As I pointed out to Lady Geek Girl the other day, more than a month has passed again since I last addressed this topic, so it’s time to revisit my favorite series. I’ve spent a good long while harping on The Inheritance Cycle in the past, and while it does have plenty more problems that I could go into, Paolini did do a decent job every once in a while. This series has a good number of avid fans and followers, and I highly doubt that would be the case if the books had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. We could argue all day about whether or not they’re good books (they’re not), but even if you don’t like the series, it’s hard to deny that there is an appeal to it.
So today, I’m going to talk about some of the things that I genuinely enjoyed, or at least appreciated, about the series.
The Inheritance Cycle is very polarizing. It’s hard to say with what points Paolini did a decent job, because the rest of the series is so bad that all the good things seem either unintentional or completely accidental. Judging by the comments I’ve received about the series and what other people online have said in their reviews, we fans often disagree on how the books could be improved. It’s easy to point out the story’s faults, but I find that people have a much more difficult time articulating why they like it. Even after I finished reading Eragon and Eldest for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to make of my feelings on the matter. I both loved and hated every moment of it, and I felt that the books were both good and bad.
It wasn’t until I got a comment on my Magical Mondays post about dragons in The Inheritance Cycle that I realized why that was. For starters, the books are educational.
Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking, but I find these books very educational when it comes to the writing process. And reading the series has certainly helped me to improve my own fiction writing. But it’s not because I try to emulate Paolini’s style. As hannahgivens pointed out:
I keep feeling like the Eragon series has a lot of potential for studying tropes and how teenagers process them. It’s just all laid out for us to see, without much effort to conceal those tropes or create something new, just direct interaction with the tropes themselves. Surely there’s a marvelous research opportunity here if someone can figure out how to access it.
I’m going to make the safe assumption that this is not what Paolini intended for the series, but it is nevertheless what he gave—and I just want to say thank you to hannahgivens for pointing this out to me. I will agree that the books being clichéd and filled with trope after trope after trope is not a favor to the series, but this is something that I do enjoy about it. It makes for a rather simple, albeit sometimes aggravating, reading experience, and it can make you ambivalent in how you feel about the series as a whole. Because the series is written the way it is, it does allow a reader to interact directly with common tropes, as hannahgivens said, and that can be a very educational experience.
And speaking of tropes, both Eragon and Arya are Sues. Eragon is a Gary Stu and Arya is a Mary Sue. They just are. I was told by my fellow writer Luce once that I should avoid using the dreaded “Mary Sue” term, because it has become a go-to complaint about female characters, normally for misogynistic reasons—and I agree with that. Even when people defend a character from being a Mary Sue, which I have unfortunately done before, they still fall back on a “she’s not like other girls” mindset. Like, this female character isn’t as bad as all those other female characters.
As such, the term “Mary Sue” has become rather problematic. However, for the past year or so, I found myself wondering why both I and so many other people have been conditioned to hate this archetype. Sues are a thing. They exist, both in original works and in fanfiction. But I don’t think that necessarily makes them bad characters. They are generally indicative of a less talented writer if only because they are easy to write and sometimes hard to avoid, but they themselves are not bad characters. Sues can be useful to a story, and while I may wish that Paolini had done a better job in writing both Eragon and Arya, I now believe that making them Sues was not one of his failings.
Sues are wish-fulfillment characters—the characters we, the audience and author, wish we could be—and at its core, The Inheritance Cycle is wish fulfillment. We have a young, unimportant farmboy who discovers a dragon egg and ends up becoming the savior of the known world. In the process of doing this, he loses almost nothing. Yes, certain characters he’s close to—Garrow, Brom, Oromis—die along the way, but at the end, it doesn’t feel as if Eragon sacrificed much. In some ways, the ending is a letdown because of this, but in others, it’s still easy to insert yourself into the world and be happy with how things turned out. Eragon and Arya both being Sues helps to exemplify the wish-fulfillment aspect of the books that Paolini was going for.
What I also like about these two characters is that they never become a couple. I know that a lot of people wished otherwise when it comes to their relationship, but this is something that I genuinely adored about the books. So often, we are given narratives about some young hero who pines after a girl he cannot have while on his quest to defeat some evil. In the end, as a reward for his heroic deeds, he gets the girl. And no one really questions whether or not that will happen, because we’ve been conditioned to accept that that is what should happen. The hero “deserves” her, so the girl should just get with him, regardless of any protests or reasons she might have for not doing so.
That was exactly the direction I thought The Inheritance Cycle was going to go in. We spend the first three books watching Eragon try to insert himself into Arya’s life, pressure her for a relationship she clearly doesn’t want, and generally be a creepy stalker. At very few points does this not seem selfish on Eragon’s part. He’s less concerned and respectful toward her feelings on the matter, and focuses more on what he wants.
As the series starts to come to a close, Arya does begin to reciprocate his feelings, but in the end, they both go their separate ways. I cannot thank Paolini enough for this. For most of the series, people tend to just hand Eragon whatever he wants, and Eragon becomes very entitled. It was sadly only natural for Eragon to assume he was entitled to Arya as well—it was even sadder that the narrative sometimes read as if we should agree with Eragon on this matter. The rest of the books may read as trope after trope after trope, but this is one trope that I’m glad it avoided. It was also a surprising twist in an otherwise completely predictable series. I would hardly say that Inheritance Cycle is brimming with feminist ideals—trust me, it’s not—but I think it sends a good message to its intended audience, mostly comprised of teenagers, that Arya isn’t shown as giving in to Eragon, when she has legitimate reasons not to and when Eragon stalked her.
There are, of course, other parts of this series that I do like, and other reasons why I’m drawn to it, but these are the three main ones. The Inheritance Cycle has been such a big part of my life for nearly a decade now, it would be impossible for me to not form some kind of emotional connection to it. And that appears to be the same with other people I’ve read. All of us seem to have been drawn to the series—and sometimes disenchanted with it—for different reasons. Impishldea, for instance, has also listed why she initially got into the series, and while “hot characters and romance” made the books more enjoyable for her, it did the exact opposite for me. But that helped draw her in, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. So maybe they’re not good books, but I can definitely see why they have such a huge following.