In their heart, storytellers are liars. They take the boring details of a mundane existence and make them interesting. Storytellers fold and rip apart reality, giving it an interpretation, angle, or even direction. While most might don the storyteller hat (at least for a little while) when they spin yearns of office conquest, the encounter with the co-worker they don’t like, or the latest fight with their boss they typically embellish or embolden. Yet, there is an enormous difference between someone who occasionally bends the truth and the masters who revel in their own deviousness. Masters storytellers are more than liars, they wear deceit the way most people wear underclothes. They don’t just wrap up existence or give an interpretation, angle or direction; a master storyteller can use their lies to tell the Truth. This places them within the realm of the gods. They can create, destroy, and instruct.
William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, and Robin Hobb are masters of their craft. Inside their stories we find the reality of our own world reflected back at us. Lady MacBeth, Frodo Baggins, Prince Caspian, Shadow and Fitz feel like real people who walk in a world that might fall off the page. Rather than a lie which has been sloppily papered over with the truth (the realm of reality), we get truth that has been masterfully and regally clothed in lies (the realm of imagination).
The Truth has been given many names (of which archetype and allegory are only two) and while the names may shift, they still convey the same idea; underneath the style and glamour, there is something inherently correct and right about what is being portrayed. Truth is beautiul, but only as long as it remains pure and … the Truth. There is nothing quite as dangerous to Truth as an “almost truth.” We often, euphamestically call the untruths, “White Lies” or “Half Truths” and they are deadly.
Big lies hold about as much danger as a bear that has been painted neon green and mounted with enormous strobe lights and warning sirens. Sure, they can still eviscerate and do awful things to the various bits that you should probably keep on the inside; but you can see and hear them coming from a long way off. The smaller lies much are more subtle in their nefariousness. They can have a presence similar to that of your best friend … right before he pushes you in front of a bus. They can can be beautifully seductive. Sometimes they are things that we wish were true and merely shatter our faith when we learn they are not; but more often they are as dangerous as a deeply flawed keystone at the moment that it accepts weight and shatters under the load. For these reason, half-truths are much more dangerous than their bigger brethren. Unfortunately, they don’t come equipped with the helpful entourage.
Brisingr’s pages are filled with many half-truths that touch upon the nature of good versus evil, the nature of justice, and the importance of free will. Through his characters, Paolini advocates some ideas about science and politics that might have been taken directly from the playbook of America’s recent politics and wars. He then offers ideas of science and magic which systematically reduce one to the other and remove the beauty both. When I started to try and review Eragon’s misadventure, I thought I would be able to offer a concise and quick rebuttal of some of the nastier lies. So, I sat down and started writing. Off and on for the better part of three weeks, I outlined and read. Then something happend. My short and quick rebuttal morphed into a treatise more than 5000 words in length and while Brisingr was the impetus that got me thinking, I found the ideas themselves to be much more seductive, alluring and interesting.
In trying to critique Paolini’s lie and distortions, I rediscovered J.R.R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card and a host of other brilliantly talented writers. And instead of a rebuttal I find myself writing an introduction. In the next few posts, I would like to the spend the “long” of my previous Brisingr review touching on where Brisingr and the rest of the Inheritance trilogy commit cardinal sins of consequence. In the process, you can rest assured that I will go after Paolini’s cloistered life and misunderstanding of nearly everything. So … let’s get started. First up is a detailed look at how Eragon became a sociopath. Next, we’ll look at how Nesuada managed to enact policies directly from the playbook of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove. We’ll finish up by looking at why Star Wars meets Middle Earth is a tremendously bad idea.