Books win their audiences for a reason. Most popular books wear their artlessness on their sleeve: Stephenie Meyer, the author of the “Twilight” series, is an awkward writer with little feeling for construction, but the intensity of emotion with which she imbues her characters is enviable. You never doubt her commitment to the material, which is half the battle won. So to say that Paolini is an unskilled narrator and a derivative mythmaker is more or less beside the point. What is it, then, that makes the books enter kids’ consciousness?
First, kids experience them as mythologies more than as stories—the narrative sweep is, curiously, the least significant part of their appeal. When kids talk about movies, it’s usually the cool parts that get highlighted. (“So there’s this, like, cool part where the guy—the blue guy?—has to tame, like, a flying dinosaur and they’re all on a cliff and he says, like, ‘How do I know which one is mine?’ And, so, the blue girl is, like, ‘He will try to kill you!’ ”) Readers of the Eragon books don’t relate cool incidents; they relate awesome elements. You hear about the Elders, the dragon riders, the magical fire-sword Brisingr; what drags readers in is not the story but the symbols and their slow unfolding. The sheer invocation of a mythology casts a deeper spell than putting the mythology on its feet and making it dance. If you talk to an Eragon reader, you will see why the introductory seven-page synopsis of the mythology is necessary. The synopsis is the story.
And the truth is that most actual mythologies and epics and sacred books are dull. Nothing is more wearying, for readers whose tastes have been formed by the realist novel, than the Elder Edda. Yet the spell such works cast on their audience wasn’t diminished by what we find tedious. The incantation of names is, on its own, a powerful literary style. The enchantment the Eragon series projects is not that of a story well told but that of an alternative world fully entered. You sense that when you hear a twelve-year-old describe the books. The gratification comes from the kid’s ability to master the symbols and myths of the saga, as with those eighty-level video games, rather than from the simple absorption of narrative. Adam Gopnik, “The Dragon’s Egg: High fantasy for young adults” (via thelifeguardlibrarian)