Eragon by Christopher Paolini, 2003.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. The youth of the author, who was 15 when he started writing, intrigued me (see tangent on The Young Visiters), but didn’t raise my hopes. It was this terrific 3-way interview with Philip Pullman and Tamora Pierce that did. Pullman is a (mostly) fantastic writer, and I liked Pierce’s “Protector of the Small” series–not brilliant, but decent writing and enjoyable stories. Paolini held his own in the interview. Plus, I like good fantasy, I like dragons (one of the main characters is a female dragon named Saphira), and several people recommended it to me.

I gave up at 100 pages and it was a struggle to get that far. I checked out the last 25 pages in case some dramatic improvement had take place–but no. Paolini probably could be a good writer some day–as Jonathan said, a novel Proust wrote at 15 might not be so hot–but right now he could use “Cousin Len’s Wonderful Adjective Cellar” from Jack Finney’s story, which sucks up excess adjectives & adverbs. When I hit stuff like “Dark eyebrows rested above his intense brown eyes,” I’m jolted out of the “vivid and continuous dream” good fiction is supposed to engender (John Gardner’s phrase). Hearing Paolini’s sentences in my head felt like chewing gravel; he’s presumably aiming for a brawny Beowulfian pattern (“It struck her steed…[she] landed lightly, then glanced back for her guards”), but to me the result is self-concious and clunky. Nor did the scenarios in the first hundred pages seem particularly original: McCaffrey-style dragons in a world with Star Wars politics and Tolkien races. But again, he’s only 19 now, and to have the stylistic control and awareness to make the choices he did here (even if the result didn’t work for me) is remarakable. I guess my “bad fantasy” buttons were just pushed–purple prose combined with multi-volume stories…

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