Last month, I did a post on religion and culture in Inheritance Cycle, specifically for the people of Carvahall and Eragon himself. That, however, led to someone asking how I felt about a holy vision, I suppose you could say, that Eragon has in Brisingr. This post furthers my response to that question.
In Brisingr, during Orik’s coronation to become the new Dwarf king, Eragon sees a vision of the Dwarven god Gûntera. The vision—or rather, the manifestation—of the holy being is brought about by a Dwarven priest saying a prayer in the Ancient Language, the language of magic. This has led me to believe that this wasn’t a vision or something otherworldly. This particular scene undermined the Dwarven faith, instead of enhancing it, since it potentially provides proof to something I thought they believed simply through faith. Additionally, it could also go to show that their faith isn’t real and only the result of magic. I really disliked this scene, because I actually thought the Dwarven faith was really well done.
What I mean to say is that it’s about as well done as something in these books can be, but unlike other things in the books that are interesting by a complete accident on the author’s part—such as Morzan potentially not serving Galbatorix willingly—the Dwarven faith is intentional, so I can actually give credit where it is due and say that the author did a semi-decent job in its portrayal. This is also one of the few things about the series that I generally liked, as opposed to liking what it should have been—Eragon being a sociopath, for example.
The Dwarves have six gods whom they believe to be responsible for the creation of all living things in Alagaësia. The king of their gods is Gûntera, who was originally opposed to creating living creatures. However, when the god of stone, Helzvog, defied Gûntera and made the Dwarves from the “roots” of a mountain—the Dwarves believe that rocks and mountains are living entities that grow—the other gods grew jealous and wanted their own people. Thus, Gûntera, wishing to control Alagaësia for himself, created the elves to rule the land. Sindri, goddess of the earth, is the mother of humans, and the brother gods—Morgothal, god of fire, and Urûr, god of wind and air—bound together to create dragons. The only one to restrain herself from creating life was Gûntera’s mate, Kílf, the goddess of water.
The Dwarves’ faith manifests itself in almost everything the Dwarves do or say. At one point, numerous Dwarves accompany Eragon on a journey at a risk to their own souls, because if they die and Eragon doesn’t bury them in rock, they believe that they will never make it to the afterlife to dine eternally in Morgothal’s hall. This belief goes to show their devotion, because it adds a huge risk to their journey from their perspective. It’s not just their physical bodies in danger; it’s also their immortal souls.
Later on, when Eragon is discussing the death of one Dwarf with another Dwarf, we further learn just how deeply this faith affects their lives and their way of thinking:
[Glûmra] said “Tonight Kvîstor will dine in Morgothal’s hall. That I know.” She kissed her amulet again. “I wish I might break bread with him, along with mine husband, Bauden, but it is not mine time to sleep in the catacombs of Tronjheim, and Morgothal refuses entry to his hall to those who quicken their arrival. But in time, our family shall be reunited, including all of our ancestors since Gûntera created the world from darkness. That I know.”
Eragon knelt next to her, and in a hoarse voice, he asked, “How do you know this?”
“I know because it is so.”
—Brisingr, pg. 477–478
It is entirely possible that the reason the Dwarves are so strong in their faith is because they are secluded from the rest of the world, and therefore they don’t have a lot of experience with other belief systems and have no real reason to question their own.
Additionally, like many religious people, they don’t take too kindly to others mocking their faith or attempting to prove them wrong. They just want to be allowed to worship in peace. When Eragon is first adopted into Orik’s family, a Dwarven priest named Gannel takes to teaching him about their faith. During the lesson, they are interrupted by the elf Arya.
“You have been educating Eragon in your mythology?”
Gannel smiled flatly. “One should always understand the faith of the society that one belongs to.”
“Yet comprehension does not imply belief.”
—Eldest, pg. 119
Arya interrupts this lesson in order to belittle Gannel’s beliefs, makes the assumption that Eragon doesn’t follow the faith, without consulting Eragon first, and then further goes on to say that the Dwarves should spend their material goods on helping poorer people, instead of piling it “into a monument to [their] own wishful thinking.”
I could go into Arya’s hypocrisy here, since we do discover that she is a hypocrite in this regard later on in the book, but I thought that this was a nice exchange in portraying religion. The elves like to take it upon themselves to teach the Dwarves the error of their ways: that they shouldn’t believe in gods, that rocks are not alive. Naturally, the Dwarves are not receptive to this. Much like non-religious people who do not appreciate religious organizations shoving beliefs on them, the same is true here. Religious people don’t appreciate non-religious people going out of their way to enlighten them as to the error of their ways, especially when there’s nothing inherently wrong with letting people worship in peace and allowing them to spend their wealth how they want to.
As someone who is religious, this was a situation I could relate to. I don’t care that tithing and worship are not scientifically proven to do anything, and furthermore, I’m also already aware of that, but I still do it. It’s my prerogative, and it is upsetting when people get on my case about it and attack me for it.
So yes, from a religious perspective, I thought this scene was very well done, and I thought that the Dwarven faith—which, while in some cases, is a bit superfluous—was very well explored and developed, not just in their beliefs, but also in how they interact with the world around them.
I also enjoyed the Dwarven religion because I could liken it to my own. I thought that the Dwarves operated on faith and not proof, which is the main reason why I disliked the appearance of Gûntera. By showing Gûntera, the books changed the entirety of the Dwarves’ belief system from faith to something that operated on a visual manifestation of a god who might not even exist in the Inheritance Cycle universe and may just be an illusion created by magic that the Dwarves worship. I might not have even minded Gûntera’s appearance, had his manifestation not been implied to be a spell. Some people have taken this scene to be a positive portrayal of religion, but I didn’t, because I thought that it undermined the whole faith and contradicted Paolini’s intent in this regard. In my original response to the question posed on my other post, I said this about the incident:
[What happens at Orik’s coronation] 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.
I do have some issues about the Dwarves, obviously—they are walking fantasy stereotypes who like rocks—but overall, I was happy with the portrayal of their religion, and I really do think Paolini did an okay job for once. But I definitely could have done without an appearance by Gûntera.