Chapter Twenty-Three: Thardsvergundnszsmal
We’ll get around to the chapter title in a moment, I promise.
We open on Saphira worrying about her appearance and Eragon trying to console her. This is actually not a bad scene, because it gives Saphira some characterisation beyond ‘wise, ancient, and mysterious plot-device’. Rather like the scene in Book 2 where Saphira was flirting with Glaedr almost like a puppy, it is nice but otherwise pointless.
This seems to be one of Paolini’s bigger problems, the way I see it. He’s shown that he can write decent characterisation (hey, lightning has to strike at least once in however many thousand words…), that he can write action that isn’t tooth-looseningly terrible, and that he can, on occasion, write scenes that actually move the plot along… but he can’t do more than one thing in any given scene. There’s either plot, character, fighting, or awful recycled philosophy, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single moment when more than two of those were combined. Except perhaps in Murtagh’s last appearance in Brisingr, but that was probably a fluke.
She turned her head from side to side, then exhaled heavily, releasing a cloud of smoke that drifted out over the water like a small, lost thundercloud.
I will admit, I don’t mind that metaphor. It works, and isn’t cumbersome. I rather like the Brave Little Toaster-esque personification, or is that just my interpretation? On the other hand, comparing a cloud of smoke to a thundercloud has to be one of the most uninspired metaphors I have ever seen.
“Dragons grow new scales all the time. You know that.”
Yes, but I’ve never lost one before!
When I noticed the lack of dialogue tag, I cheered a bit. Except that, combined with the following sentence, it doesn’t make sense. They grow new scales all the time, but don’t generally lose any? What happens to the old ones? With your stock-standard lizards, they slough their old scales as the new ones grow underneath. In three books of completely pointless details about characters’ groins and hips and taught muscles, not once is it mentioned that dragons slough. It might have been interesting for Eragon to freak out when Saphira started losing her skin for the first time as a baby (and might have been a more natural way to get Brom involved), but I have a feeling that teenaged Paolini would have reduced it to melodramatic narm. Not that adult Paolini does much better, sadly.
Saphira continues to angst about a spot “no larger than the end of [Eragon’s] thumb” for about two pages, which makes her sound like a spoiled teenager. Which I guess she technically is, but the disconnect between her usual characterisation (i.e. either ‘bloodthirsty’, or ‘wise and aloof’) is jarring.
So, Eragon and Saphira fly back to camp, wherefrom they can see Dras-Leona:
The only signs of life within the city were the tendrils of smoke that rose from the chimneys of many a house.
I’ve read many a story where the author has used many an awkward turn of phrase, but for some reason that particular phrase gets my hackles up. Just using “many houses” would have been fine. “Many a house” is pretentious and silly. This is not the last time Paolini will use this expression, sadly, and each usage is equally uncomfortable.
As always, Thorn lay draped across the battlements above the southern gate, basking in the bright afternoon light.
I was going to ask how any creature could find that position comfortable, but then my dog quite happily fell asleep wedged upside-down in the side of the couch. I don’t agree with the ‘as always’ line, because we haven’t been shown this before. If there had been a previous scene showing Thorn draped over the gates, ‘as always’ (or rather, ‘as before’) would have suited. Here, I feel like I’ve missed something. Second, does Thorn “always” drape himself over Dras Leona’s walls? Or has he only done so in this one instance while the Varden were camped outside?
From the low, drawling tones of the warriors’ conversations to the pennants that hung motionless in the thick air.
“Pennants”? Really, he couldn’t have just written “flags” or “banners”? I suppose I should be used to it by now, but this example of thesaurus use sticks out sorely. Again, sadly this is not the last time Paolini uses that word, and again, each use is equally uncomfortable.
After some useless description of dogs, there is a bit of introspection about the Varden’s current predicament and lack of resources. I’d like to take a moment to point out something that Paolini has actually done well: In Chapter 5, Eragon and Saphira were ‘gorging themselves’ on meat. In this chapter, despite Eragon’s ‘luxurious’ lunch, the Varden are running out of food. Nice follow-through by the author, bad planning by the characters. Anybody with even the slightest understanding of siege war would have had the soldiers on strict rationing from the start.
Then there is a brief conversation with Elva (as well as her powers somehow becoming divinatory: “as well as any pain they were about to suffer in the immediate future.” I don’t remember that bit cropping up in the previous books), even more tedious discussion of things that are either assumed or common sense, and then we get this:
Like a plague of locusts the Varden left a barren swath of land in their wake, a swath devoid of most everything needed to support life.
Ladies and gentlemen, our heroes.
she appeared increasingly haggard each morning, the bags under her eyes like small, sad smiles.
Anyway, Eragon spends some time contemplating recent events and family, and then nearly a full page describing a trio of passing dwarves and their significance to the army (not those particular three, but the dwarves in general), has a passing word with Katrina (quite literally a single word in a micro-scene that is as pointless as the rest of this book). Then they enjoy a ‘leisurely lunch’ despite nearly a page of angsting about how the Varden have limited food. After that, they sit and read for a while. Truly riveting stuff.
Eragon was tired of deciphering the convoluted sentences of Heslant to monk
Just like I am tired of deciphering the pointless sentences of Paolini the Mook.
They wander around some more, and come across Orik ‘squatting next to a bucket of water’. Instead of being immediately repulsed by the implications of some0ne in an army siege camp squatting near a bucket, Eragon is curious, and takes a closer look.
Eragon watches Orik mould a ball from the mud, and we get treated to almost 4 pages of description of the method of making a dorodango, sorry, an Earthstone, sorry, ‘Erothknurl’. (I’ll try save the linguistics hate for the Glossary spork, but really? ‘Eroth’ means ‘earth’? THAT’S SOME LINGUISTIC GENIUS RIGHT THERE.
Given Orik’s painfully precise description, it’s clear Paolini ripped this almost directly from a website or encyclopedia without putting too much thought into it, much like the forging of Eragon’s sword.
On one hand, I like how Paolini gave the clay balls a religious significance in the Dwarf culture; on the other hand, I dislike the way the dwarves NEVER seem to do anything just for fun or as an exercise in talent and discipline. Everything they do is a solemn religious observance, and after a while it just gets monotonous. I see this as another example of Paolini’s bias against religion, however much he has toned it down since Eldest. In Paolini’s world, to be religious is to be either mindlessly self-destructive (Helgrind) or unhealthily obsessive and boring (Dwarves). There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground except for the ‘nomad people’, whose religion has barely been mentioned at all.
Anyway, there’ a little bit of Woe Is Me from both parties, and Eragon tries his hand at poetry again. At least this time (mercifully) everybody acknowledges that it is terrible.
“Strong and stout,
Thirteen stars upon his brow,
Living stone sat shaping dead earth into dead stone.”
“You can’t expect me to compose proper verse on the spur of the moment”
That’s true, but we also can’t expect you to compose the best poem ever written in a given language barely months after you started learning it, within the span of a day. And yet…
There’s some more dwarf politics that, at this point in the series, is completely and utterly pointless except to give some closure to a character who nobody cared about or (probably) could remember the name of. This is followed by more pointless conversation that adds precisely nothing, and then a sappy soap-opera expression of foster-familial loyalty, and then the chapter ends.
In an inane series of meaningless books of pointless chapters, this has to be one of the most worthless. There was more worldbuilding and plot-development in the vast middle desert of Eldest. This chapter broke the story and suspense of the previous and following chapters, and added practically nothing of even the slightest significance in return. A good editor would have cut this entire chapter, or at least whittled it down to a page or two and combined it with another chapter. This was not enough content for 13 pages. THIRTEEN PAGES! Of nothing more than gossip, wandering around, and Japanese crafts! Unless the dwarven earthballs turn out to be a significant game-changer in the story, I vote for this chapter to be stricken from the record.
As for the chapter title, the thing I’m focusing on at the moment is that ‘thardsvergûndnszmal’ is a heck of a mouthful just to say ‘lie’, ‘fib’, ‘fake’, ‘forgery’, ‘imitation’, or ‘counterfeit’. Unless there are a heck of a lot of silent letters in there, it’s nearly five-six syllables long. For the record, that’s very long indeed, especially for a word with such a useful/common definition. The translation is listed in the Glossary as “something that appears other than it actually is; a fake or counterfeit; a sham”. It’s important to recognise that there are words in any language that cannot be translated directly to another language without losing the nuances of its meaning, but this just feels so contrived and fake (maybe that’s the point?). Thematically the object in question is a suitable focus for the chapter title, insofar as the bulk of the second half of the chapter is dedicated to them, but one of the fastest ways to lose readers is to throw a nigh-unpronounceable word like that at them in half-inch letters at the top of the page. I’m not even going to discuss the carat, floating over the u like some kind of ill-fitting umbrella that Paolini doesn’t know how to use properly.