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.
It never gets old discussing the problems of this book series. Paolini not exploring nor devoloping Carvahall’s beliefs, superstitions,and lack of culture is bad wriing. Such as in book four, when readers discover Carvahall inhabitants distrust and hatred for elves because they believe they steal children. With Eragon being raised in this culture, he should have reacted with cultural bias when first encountering Arya.
Religion in general is handled poorly in the Inheritance Cycle. Take the scene from Eldest, where Arya argues with the Dwarf priest. Where Arya keeps her cool while the priest loses it. This scene can be interupted as saying athiest are right and relgious people are illogicaliditos.
The only human religion that is given any detail is presented as barbaric and savage. I don’t think the brief mentions of Nasuada’s culture while she’s being torture count. I might be mistaken though I thought Helgrind’s religon, which doesn’t have a name, the general populous worshipped only the mountains. That there was nothing spiritual about this worshipping, making it a problem. Only the inner priests of the relgion knew and worshiped the Ra’zac.
MadaneAce, I’m curious as to what you think about that one scene in Brisingr. Where Eragon eels a mysterious presence at Orik’s coronation. It’s implied that it is a dwarf god. Many fnas would say that this portrayal demonstrates religion positively or something.
There are so many religious things to talk about when it comes to this series, that everything you mentioned I almost wrote whole posts on. The implied atheist message when Arya talks to the dwarf priest almost won out when I sat down to outline this post.
When it comes to the scene in Brisingr, however, I became very confused as to what Paolini wanted us to take from the series in terms of religion. Though I didn’t like how he handled it, I didn’t mind that the books have a more agnostic or atheistic feel to them, despite being religious myself. I was willing to accept that, and then that scene with the dwarves happened. And before this, we had the elves trying to give us all these scientific reasons why that faith was wrong. It’s been a while since I’ve read Brisingr, and as that was my least favorite book in the series, I didn’t so much as read it as I skimmed over it. After all, other than the beginning and the ending, almost nothing of importance happens in it anyway. I suppose we can give credit and say that that was Paolini trying to portray religion positively—he does have Eragon occasionally pray in Inheritance, while simultaneously questioning whether or not a god or gods can actually hear him, thus opening up the possibility to discuss religion more in depth in the narrative—but it could also simply be an appeasement to religious audiences, so as to not offend anyone. In which case, considering how offensive the conversation between Arya and the one dwarf could be interpreted as, or even how the only human religion of note is evil, I fully support Paolini trying to reach out further to religious audiences in a less offensive manner.
I do think Paolini did a very decent job when it comes to the dwarves and their faith, though in comparison to his other religions, it would have been hard not to. However, even from a religious point of view, a feeling is a feeling and not necessarily the word of a god. Faith is about believing, even when there is no proof, and that was something that I thought the dwarves believed before reading Brisingr. Furthermore, I don’t think that what happens at the Orik’s coronation should be interpreted as a positive portrayal of religion. It just seems like a spell, especially when we take into account that right before the appearance of their god Gûntera, one of the dwarves speaks in the Ancient Language. Essentially, we could perceive the incident as nothing more than magic.
We have discussed before on this blog that magic and religion go hand in hand, especially in the case of fictional works. Look at Game of Thrones—it could be argued that magic and religion are one in the same there. But I don’t think Paolini wanted that to be the case for Inheritance Cycle. Magic comes across as something the elves use—the elves who are scientific and reasoning—and religion overall still comes across as something fanatics follow, regardless of Paolini’s intention with the scene in question.
Sorry, that was kind of long, but I hope it answers your question.
That answers my question. Off topic, but would you ever right an essay about Galbatorix or the underdevelopment of the Green Dragon in regards to the plot?
You’re welcome. I have been think about writing an essay in defense of Galbatorix and the Foresworn. I could also probably do one on the green dragon as well, but that would be some time after the Galbatorix post.
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