Some time ago I wrote enthusiastically of Hugh Hewitt’s advice to “find the good and praise it.” Well, it is difficult to find much good in the much-panned film, Eragon, that hit theatres this past Friday. Nevertheless, I shall point out two benefits of an otherwise regrettable film.

First, the fact that the film is clearly an imitation of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings actually highlights some of the good things about these two cinematic epics. For instance, one of the low points of Eragon is that the main character, a youth who finds himself with great powers (see: Luke Skywalker), steps effortlessly from farm youth to superhero. He undergoes almost no training and apparently learns nothing along the way. The Obi Wan figure, played by Jeremy Irons, tries to get Eragon to use sense as well as courage by irritably describing Eragon’s actions as “one part brave, three parts fool.” At the end of the film, Eragon stupidly but proudly describes his heroic actions in the same way. Sigh.

Of course, this kind of thing does not happen in Star Wars in Luke Skywalker’s development. Skywalker actually has to learn how to use his powers of the force and suffers reverses and defeats until he becomes the kind of person who can defeat the Empire. From the poor contrast of Eragon, I have newfound respect for George Lucas’s attention to character development in his epic.

Eragon also increased my respect for Lord of the Rings. The effort expended by its creator, JRR Tolkien, to make the world of Middle Earth coherent and beautiful (and even true in a deep sense of the word) pays enormous dividends in the believability of the films. Even if Peter Jackson’s attempt to get the whole of the story into the films did not quite succeed, the filmgoer recognizes that something would account for any gaps. In Eragon, by contrast, the yawning holes in the plot clearly have little or no explanation behind them. The world into which we are transported is flat and conventional. The next time I watch LOTR I will be sure to notice my raw enjoyment of the rich world created for me.

The second, more positive, benefit of Eragon is that it represents a young person attempting to be creative. The fellow who made the film holds a raw passion in his heart for story in general and LOTR and Star Wars in particular. This passion translated into a successful series of books and a film that will do decently at the box office and on video, judging by the full theatre I sat in Sunday. The fact is that plenty of bad art must be produced before we get to the excellent. This fact is especially true in our dispassionate and imitative society. The fact that Christopher Paolini had the heart to put the pen to the paper and develop an epic story, however mediocre in the scope of world literature, is deeply admirable. The stereotypical “passionate young man” of yesteryear is now an exception to the dissipated, limp-wristed, and “cool” teenager or twenty-something of today. Hooray for Paolini’s courage! (He was homeschooled, by the way. You can learn more about him on his website here.)

Though I didn’t enjoy Eragon I freely concede respect and honor to Christopher Paolini who bravely engaged the artistic world. Let us hope that more such efforts will be put forth. Let culture thrive. Let the young man be passionate!

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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