Chapter 75: A Man of Conscience
In which we receive more Authorial Intervention explaining that, despite all the character evidence otherwise, Eragon is not in fact a power-hungry amoral psychopath.
The chapter opens with a perfect example of what I don’t like about Paolini:
“Warm light streamed through the windows along the right of the hallway, illuminating patches of the far wall where banners, paintings, shields, swords, and the heads of various stags hung between the dark, carved doors that dotted the wall at regular intervals.”
*shudders* there’s nothing technically wrong with, but as with most of Paolini’s work it is too long, has too many completely unnecessary details, adds nothing to the story as a whole, and is vaguely unsettling to read, like I’ve just consumed the literary equivalent of spoiled milk.
Apparently there had been a banquet in Arya’s honour when she and Firnen returned to the city. Because after being (allegedly) ruthlessly oppressed by a dragon rider for over a hundred years, the obvious thing to do when a new one come around is to throw a party.
And despite said party being over, the bards are still playing music and singing the next morning. I like to think at least one hungover citizen would throw something at them with a slurred command to shut the hell up. People are hungover and trying to sleep it off, dude. Just give it a rest already.
But of course that’s just a throwaway detail that Paolini plops down so Eragon has something to think about while walking down the hallway.
In Nasuada’s “study”, he finds her “reclining on a padded seat”, listening to her personal bard, sipping from a “chalice” (because the chalice in the palace holds the brew that is true), and otherwise flaunting her new role as queen. So much for humility. Elva is in the room with them, as well as Nasuada’s handmaiden, with one of the werecats on her lap.
Eragon and Nasuada go to speak privately, and Nasuada reveals that Elva helped her through her depression by “telling [her] what [she] needed to hear.”
Dude, depression doesn’t work like that, especially not depression born from the deepest invasion of the self by another person. Rape victims do not just perk up and go happily about their lives because somebody talks to them about it, no matter whether their rapist is now alive or dead. But of course, Nasuada is such a Strong Female Character, and Elva is Just So Special, that a short discussion cures her completely of any depression or lingering awkwardness/fear/uncomfortableness.
I’d really like someone to go over this bit in more detail, I just can’t bring myself to think too deeply about it right now. But I think this is a major, terrible, inexcusable error of judgement that needs to be explored and explained.
ANYWAY. Moving along.
“Are Saphira and Firnen still cavorting about as they were earlier?”
Paolini, ‘cavorting’ is not an effective euphemism for sex, or even foreplay. Anybody who does use it for such, probably hasn’t had any.
(I know that’s probably not what he meant, but given the previous chapter and Paolini’s hilarious misuse of synonyms, I can’t help but chuckle at the mental image of a 30-something Paolini in a bar. “Kvetha fricaya, beautiful. Shall we cavort at your place, or mine? Let me show you how sharp my sword is.”)
Eragon explains that instead of being forced to be loyal to Nasuada, he will leave Alaglag altogether. Except not in those words. Real mature, Eragon. Oh, Nasuada wants all magicians to be registered and monitored, which is fine for all those other insignificant magic-users, but not for mighty Eragon! He would rather leave his homeland entirely than be subject to someone else’s rule.
Here’s a tip: don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.
Eragon talks about equality, impartiality, and the need for physical barriers between the dragon training grounds and the rest of the world – “walls and moats and cliffs too high for man, elf, dwarf or Urgal; to scale”. That inconsistently-capitalised Urgal really bugs me. Unless it’s a proper noun, it should be small case, just like the first three.
The walls, strangely, would be to protect the dragons, not the outsiders. Because the world’s ultimate apex predators need protection from men with knives.
And then Paolini proves that, when it comes to Eragon, sometimes he actually does consider the ramifications: “I’ve become too powerful. As long as I’m here, your authority… will always be in doubt.”
Nasuada, however, completely misses the central thesis of the entire series so far: “If you do [interfere in the laws of society], I’m sure it would be for a good reason, and I’m sure we would be grateful.”
Just like how grateful you were for Galbatorix getting rid of the all-powerful dragon riders and giving religious and economic freedom to the humans.
Eragon continues to be sensible, leading me to believe that either Paolini’s editor or sister added this bit so that Eragon would at least have the façade of goodliness and the moral high ground:
“No doubt I would believe my reasons were just, but that’s the trap, isn’t it? […] If I was wrong, though, who could stop me? I could end up becoming Galbatorix, despite my best intentions.”
Oh, and here’s the best bit in the entire book: “I will answer to Saphira, and to my conscience as I always have“
So, your conscience told you to choke to death an innocent young man drafted against his will into the military, pleading for mercy from you? Your conscience told you to mind-rape Sloan and force him, blind and weak from being tortured, to stumble across the wild lands and through the desert to the elves where he would never fit in or be truly welcomed, with the knowledge that he would never again see his only daughter, the one person who he cared about above all else? Your conscience told you to commit genocide (also possibly deicide), ignoring and actively preventing a sentient being’s final wish, purely and for revenge for your uncle and your cousin’s girlfriend?
Nasuada echoes my last paragraph with a “curled lip” : “A man of of conscience – the most dangerous kind in the world”
I disagree, a man without a conscious is probably far worse. The worst of all, though, is a man like Eragon: a man who thinks he has a conscience, when he in fact does not. Nothing stops him from committing any act of violence or cruelty, but he can still justify it as an act of conscience.
Nasuada brings up a discussion about gods, and for once Eragon is actually open-minded about it. That settles it, this chapter must have been ghost-written.
After some more useless discussion about the meaning of good and so on, we get this:
“Overhead, the light from the sinking sun picked out cracks and flaws in the underside of the stone shelf.”
Okay, let’s go back for a moment to the beginning of the chapter: “Warm light streamed through the windows”. I don’t know about you, but that tends to imply late morning or very early afternoon. Has this conversation being going on all day?
Anyway, Nasuada then reveals that she is a terrible organizer/planner (like we didn’t see that from everything else she’s tried to organize or plan): “You and Saphira were going to lead [the magicians] and the Riders. And now… I don’t know what to do.”
No back-up plans, no contingencies or Plan B or anything else, just in case something changed or different from the original? She made her plan without consulting anybody else, and then didn’t put in a contingency for just in case somebody else didn’t want to go along with it?
Nice dictatorship, Nasuada. I predict you’ll last maybe a year or two before the people overthrow you, as well.
Eragon shows that despite the previous few pages about not trusting his own judgement and all that, he’s still the only one worthy of knowing the name of the ancient language: “The name is too dangerous to be bandied about lightly”, and therefore he would not teach it to anybody, not even the person entrusted with monitoring and controlling all the other magicians in the land.
Good gods, that was an awful chapter.
Finally! Although I inadvertently missed my opening to spork chapter seventy-five in its entirety, torylltales has allowed me to post a second spork following the same format pipedreamno20 used. In other words, this spork focuses on a small part of the chapter which I thought needed some additional sporking: the part where Nasuada and Eragon discuss the existence of gods and the nature of accountability.
On page 807 of the fourth book (hardcover) is the start of a discussion about whether gods exist, and whether Eragon considers himself accountable to any higher being for his actions. Even though the conversation only takes up space equivalent to a little more than a single page, I found enough in it to fill up nearly six pages of text in Libreoffice. For those who might not want to read that which could start to sound like a philosophy paper, the short summary is that Eragon is more open to the possibility of the existence of gods (or a God), but he still feels that their existence is pointless. Before I begin, I want to quote the following from the synopsis at the beginning of the book:
Then the god Helzvog made the stout and sturdy dwarves from the stone of the Hadarac Desert.–In the Beginning: A History of Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr
As far as I know Paolini does not attribute this to any character inside his story, and I could find no mention of error in the Inheritance wiki. As swankivy has noted, the section from which this is taken is the author’s direct narration. The elves were obviously wrong! If Arya were ever to read her author’s words because of a rift in the Fourth Wall, she would have to eat crow.
I’ll start by quoting the beginning of the relevant section:
Then Nasuada said, “Do you believe in the gods, Eragon?”
“Which gods? There are many.”
“Any of them. All of them. Do you believe in a power higher than yourself?”
“Other than Saphira?” He smiled in apology as Nasuada frowned. “Sorry.” He thought seriously for a minute, then said, “Perhaps they exist; I don’t know. I saw . . . I’m not sure what I saw, but I may have seen the dwarf god Gûntera in Tronjheim when Orik was crowned. But if there are gods, I don’t think very highly of them for leaving Galbatorix on the throne for so long.”
“Perhaps you were the gods’ instrument for removing him. Did you ever consider that?”
“Me?” He laughed. “I suppose it could be, but either way, they certainly don’t care whether we live or die.”
“Of course not. Why should they? They are gods. . . . Do you worship any of them, though?” The question seemed of particular importance to Nasuada.
I suspect that Paolini was not very comfortable writing these few paragraphs. While it could be argued that Paolini had all religions in mind when he wrote this, a later part of the text makes me think that it was Christianity, or some version of it, that Paolini thought of specifically. He (through his avatar) raises a question and makes a statement (the statement comes later) which have already been answered by Bible-reading theologians for a long time. I doubt whether Paolini has ever been exposed to a proper discussion about the Christian God. But if Paolini is only trying to “stir the pot” as it were, then he has, unfortunately, picked one that is nine days old.
Before I forget, regarding the character interaction as I see it: Nasuada, probably meant to represent the ordinary religious type, sounds sincere, but confused. Eragon, I think, sounds insincere or stupid, or both. I blame the Church Universal and Triumphant.
And now, onward!
Eragon states that if gods exist, then he does not think highly of them for allowing Galbatorix to remain in power for so long. What I think is also being implied by Eragon is that even if gods do exist, there isn’t any point in following any one of them since they do not care about matters in Alagaësia. Nasuada (surprise!) agrees with the implication, while implying that one should worship these distant, uninvolved gods anyway. My problem with this is simple: a set of beliefs which claim to have their source in a god or gods (or even an Idea) who are “faraway”, and “uninvolved” is a set of beliefs (or worldview), which is ripe for human modification and corruption, even if the beliefs themselves were not corrupt to begin with. This is basic human nature.
However, since Paolini did not, and probably does not, intend for Alagaësia to have any absolute standard of truth beyond what he himself says, I cannot—ultimately—complain too much when his characters start to make a mess of philosophy. But I will say this: Eragon’s statement that he does not approve of gods who leave Galbatorix on the throne (and his assertion that they care not whether people live or die) is very similar to an argument sometimes used in the real world to try to disprove the existence of a personally involved God. The argument (reworded to fit the current context) goes something like this:
- a) A god worth following would not allow evil happenings to befall good people.
- b) Evil happenings befall both bad and good people all the time.
- Therefore, c) No god worth following can exist.
While not trying to trivialize the problems people can have over this (it is one of the major barriers to the Christian worldview), I still have to ask whether there are any truly good, perfect people in the first place! The Christian, but non-Calvinist explanation, is roughly as follows:
- a) God created people with freewill and a choice, and gave them a moral law intended to guide their choices. The First Choice was simple: would people follow God’s morality, or would they claim the right to decide for themselves what is right and what isn’t?
- b) People chose to disobey God’s moral law (they decided to choose for themselves what “good” is). Since God is the only one who has the right to define what good and evil are, by choosing to disobey God people were essentially choosing evil.
- c) Since God is not in the business of mass-revoking people’s freewill (robots can neither love nor hate), the only alternative is to allow evil to continue for a time.
- d) But since God and evil (that is, that which contradicts God) cannot coexist forever, God will eventually remove those who, knowing evil, intentionally choose evil. But since freewill will always exist (does God want robots?), the possibility of evil will also always exist. Whether that possibility becomes reality is dependent on the choices of people.
To bring this to a conclusion (and here is a truly off-the-cuff remark), I propose that this means that Eragon strongly disapproves of Paolini, who has, I think, stated in an interview* that he is Alagaësia’s god; therefore taking on himself all responsibility for evil—if Eragon’s belief about what makes a worthy god is to be taken as Truth for Alagaësia. The irony ought not to be lost.
I think that pretty much covers my problem with Eragon’s first statement. A full explanation that included the practical Christian solution to the problem could take at least an extra page of summary, and as this is meant to be a spork, not a theological brief, I will stop.
*This is taken from memory, but I have no reference.
Again Eragon thought for a while. Then he shrugged. “There are so many, how could I know which ones to choose?”
“Why not the creator of them all, Unulukuna, who offers life everlasting?”
Eragon could not help but chuckle. “As long as I don’t fall sick and no one kills me, I may live for a thousand years or more, and if I live that long, I can’t imagine I would want to continue on after death. What else can a god offer me? With the Eldunarí, I have the strength to do most anything.”
(Ugh. Eragon speaks about the Eldunarí as if he owns them. Just a side note.)
“The gods also provide the chance to see those we love again. Don’t you want that?”
He hesitated. “I do, but I don’t want to endure for an eternity. That seems even more frightening than someday passing into the void, as the elves believe.”
I should point out that Eragon’s first statement is one that could be given only by one who is truly lazy, or by one who truly doesn’t care, or by one who is both lazy and uncaring. Of all the book-reading Eragon supposedly did in the elf country, one would think he had studied the various cultures and religions in Alagaësia, and therefore was at least a little knowledgeable about them, beyond just an opinion that “rocks don’t grow, therefore dwarves are stupid”. Did those elves give him a real education (beyond a vocabulary in the Ancient Language) or did they just fill his head with a web of vacuous ideas about the world? But I digress.
In one sense, Eragon is consistent in rejecting eternal life. The decision depends on what one believes about the nature of life in eternity. Eragon, evidently, does not believe that any possible afterlife could be significantly different from the life he lives now. One possible reason for not wishing to live forever is found by assuming that one’s suffering would also last forever—in which case, the conclusion is that everlasting life is not so much life in heaven, as it is life in hell. What is it to live forever if one makes friends, only to lose them to time and decay, over and over again without end? If this to be the kind of afterlife a person can expect in Alagaësia, then I pity everyone there, except the dwarves. They seem to have it figured.
Nasuada appeared troubled. “So you do not hold yourself accountable to anyone other than Saphira and yourself.”
“Nasuada, am I a bad person?”
She shook her head.
Wrong answer, Nasuada.
In roughly chronological order: Eragon broke faith with his uncle and cousin (by not telling them about Saphira before trouble came). Eragon lied to some of the people of Carvahall after trouble came. Eragon wasted much time on a hotheaded quest for revenge, resulting in the death of his father. Eragon rescued Arya only to use her injuries as an excuse to touch her. Eragon cursed a child, Elva. Once Arya recovered Eragon stalked her for months, at least once without her knowledge. Eragon was at one time racist against urgals. Eragon allowed himself to be used as an engine of indiscriminate slaughter during the Battle of the Burning Plains. Eragon lied to Roran and Katrina about Sloan. Eragon claimed to be above the law. Eragon punished Sloan without due process of law, or the right to trial by his own countrymen (Eragon does not count). Eragon murdered soldiers (one of them possibly a teenager?) in a situation (and others) where the loss of life was utterly unnecessary. Eragon falsely blamed Elva for the death of an elf. Am I missing any? I probably am.
In fact, if Eragon were really a good person (just misunderstood), so much of the story would have been different, and this community might not even exist. But it does exist, and we do have a record of his problems. Therefore, Eragon is a BAD person.
“Then trust me to do what I believe is right. I hold myself accountable to Saphira and the Eldunarí and all of the Riders who are yet to be, and also to you and Arya and Orik and everyone else in Alagaësia. I need no master to punish me in order to behave as I ought. If I did, I would be no more than a child who obeys his father’s rules only because he fears the whip, and not because he actually means good.”
This is the part of the chapter that seems to confirm what I suspect: that Paolini had Christianity in mind when he wrote this section. Eragon’s argument sounds like a phrase I heard a long time ago–in part, it goes “Fear of hell, hope of heaven”, or, in plainer terms, “Why should one obey God?” Although other theistic religions could have the same question applied to them, historically it has been Christians to whom the accusation—that we obey because of the threat of punishment or because we are only looking for a reward (both selfish reasons)—has been leveled.
So I’ll break this down. The essence of Eragon’s statement is of course correct: Obedience that comes from the base motive of fear is not truly good. It is merely slavish (think sucking up to the boss), and does not come from love and a good relationship. But correct point is not that one needs a master so that one can be punished for wrongdoing, the point is that one ultimately needs a master in order to know what to obey. Otherwise, each person would be their own ultimate master. Since each person is different, you can guess where that leads.
However, Eragon claims all of Alagaësia as his master. Given the multitude of cultures and the different (and sometimes mutually contradictory) definitions of right and wrong that one could realistically expect to exist in Alagaësia (bad world-building being ignored for the sake of argument), Eragon has essentially claimed to succeed at the impossible. You can’t please all cultures! Eragon should pick one and stick with it.
I would ask Eragon a question, if I could: “Eragon, if, when you were growing up in Garrow’s house, you obeyed your uncle as if he was your own father—did you obey him and do right by your farm because you loved and honored him, or because you feared him?” I propose that this is a fitting analogy representing why one should obey God.
Finally, I can only say that if, in this analogy, Eragon were to be an evil son to Garrow: by smashing door-hinges, by bringing over destructive friends, by letting the cow out of the barn to be eaten by wolves, by constantly getting into serious fights with Roran with chisels and pitchforks, by taking drugs disruptive to his thinking, by being unwise in the management of money—Garrow would have every right to disown Eragon and throw him off the farm. For Eragon to not fear this (if indeed he were to act as I described) would be incredible arrogance.
I am going to assume that Eragon did not obey Garrow out of fear, but because obedience was right, and Garrow, being the owner of the farm, defined what was right for it. So, if there is any Truth in Alagaësia, why would Eragon suppose that following it would necessitate fear of punishment?
It is only the thief and the murderer who need fear the policeman. Everyone else is fine.
She gazed at him for several seconds. “Very well, then, I will trust you.”
Thus Nasuada ends that conversation. Even though she is evidently troubled by Eragon’s lack of a moral anchor, she chooses to trust him anyway. I most certainly would not: Eragon has chosen to sail merrily along on the Sea of Contradictions, propelled by the Winds of Contrariness.