I’ve harped on Inheritance Cycle quite a lot, and that’s mostly because, despite it being my favorite series, it could have done so much better. Most of its flaws could have actually been strengths had the author been aware of them. For example, had Paolini been aware that he made Eragon a sociopath, the books would certainly have been more interesting.
The Varden would have needed to recognize having Eragon around as a necessary evil with which to overthrow a bigger evil. Eragon wouldn’t have been a beloved hero, but a terrifying anti-hero on whom people were forced to rely. Additionally, had the books been self-conscious about both the Varden’s and Eragon’s unethical practices and ideals, the Varden would have had to work harder at justifying their actions. Instead, the books assume that we’ll automatically agree with Eragon and the Varden, while simultaneously hating Galbatorix and the Empire.
That right there is a sure sign of terrible writing, especially because our main villain, Galbatorix, and his followers, the Forsworn, don’t seem anywhere as evil as the books make them out to be.
Galbatorix used to be a promising, talented Dragon Rider. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, his original dragon, Jarnunvösk, was killed. Galbatorix, in his grief over her death, demanded that the other Dragon Riders give him another egg. They refused, although they really had no reason to. Dragons choose which people they hatch for, so it’s entirely possible that Galbatorix never would have gotten another dragon and the Order would have lost nothing by letting him try. Additionally, it really doesn’t seem as if the other Riders cared about Galbatorix’s pain over Jarnunvösk’s death or ever provided any kind of emotional support for what happened.
Following this refusal, Galbatorix stole a new dragon hatchling, Shruikan, killed his Rider, and then bound Shruikan to himself using dark magic. From there, Galbatorix went about recruiting the Forsworn—thirteen fellow Riders, one of whom was the infamous Morzan, Murtagh’s father—who followed Galbatorix because they felt that the Order had done them wrong in some way. Galbatorix and these thirteen Riders set out to take over and reform the Order. For reasons we’ll talk about later on, all of the Order’s dragons and Riders were killed, leaving Galbatorix and the Forsworn to take over the land and established the Empire.
All that said, though Galbatorix did some terrible things, such as killing Shruikan’s Rider and binding Shruikan to himself, I have no reason to feel bad that all the other Riders and dragons were eradicated. I’m going to explain why in a minute.
But before I have anyone getting on my case about what bad people Galbatorix and his followers are, let me just say that I know. I read the books too. I’m aware that they’ve murdered people, took over the land, that Morzan threw a sword at Murtagh, that Galbatorix is also a rapist, etc. The list of terrible things that they have done is quite extensive. My problem is that other than a few things here and there—Murtagh’s scar, Oromis’s and his dragon Glaedr’s health issues from torture—we are never given proof of the terrible things they’ve done. Additionally, most of the evil things they’re accused of, the Varden willingly does as well.
I’m sorry that Oromis and Glaedr were tortured, and I’m sorry that Nasuada, the Varden’s leader, was tortured as well. However, these same people believe that evil is okay if it’s done for a greater cause. In Brisingr, there is actually a scene where Nasuada oversees the torture of a spy the Varden caught. We’re told nothing else about who this man is or how exactly he’s being tortured, but I’m not going to say that Galbatorix is more evil than Nasuada in this case. Why should I feel worse for Nasuada than for the man she caught spying? Torture is still torture.
So yes, while I am aware that Galbatorix and his Forsworn have done terrible things, everything we know they actually did or were willing to do, the Varden and Eragon does as well—mind rape, murder, torture, taxing people. Yes, taxing people is one of the reasons given as to why Galbatorix should be overthrown. We are told that the taxes are ridiculously high, and yet never at any point are we shown that. Peasants live in multiple-story houses and no one ever loses their property because of the taxes—so I do question what the hell taxes these people are paying, because whatever the amount, it does not have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Hell, in Inheritance, Galbatorix threatens to have two little children murdered in front of Eragon if Eragon doesn’t do what he says. And Eragon’s reaction to this is somewhere along the lines of “fuck it, I might not be able to save the kids anyway, so who cares, right?” Eragon is literally so bad at being a hero that Galbatorix’s plan to murder children as blackmail doesn’t work on him. Because of all these things, I don’t have any reason to side with one group or the other.
On top of that, some of the other things Galbatorix is accused of—being power-hungry and unbalanced—don’t make much sense within the context of the story. While it is true that Galbatorix may have gone insane with grief when Jarnunvösk died, there is nothing during the course of the actual books to indicate that he’s still insane. He seems like a fairly balanced guy, who’s maybe a little angry and harsh, but in the end, he comes across as someone who is in control over himself. Additionally, if he were power-hungry, I highly doubt the Empire and its neighboring country Surda would have been able to live so peacefully together for the past hundred years. The Empire only attacks Surda after Surda starts openly supporting the Varden, the terrorist organization bent on overthrowing Galbatorix, and Galbatorix only attacked the dwarves arguably for the same reason.
I suppose we could say that it was terrible of Galbatorix and his Forsworn to wipe out all the other Dragon Riders, since the land was prosperous under their leadership. However, as I said earlier, under Galbatorix’s rule, we have peasants living in two-story, multiple bedroom homes. The land is still prosperous.
Furthermore, the Order seemed like a pretty reprehensible organization. This is the same group of people who did the Banishing of the Names, a massive spell meant to attack the Forsworn. When the Order learned of the Forsworn’s betrayal, they banished their dragons’ names, with the exception of Jarnunvösk and Shruikan. Without their names, these dragons turned into mindless beasts and many of their Riders were driven mad as a result. And I have to wonder what else the Order would have been willing to do, if the Banishing of the Names seemed like a justifiable punishment for a group of people who only wanted to reform the Order, not destroy it.
And that’s another thing. Galbatorix and his Forsworn, we discover, didn’t actually destroy the Order, which is one of the big accusations they face. We learn from Glaedr in Inheritance that when the Forsworn went to attack Vroengard, the island where the Riders lived, the Riders killed themselves, because they thought that defeat would be inevitable. This was an island filled with hundreds of Riders and dragons, and when thirteen Dragon Riders betrayed them, they chose to kill themselves instead of, I don’t know, listening to the probably well-founded grievances the Forsworn had, or even fighting back. This mass suicide is why dragons almost went extinct, and there was no reason for it whatsoever.
So after reading this series for four books, I have little to no reason to want someone else on the throne other than Galbatorix. I think the only evil thing Galbatorix allows that the Varden and other Riders don’t is slavery. I can call him evil for that, because slavery is an evil thing. However, when comparing Galbatorix and his Empire to Eragon and the Varden, Galbatorix sadly comes across as the lesser of two evils. Galbatorix might be a terrible person, but under his rule the land is at least stable and flourishing—the only instability is brought about by the Varden, and Nasuada has little to no leadership skills despite being in charge.
This is, quite possibly, the worst possible way that the books fail. I, as a reader, have actually sided with a rapist who supports slavery and wanted that man to come out on top, because everybody else is either incompetent or just as terrible, normally a combination of the two. And it’s so upsetting, because not only do I find myself siding with a character with whom I should have no reason to side with, but also because, once again, had the author been aware of this issue, he could have turned it into the series’ greatest strength. But instead, the struggle between the Varden and the Empire just becomes aggravating to read.
I must admit, I was very much invested in the Inheritance Cycle when it began, yet it finished on a whimper rather than a bang. It felt as if it was trying to have several rather than one conclusive ending. Your article is fantastic, as, until now, I hadn’t realised myself that the ethical lines between both sides ran so close to one another. I may have to re-read those books to spot the points you brought up!
I really think that certain parts of the series’ climax, such as Eragon’s introduction to Galbatorix and when Eragon realized just how big Shruikan is, was actually really well done—or rather, as well done as a Christopher Paolini scene could be. Overall, I would have been happy the climax, but as you said, it ended up being a whimper and not a bang. I think a lot of that has to do with the earlier scenes that involved Galbatorix. Whatever it was, it made the ending all the weaker, when once again, that could have been an amazing moment within the book.
Anyway, have fun rereading the books. And thank you so much for your comment. 😀
Also, if you’re interested, here’s an essay someone wrote in defense of Sloan’s character that I really enjoyed reading.
It feels as if, despite the amount of time he had writing these books, that it was only a few drafts away from being something excellent. He probably needed a more experienced writing partner just to give him that bit of edge and experience the books needed. The books are good, but just flawed in many, many places.
Also thank you for that article suggestion! T’was a really good look at a character I felt was really hard done in the books.
You’re welcome! I’m glad you liked it!
Agreed; although Galbatorix’s introduction seemed just too classic Bond-villain to me. I was hoping for something more original, and while I like certain parts of the ending, some parts (too numerous to name) just made it lose its oomph.
Plus can we talk about Eragon leaving and deciding to never come back just because Angela said so?! When they have ships and everything?! OH PLEASE, PAOLINI. Way to go.
Thanks for pointing all of that out! I always had doubts about how both sides in the story are defines as good and evil. I was eleven when I first read about Galbatorix asking for another dragon, and subconsciously wondered ‘well why the hell not?’ Keeping these arguments in mind the next time I try writing fantasy novels.
Galbatorix was one of the things I was actually looking forward to when Inheritance was first released. Since the audience was ever just told things about Galbatorix and never shown. It was handled poorly. What should I have expected, Paolini never effectively showed Galbatorix as evil in the first three books.
If Galbatorix was a proper dictator that we are supposed to believe he is, he should have set up a 1984-esque style of government. Considering how easily magic can be used to enforce somebodies will. It would be no problem for Galbatorix to have every citizen of his empire pledge in the Ancient Language to always obey, love, and worship Galbatorix. He should have magicians stationed outside every major city, reading the minds of everyone entering or exiting.
There’s no good evidence in any of these books. His citizens aren’t oppressed. People are allowed to speak ill of Galbatorix. Such examples as the whole town of Carvahall, Murtagh, and that one solider Eragon slayed in the battle of Beltona. Oromis in Eldest even states that: “The majority of people in the Empire live normal, productive lives untouched by their king’s madness.”
In Inheritance, he even supplies besiged cities with food and extra men. If Galbatorix didn’t care and was as evil as people claimed he was, he wouldn’t have done this. Here’s a quote to prove it: “Galbatorix had foresight; he saw to it that the city was fully stocked with food before we cut off the roads between here and the rest of the Empire…Also, Galbatorix garrisoned Aroughs with a fair number of soldiers— more than twice what we have— in addition to their usual contingent.”
The way the whole climax of Galbatorix being defeated annoys me to no end. It’s not very well thought out. Why does Galbatorix have such stupid traps in his castle if his entire plan hinges upon keeping Eragon alive? Shouldn’t he have disabled them right before the battle. Why does he need to threaten two children when he has a better hostage, Nausada? Why doesn’t he just defeat Eragon and friends into submission when they first show up? Even when he can use magic and they cannot even when he admits he doesn’t play fair? Why doesn’t he just use Shurikan to annihilate the Varden?
Sorry for the rant. Do you have anything to add to this?
Pingback: In Defense of The Inheritance Cycle | Lady Geek Girl and Friends
Agreed with the article… it has been a long time since I rode the Inheritance tetralogy -in the future a pentalogy, since there’re rumors of another book being prepared- and at first I didn’t care about these details -mostly because the books are so dense-, but when I saw comments all over the Net pointing what you’ve pointed here, when I started with the fourth book, I attempted to look it deeper, noting you forgot to comment Galbatorix castered over the capital “utility” spells to help his people.
Besides the ending, that was quite a deception especially the one for Galbatorix (three books and more than a half waiting to see the boss for that… come on), I didn’t saw him so villainously as CP wants. As far as I can remember, we’ve no proofs of him being the typical neutral/chaotic evil ruthlesness tyrant who cares only for his benefit. His Empire seems to work well and even some things that look nasty can be understood can be excused to a point, thinking we’re dealing with another culture -for example, torture was something more than common during Middle Ages, Roman -at least- slaves had some rights, and even having a concubinate could be excused assuming Murtagh was talking with sarcasm about mistresses and not his actual wife, or that he talked with sarcasm too about the lot of applicants for being his Empress. At the end it’s just a “gray and gray” morality. The Empire aren’t the good guys, nor the Varden too, but the latter are the ones who’re presented so,
If I wanted to treat him as an actual villain, instead of the typical merciless despot I’d write him as someone likable and friendly and who cared about the welfare of his people (read: bread and circus and the like)… but at the same time someone who had a Gestapo-like secret police (with magic that would be easy) to locate and annihilate troublesome people, controlled the nobility and rich people with an iron fist -maybe letting them fight between themselves GoT-esque style, so they’d be so busy and weakened to be a trouble for him-, and that worked hard to have a very good image, so people would love him.
You have raised a lot of points that I never thought about, yet I still, when reading the books, actually found Galbatorix more sympathetic than Eragon or the Varden. Writers should have a good foundation behind their villains, yes. The writer (and also the readers) have to understand the villain’s motives and viewpoint, even if they don’t agree, yes. But Paolini takes it way too far – so much that I find it much easier to sympathize with Galbatorix than the “good guys”. Because the only things they have to throw at his arguments are “You’re just evul!!!11”
Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Ace’s Top 10 Headcanon Asexual Characters | Lady Geek Girl and Friends
Pingback: Ace’s Top 5 Worst Protagonists | Lady Geek Girl and Friends
Pingback: Magical Mondays: That Time in The Inheritance Cycle when Elves Didn’t Steal Babies | Lady Geek Girl and Friends
Pingback: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Nowhere Near as Good as I Remembered | Lady Geek Girl and Friends
Okay, time to remind you of a few things that you clearly forgot. Whenever there was an uprising against Galbatorix (not the varden but smaller ones that included villages and towns), Galbatorix used to burn those entire places and killed countless innocents. Compare that to when there were uprisings against nasuadas reign, she sent eragon who tried negotiating first which by all the accounts Galbatorix never did. So thats point number one of his evilness.
Secondly, regarding the vreongard part. There were only a smattering amount of riders plus drags on vreongard by the time Galbatorix arrived. He had already killed most of the riders in illerie and throughout alaegesia. And he stole countless elundari making his power even greater. Gleadr had mentioned that the elundari on vreongard were too old to be of much help so discount them. So it was indeed clear his victory would have been absolute by that point. So yeah, you are wrong to say that the order didnt try their best to defeat him.
The torture scene is something that is present on both the varden and Galbatorix side so that’s a tie.
Now, you say that the varden did rehpresible things. If they indeed do that and if Galbatorix was an all so benevolent king, why not go himself and destroy the varden and crush the rebellion there and then to stop them causing more evil? Because he didn’t give a fuck. He didn’t care what they did because he wanted them to come to him instead. So is that how you treat your loyal subjects, by not making sure a rebellion is crushed ASAP?