In our first post about Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, we discussed the implications of the character and perspective of Eragon and how important it is to attempt to view the world through the eyes of people who are different from us. We took that theme across to Laini Taylor’s books Strange The Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares today; you can read that post here. Another element within the story of Eragon that I found fascinating is how Paolini uses the theme of hardship within his story.
Suffering is abundant in the land of Alagaësia from the opening of the novel. The kingdom is ruled with an iron fist by a despot, King Galbatorix. Eragon himself is dealing with personal suffering when the story begins: he’s an orphan (a common trope for male protagonists, I’m starting to think), and doesn’t know who his father was. His hardship increases tenfold when the Ra’zac grievously injure his uncle Garrow and destroy Garrow’s farm – the only place Eragon has ever called home. Upon Garrow’s death, he sets off on a journey to find the Ra’zac and exact revenge, accompanied by his dragon Saphira and the village story-teller, Brom. Brom, as it turns out, is more than just a bard and has himself dealt with an unimaginable amount of suffering – losing his own dragon and the woman he loved, having his existence as a Rider completely uprooted, being betrayed and set upon by the person he had considered his closest friend. Eragon and Brom bond over their various hardships as the story continues, but Eragon’s suffering is not yet at an end: he must instead face Brom’s death, once more at the hands of Ra’zac. AND THE BOOK ISN’T EVEN HALFWAY OVER, GUYS.
Throughout all of this hardship, what is the take-home message? For me, Eragon’s propensity to push through the pain of every loss he has encountered is remarkable. Let’s remember that this is a teenage kid! Sure, he’s grumpy, rash and full of violent and tough-to-explain emotion, but when he comes up against adversity, he consistently makes a choice to face it head-on rather than shying away from it or searching for an easy way out. He establishes why what he is fighting for matters, both to him and to the people for whom he cares, and this makes his decision to stand firm in the face of adversity a simple one.
Neither is Eragon the only character in the story that displays such fortitude. For years, and in spite of all that he has lost, Brom chooses to continue fighting against Galbatorix’s rule. Murtagh, another friend and companion of Eragon’s, has endured the pain of an abusive, dangerous father to strike back against the empire. Arya – an elf Eragon rescues from the clutches of Durza, a Shade working under Galbatorix – withstands near-constant violent torture to protect those she loves. While their faith may waver at times or their emotions may get the best of them in particular situations, all of these characters ultimately make the decision to endure the adversity that comes their way. Conversely, we are shown how hardship can destroy a person: how Durza was once an orphaned human boy named Carsaib, and how the death of his patron sorcerer pushed him to vengeance beyond his control and turned him into a Shade, possessed and controlled by evil spirits.
What can we take from this? Hardship is a fundamental component of any story; at some point, the protagonist is met with conflict and has a choice. How they choose to respond to the conflict or suffering they endure, as well as what they learn and how they grow from the experience, generally determines their ultimate path. Eragon isn’t a hero because he has a dragon; it’s rather his response to adversity and hardship that finds him in this role. The same can be said for us, in our day-to-day existence. We will be faced with suffering, whether on a small or large scale. The appearance of hardship in our own lives is inevitable; what is variable is how we choose to face the hardship once it appears. Do we push through the painful experiences, doing our best to learn from them and maintaining our focus on what it is we most value – that which makes the fight worthwhile? Or do we give in to vengeance and suffering, letting our pain and anger consume us and twist us away from our true identities? The choice is ours to make.