods the dwarves worship or whether or not there are no deities. So this would have been a feasible option for Paolini to pursue when he wrote the series.
As it stands, the people of Carvahall don’t seem like they have a real culture, and that just takes away from the believability of the story.