The author celebrates the 20th anniversary of his dragon-riding fantasy novel and explains the process behind his newest book in that universe.
It's been 20 years since readers first took flight with the blue dragon Saphira in the pages of Christopher Paolini's Eragon. But though the original four-book fantasy series concluded with 2011's Inheritance, Paolini isn't finished with the world of Alagaësia. The author is celebrating this year's big anniversary with two new books out this week: The novel Murtagh takes the point of view of Eragon's rival Dragon Rider as he embarks on a quest for redemption, while Eragon: The Illustrated Edition presents the book that started it all with beautiful new artwork by Sidharth Chaturvedi.
Since Paolini was something of a wunderkind, still a teenager when he self-published Eragon, he still has plenty of time to write new stories in the fantasy world he created — as well as revisit the original ones alongside new collaborators like Chaturvedi, who grew up reading the Inheritance Cycle.
"This is a recurring experience in the industry now: Sidharth grew up reading the books, so he was really excited to have the opportunity to bring his interpretation to this world, and I loved that," Paolini tells EW. "It's a beautiful edition, it's a big book and it's heavy. There's over 50 full-color paintings and illustrations throughout. So it's the sort of thing that, if I were 14 and I saw it in a store, or someone gave it to me, it would be my prized possession."
Paolini continues: "To have people still reading the books after all this time is what every author would dream of, and it's not something I ever expected. But because I started so young, I'm not 70 when this is happening. Which is cool, and that means I get to write a lot more stories for the readers."
Murtagh, therefore, is a new story that takes the titular character and his red dragon, Thorn, into the future. Paolini last visited Alagaësia in the 2019 short-story collection The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. The first story there focused on Murtagh and saw him in a more heroic light than his villainous role in the Inheritance Cycle, much of which he spent serving the evil King Galbatorix and fighting Eragon.
"When I wrote that short-story collection, it got me thinking about, okay, how does this short story relate to his larger journey?" Paolini says. "It's very hard for me to write something that's 100 percent self-contained. I'm always thinking about, where does it go? What's the implications? So I started going, okay, what story would follow this little short story? And that's how I ended up with the plot for an entire 700-page book."
Like so many fantasy series, Eragon and its sequels were a coming-of-age story. Murtagh is different. Its protagonist is an adult who now has to figure out how to exist in the world after committing evil deeds.
"Coming-of-age stories have wide appeal, because everyone is either about to go through adolescence, is going through adolescence, or has gone through adolescence. It's a universal experience," Paolini says. "With the case of Murtagh, he is already grown up. So his journey and Thorn's journey is one of redemption, coming to terms with who they are, and finding a new way of interacting with the world. The big issue that they're really grappling with in a lot of ways is how to participate in society. Do they want to rejoin society, or do they want to stand apart from society? I think that's something that everyone has to decide to a certain degree."
At 700 pages, Murtagh should be able to sate fans of Alagaësia for a while, but Paolini doesn't intend this novel as a final statement. Asked how many more story ideas he has for the setting, Paolini says the number is "probably more than I have time to write."
"I love this world and I love these characters, and I have an enormous number of books that I would like to write following this one," he adds. "I also have my science-fiction universe, the Fractalverse. So in an ideal universe, I would just kind of bounce between the science fiction and the fantasy, one here and one there, for the rest of my career. But I have a feeling once people read Murtagh, they're going to be banging down my door asking for the next one, which is not a bad thing. And I have no intention of letting whole years and years go by without writing another book in this setting."
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