The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm – Christopher Paolini

It was in 2011 that Christopher Paolini completed the four novels which comprised his Inheritance Cycle, Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr and Inheritance; originally conceived as a trilogy which expanded beyond those limitations to a fourth novel, he has now returned with a new book of three short stories revisiting that realm, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm.

Subtitled Tales from Alagaësia Volume 1: Eragon, the titular rider and his blue dragon Saphira have relocated to Mount Arngor in the Beor Mountains, far to the east of Alagaësia, there to set up a stronghold where dwarves, elves and Urgals can live and work together in peace and a new generation of dragons can be nested and hatched.

Through the daily trials of this new endeavour Eragon is offered a distraction, greets visitors and is entertained by a recitation of a folk tale of the Urgals, The Fork, the Witch and the Worm of the title, as he gains perspective and understanding of those around him, reconnecting with both his own sense of self and distant friends in the process.

Paolini presuming foreknowledge of his characters and their world, he makes no attempt to introduce them for new readers, and with a stock of staple fantasy races, the Urgals serving as generic goblins/orcs, his writing comes across as bland Tolkien fan fiction, Eragon the Mary Sue avatar created by Paolini when he was fifteen years old who, on this evidence, still remains in arrested development.

A Fork in the Road opening the trilogy, it is Eragon’s dragon-gifted vision of a shady business deal gone wrong in a distant dead-end tavern as a powerful magician teaches a young girl how to deal with bullies when the mercenaries he has employed try to double-cross him; to fans the reveal of the identity of the character may have significance, but without context Eragon’s vicarious joy is stifled.

Paolini’s sister Angela contributes middle section On the Nature of Stars as the herbalist Angela, cunningly named so as to avoid any accusation of upping the Mary Sue stakes, presents her partially assembled memoirs, presumably filling in gaps in her backstory which have arisen in the main sequence but offering answers which are meaningless in the absence of the prompting questions.

Where the first two sections at least have the grace to be brief, The Worm of Kulkaras is more than a hundred interminable pages as Ilgra Lamefoot grows to adulthood in the shadow of Mount Kulkaras and plots vengeance on Vêrmund, the dragon who nests atop it, the story seemingly taking a lifetime to travel there and back again.

Taking into account the low word count due to the extra-wide margins of the book and the large print, padded out with appendices on names, languages and pronunciations in those different languages, thanks from both authors and the first chapter of Eragon, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is an indulgence which is strictly for dedicated fans who even then will only look on it as a placeholder, interludes which promises something more momentous which Paolini is yet to produce.

The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is published on 1st January by Penguin Random House



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