Why Christopher Paolini Succeeded, Sort Of

Christopher Paolini, after publishing the final book in the Inheritance Cycle last November, has dropped severely on the top-ten author lists of YA readers.  Though authors such as Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth have had books published in October or even May of 2011 high on bestselling lists until now, Inheritance is nowhere to be found in Google results for “best young adult books of 2011”.  A lot of people were disappointed with that book and the way the series turned out.  The beginning of one Amazon review reads, “Like a delicate soufflé, rises to an epic climax before collapsing into a tasteless pile of goop”.  And the sad thing is, that synopsis is spot-on.  I apologize to those reading this who haven’t read Inheritance, but I think it’s well-known by now that Inheritance just wasn’t what anyone expected, or what the series needed to finish off.

It’s a whole lot of fun to bash authors that people think are good.  I know I’ve done this on a couple of occasions, with the Hunger Games and Inheritance– but it isn’t really the right thing to do.  If a book is popular, you need to realize why.  You obviously aren’t any better than this author, or you’d be the one with all that fame– so you need to sit down and study the reasons why this author got to the place he did.

I tried to do just that.  I thought about the Inheritance Cycle as a whole and have by now decided that Paolini was a good writer– amazing, even.  He was definitely great.  He started his first book at the age of fifteen, and published his last one at something like twenty-seven.  When Eragon came out in 2002, self-published by Paolini, it was quick to catch the eye of people in the publishing world.  He soon became a role-model to every teen fantasy writer alive.  This guy was a homeschooled teenager with ringing prose and awesome writing for his age.  He published his first book and people loved it.  It had good writing, good characters, and a good start to a good plot.  I have since found out that this, in fact, was simply the plot from Star Wars Episode IV.  No one cared, though.  The book looked great.

He ran into a few problems with Eldest, the second book in what was then the Inheritance Trilogy.  He stretched out the plot, adding battle scenes here and there and– well, everywhere.  In the plot, he managed to get through Star Wars Episode V, with a classic “Your daddy was actually this murdering freak!  Oh, was I not supposed to tell you that?”  Unfortunately, Paolini had given too much plot, too soon.  At least, he thought he had.  He had his rebel army camped much too far away from the site of the story’s climax, and he needed another book for the characters to battle their way in that direction.

In the third book, Brisingr, he took seven or eight hundred pages to get halfway through the plot of Star Wars Episode VI.  The main character rescues someone from a group of people unrelated to the main plot, and then goes back to complete his training, soon after which his mentor dies.  Most people agreed that Brisingr was better than the second book– things seemed to be moving toward a climax, and the writing style remained vivid and clear.  Battle scenes were still scattered throughout, making it longer than necessary.

In the final book, all that remained was for the rebellion to overthrow the Empire and the main character to fulfill all the prophecies told in the first book.  Many more battle scenes ensued, one of which was halfway necessary but could have been abbreviated by a brief character conversation: “Hey Eragon!  Remember that spear that, like, almost killed your dragon?  Yeah, well, the enemy left it behind and… here it is!”  “Groovy, man.  Bring it along.  Maybe we can use it to kill the evil emperor’s dragon.”  Past that, none of the battle scenes were relevant.  Let me stress, though, through all of this the prose remained wonderful.  In writing style, there were no grounds for complaint.  Plot-wise, however, everything was going south.  If you think about the plot of Return of the Jedi, after Yoda dies there is almost nothing except a frontal attack and the suspenseful “If we don’t do this, our team won’t win!”  That much of the plot was supposed to last for the entire eight-hundred-page bulk of Inheritance.  In order to make Inheritance full-length, instead of three books of five hundred pages or more and a pamphlet, Paolini inserted scenes about fulfilling prophecies, keeping promises, dwarf politics and, yes, more battle scenes.  There were a few detours that were necessary, such as getting the help they desperately needed for the last big attack.  Other than that, a lot of things were superfluous and a lot of important things were glossed over.

My study of Paolini has brought me to this conclusion: he had a great writing style.  He had a great understanding of grammar and the importance of an engaging voice that paints vivid pictures.  He had a plot until he decided that the things that make all good fantasies are lots of magical explosions and sword fighting.  It is very important to have a good writing style, and that’s what Paolini did right.  He did extremely well for his age.  He had enormous potential– and I think he still does.  This time, with this series, he didn’t deliver.  Nevertheless, I’m interested in his next project.

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132 Comments

  1. O_O I’d never noticed that before, but you’re right about the Star Wars/Inheritance parallels. Hmmm. Now I dislike him even more. xD There were a few things that he liked, but sometimes his books wandered so much and so slowly that it was like he was half-asleep while writing.

    Reply
    • His pacing was definitely badly done, but I still think you’re jumping to conclusions.

      Reply
    • *coughcoughcough* You’re the same way about HP. *coughcoughcough*

      Well, I thought he had excellent pacing in his first book. Generally, series don’t go downhill. At least, you don’t want them to.

      Reply
      • He did have excellent pacing in his first book, but only because there weren’t many opportunities for Eragon to wave a sword around and not get killed. I do wish he had cut back on the battle scenes…

  2. Charley R

     /  September 20, 2012

    Personally I thought the ending of Inheritance was very well done – it certainly bit me in the feelings in several places! – and I thought it was quite a spectacular end to the series. But I’ve never seen Star Wars in full, so I guess i didn’t have that dynamic to watch.

    That spear did annoy me, though. Convenient MacGuffin much? Could have been worse, though, I guess.

    That said, Paolini did say he’d go back and revisit the world in the future. I’m looking forward to that. His plots may not be fantastic, but the world has so much potential.

    Reply
    • The ending was good, and I did enjoy most of it, but there were other things that bugged me.

      He did say that, and I’m interested. We’ll see how things go… in about five years.

      Reply
      • Charley R

         /  September 21, 2012

        Indeed, indeed. We can wait.

      • Forever and a day, if we must. Might as well bathe in the River Styx while we’re at it… Fall asleep for a year and a day… That’s one thing Riordan left out of the PJ+O books.

      • Charley R

         /  September 22, 2012

        That he did. Swimming lessons in the Styx xD

      • Hello and welcome to our third annual Stygian swimming lesson! Same people as last year… and the year before… Perhaps they’re getting a little grumpy at falling asleep for so long.

      • Charley R

         /  September 22, 2012

        . . . We should invent a whole new Olympics, where the competitions involve old-world mythological influence. Up next, eight-legged-horse show jumping!

      • Hundred meter sprint– the runners being chased by the Mares of Thrace, of course. Aquestrian events– hippocampi riding, that is. And of course, discus with Thor’s hammer. Or his helmet, whichever.

      • Charley R

         /  September 23, 2012

        And the sailing events, following the course as set by Odysseus! Followed by the cycling, around the walls of Troy while the archery team use you for moving targets.

      • Water polo among the Nereids, table tennis with the eyeballs of the condemned… Sounds fun, don’t it?

      • Charley R

         /  September 23, 2012

        Yes it does! But who would present the medals?

      • Cerberus, of course. Three heads, a third of the time necessary.

      • Charley R

         /  September 24, 2012

        Excellent! What about Argus for a referee too?

      • Nothing will escape him… Bowling for cannibals! The only inedible part of a human is what they use for bowling! Heads will roll…

      • Charley R

         /  September 25, 2012

        Literally *snort*
        Do you think we could have the motorcross event going across the coils of Jormungand?

      • Absolutely. I’ll write it down.
        What do you think of rugby with Laestrygonians?

      • Charley R

         /  September 25, 2012

        I approve. Highly.

      • Good… Any more suggestions? I’ve still got half my notepad and budget to work with.

      • Charley R

         /  September 26, 2012

        Hmmmm . . . leave it with me. I’ll pin Odin and Zeus down later and see if they can come up with any more fun ideas between them. Other than hurdles over flying lightning bolts, that is.

      • Okay. And make sure Pluto gets in on it. He’s financing the whole thing, after all.

      • Charley R

         /  September 26, 2012

        Of course he is. Oh, Artemis get back to you about lending her hounds for the steeplechase event?

      • She hasn’t yet. I’ll consult with Lupa and see if we can keep her wolves as a backup plan.

      • Charley R

         /  September 27, 2012

        Good idea. Fenrir and his sibling are totally on board for providing entertaining twists during the discus and javelin events.

      • That’s good. Long jump over chimera saliva? It’s poisonous.

      • Charley R

         /  September 27, 2012

        Heck yes.

      • Great. I’ll notify Echidna.

      • Charley R

         /  September 28, 2012

        Fandabbiedozie. Now all we need are some doping specialists.

      • Yeah… How do we arrange that when so many heart rates are going crazy with the monster chases and such?

      • Charley R

         /  September 29, 2012

        We need someone who doesn’t set much store by heart rate.

      • Ah, indeed… Perhaps Pluto could lend a deathly helper.

      • Charley R

         /  September 30, 2012

        I’m sure he’d love to. He’s a lonely dude . . . I think he wants all the attention he can get.

      • Indeed. Being the god of riches is quite a lonely position– the only friends he usually has are his fellows asking for loans. He’s complained to me enough that I can tell you without overstepping my bounds that Jupiter is horrible with money management.

      • Charley R

         /  October 1, 2012

        Ugh. Jupiter can be a right pest when he wants to be. We’ll put him in charge of the budget, though. Whether he has the money or not, he’ll MAKE IT HAPPEN.

      • You ought to write the inspirational commercials.

      • Charley R

         /  October 1, 2012

        *snorts mirthlessly*

      • Seriously. We have an opening in that area after our former guy insulted the wrong harpies… Well, he insulted any harpies, which was as bad.

      • Charley R

         /  October 2, 2012

        Definitely. The plonker.

      • So will you accept?

      • Charley R

         /  October 3, 2012

        I suppose. As long as there’s no . . . you know what . . . involved.

      • Excuse me, but I don’t know what. What?

      • Charley R

         /  October 3, 2012

        Paperwork, you bumberclark!

      • Oh, no. No paperwork involved. You just need to write commercials. You can dictate if you want. Your underlings will deal with legal ramifications.

      • Charley R

         /  October 4, 2012

        Excellent. What’s the catch?

      • *cough* What catch?

      • Charley R

         /  October 5, 2012

        The catch to this fantastic deal that I will come to horribly regret later? The one that’s mentinoed right here in the fine print?

      • *cough* What fine print?

      • Charley R

         /  October 5, 2012

        *holds up contract and points to it*

      • Oh. That fine print. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. *coughcough* Have you read the finer print?

      • Charley R

         /  October 6, 2012

        Yes. I put enough of it in my own contracts to know where to look for these things.

      • Good, then you will have realized that the fine print is negated by the finer print, and everything is good.

      • Charley R

         /  October 6, 2012

        I cannot be tricked like this. I have a spare pair of eyeballs attached to my personage to allow the reading of both, and detect the finest print between them!

      • Oh… Saw that, did you? Well, I suppose I’ve been defeated. And by you who hate paperwork so much! I suppose I’ll have to withdraw my requirements.

      • Charley R

         /  October 6, 2012

        Yes. Do.
        I know my enemy well. So I can kill it better.

      • Ah. Good for you.

        There. I’ve made the necessary adjustments. You are free from all contractual obligations. There’s just the matter of your living quarters.

      • Charley R

         /  October 6, 2012

        I will house myself, thank you.

      • Can’t be done. We can’t have it said that we don’t provide the utmost care to our employees… How will a room in the Underworld with a lovely view of the Styx do you? Or perhaps level six of Valhalla? But no, that’s reserved for the dead… as is the Underworld. Dang. Perhaps a cave?

      • Charley R

         /  October 6, 2012

        *glares* I. Will. House. Myself.

      • Which level of Mount Olympus would you want, if I could arrange it? Remember, nothing is set in stone yet, though at the rate the scribe is going, it will be soon.

      • Charley R

         /  October 7, 2012

        Any level without too many slimy things in will do.

      • Okay, so definitely not Zeus’s level. I don’t know why he likes slugs, but…

      • Charley R

         /  October 8, 2012

        Ugh, he’s such a creep anyway. I’d love to go and hang out with Hermes, if that’s okay. That guy owes me a favour after the incident with his sandals . . .

      • Hermes… sixth level from the top. Watch yourself.

      • Charley R

         /  October 8, 2012

        I will. No fear of that.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 8, 2012

        Yes, but much fear of him sleepwalking with flying shoes. Never sleep with a window open.

      • Charley R

         /  October 8, 2012

        . . . I shall liberate him of his flying shoes, methinks.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 8, 2012

        Make sure you appropriate his slippers, too. Even though they just have butterfly wings, he can really get going in his sleep.

      • Charley R

         /  October 9, 2012

        Thank you for the warning. All winged footwear will henceforth be pilfered, and possibly returned at a later date.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 9, 2012

        And don’t forget that he’s a god. He’ll use that to weasel out of your ban.

      • Charley R

         /  October 9, 2012

        I am no foolish mortal to be bossed about by a celestial postman!

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 9, 2012

        Ah, yes, I keep forgetting you’re immortal too. I’ve got an eternity to learn, and I still haven’t figured it out yet.

      • Charley R

         /  October 10, 2012

        You catch on eventually once you’ve been through a couple of centuries. Or have a rather traumatising experience because of it.
        Guess which of them I had?

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 10, 2012

        Um… I bet you still haven’t caught on.

      • Charley R

         /  October 11, 2012

        Correctamundo! You’re a bright one, aren’t you?

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 11, 2012

        Indeed I am. *preens*

      • Charley R

         /  October 11, 2012

        *sprays you with a water pistol full of gatorade*

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 11, 2012

        You… You…! I am so not getting you that place on Hermes’ level. You’re going with the slugs.

      • Charley R

         /  October 12, 2012

        Very well. The slugs and i shall fraternize and plot your downfall.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 12, 2012

        No you won’t. The slugs will eat you.

      • Charley R

         /  October 12, 2012

        I doubt that. I have great social skills in the slug world.

      • Slugs don’t socialize much, so they wouldn’t know social skills if they hit them in the face. Which is probably what your social skills amount to.

      • Charley R

         /  October 13, 2012

        Ooooooh . . . lovely insult. Did your mother teach you that one too?

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 13, 2012

        No, yours did.

      • Charley R

         /  October 13, 2012

        Oh yes . . . I remember now. I ATE yours!

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 13, 2012

        And then you ate your own just after, as I recall.

      • Charley R

         /  October 14, 2012

        No, that was my aunt.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 14, 2012

        No, you squished your ant.

      • Charley R

         /  October 15, 2012

        Minion! WHO put that “u” in there!
        I think I need to give them shore leave soon. I might be breaking them.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 15, 2012

        True. Just make sure they don’t desert. I’d suggest giving their mugshots to the local police. Let them see how cruel a world it is and how good they’ve got it with you.

      • Charley R

         /  October 15, 2012

        I’ve done that already. They know better than to leave . . . the fact that i branded “MINE!” onto their foreheads with the Permanent Sharpie of Despair helps too.

      • But who knows what may happen– they might meet, on their break, a mysterious trader selling the Even More Permanent White-Out of Irrational Happiness. What then?

      • Charley R

         /  October 16, 2012

        Then they know that my pet Wargs are coming to eat them for desertion. And they won’t get their weekly cookie shipment.

      • Liam, Head Phil

         /  October 16, 2012

        Ah, so after a certain time your Wargs are set loose, and if all went well your minions would be back by then. I see. Quite ingenious.

      • Charley R

         /  October 16, 2012

        Yes, it is rather. Better than my old system – I used to implant magnets in their ears, and when they didn’t come back I’d boot up the supermagnet to bring them back.

        Unfortunately, I forgot to take account of the fact that errant minions aren’t the only things that could be attracted by a supermagnet.

        It ended badly after its first use. I brought in the wargs after that.

      • I’ll bite– how many refrigerators did you snag?

      • Charley R

         /  October 17, 2012

        Twenty three. And six thousand and two horseshoes, six broken cars . . . and an arc reactor.

      • Can I have it? The reactor? Pweez?

      • Charley R

         /  October 17, 2012

        No. It’s mine. I need it.
        I have a spare, though. Or rather, Tony Stark does. Or did . . . long story.

      • Exactly how many movies did that story take?

      • Charley R

         /  October 17, 2012

        Two. With some bonus material on each disk.

      • Ah. But still. I want it.

      • Charley R

         /  October 19, 2012

        I shall get Kirk to drop a disk off for you next time he does flyby.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Paolini. I LOVED Eragon, but the rest were slowly dying. Brisngr was better than Eldest, but Inheritance was the worst way to end a series! In fact I think my review (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/233142156) says a few similar things to your blog post 😀

    Great post!

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I loved your review. It was positive, which I think is important– you stressed a lot of good things about Paolini, when many others decide to be too negative about him. The series was good and it had potential, but it didn’t end with the emotion it could have had. I applaud you.

      Reply
      • Thanks! I wanted it to be so much more than it was! It’s a shame when books and series don’t end well, especially when they start off with loads of potential!

      • Indeed, indeed. It’s sad, because most people obsess too much about getting an amazing start to a series, then relax when they near the finish and lose their grip on the great story they promised us.

  4. Robyn Hoode

     /  September 20, 2012

    Eragon was good. But the series went downhill from there. It was soooooooooooooo long! Not that I am against long books, but I think there were definely things he could have left out.
    Have you actually heard of another series?

    Reply
    • Indeed. One problem with good prose is the writer tends to flaunt it– he gets quite verbose.

      In the acknowledgements for Inheritance, Paolini says that he’s spent too much time on perfecting Eragon’s world to let it rest. I’m sure he’s writing something now, but I’m not sure it’s in Alagaesia.

      Reply
      • Robyn Hoode

         /  September 27, 2012

        If I had written that much about a world, I wouldn’t let it rest, either!

  5. I loved the Eragon books, but I definitely agree that they were drawn out a little much. My eyes would glaze over as I skimmed the battle scenes looking for plot. Definitely an enjoyable series, but it could have been better.

    I don’t mean to slam Paolini. I think he’s a great writer, and he obviously works his tail off. Props for dedication, at the very least.

    Reply
  6. as i mentioned, i’m terrible at commenting, so i was about to read through the comments and leave without letting you know i actually read something, but then i smacked myself and made myself start typing.
    i haven’t read the inheritance cycle, and i’ve kind of meant to, but even though i love thick books i don’t think i’d have the patience for these o.e
    yup. pointless comment.

    Reply
    • Not at all pointless. You’ve made me cringe with uncapitalization in at least four places. No worries, though.
      I think it would be worth it to read the Inheritance Cycle just to study the style. If you read it for the story, I think you’d be a little disappointed, but the style is great.

      Reply
  7. On a totally unrelated topic….you know it’s bad when you can’t remember all of the things on this blog you’ve commented on. I’m trying to find the recent ones to type a reply to you, or just ignore you, and for the life of me, I don’t remember which ones they were…

    Reply
  8. Last year, just after he published Inheritance, I read (or rather, listened to) Eragon. The story was interesting enough, and I did enjoy the style, but I also picked up on the Star Wars Episode IV storyline easily. In fact I wrote about this on my own blog. I did not read the sequels, but it is disappointing to learn that he carried the Star Wars storyline throughout his series. Good post!

    Reply
    • I didn’t realize the parallels until recently, but it was still disappointing. Nevertheless, as I keep saying, his writing style is great.

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

      Reply
  9. I disagree with your opinion that his writing style was good. I think he was trying much to hard to be a proper fantasy writer, however on the rest of it you’re pretty spot on. Interesting plots if only he was able to pace it better and drop the annoying battle scenes that bogged up the story-line. I absolutely loved the first book but then in the time it took him to put out the last book I read a lot better books and realized that… There was a lot better books to read 😀 I hope he keeps writing though because I think he has a good talent that has improved in each book and I think will continue to do so.

    Reply
    • Interesting, interesting… I thought, obviously, that the writing style was extremely good for his age, whether he was trying to copy epic fantasy style or not. Whether he was or not doesn’t really matter because he still pulled it off extremely well. I agree that he’s talented, though, and I’m definitely interested to see what else he comes up with.

      Reply
      • Erin

         /  September 25, 2012

        I had my comment all planned and was ready to type it up when I realized Faith had said exactly what I wanted to point out. While yes, Paolini’s vocabulary was prodigious and he wrote better than most people his age, I felt like his writing was at times a bit forceful – it was like he had to make himself write better than most people his age. Once and a while I’d roll my eyes and say to myself, “He is totally trying to become the next Tolkien and it isn’t working.”

        All that said, I loved Eragon and loved the world Paolini created. Now if only he hadn’t completely ruined the plot with Eldest and decided that he needed to use two full pages to describe every single thing each character saw…I might actually be recommending the Inheritance Cycle right now instead of warning people to avoid it.

        I still haven’t read Inheritance (I picked it up from the library but couldn’t finish it before it was due), but I do plan to…sometime. So I can’t put in my opinions about the ending yet.

      • Indeed. He definitely did try to copy the epic fantasy style, but I think he copied it well enough that he can’t be blamed too much. I think I said something similar to Faith.

        I’d recommend the Inheritance Cycle just as a study. If you’re reading for story, it will fall short, but if you’re reading for worldbuilding and description, the Cycle won’t disappoint you. Probably.

      • Erin

         /  September 27, 2012

        Some spots, he succeeded. Others, not so much. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

        I don’t recommend it because there’s a ton of better books out there that I can be suggesting instead of a gigantic, four book series that was actually supposed to be a trilogy…*coughcoughatrilogywouldhavebeenmuchbettercoughcough*

      • I quite agree. Four books was too much.

      • Erin

         /  September 27, 2012

        Indeed.

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