On the publication day of Christopher Paolini's INHERITANCE, the fourth and final book in the Inheritance cycle (following Eragon, Eldest and Brisingr), he looks back at the moments that shaped an unknown, teen writer into a bestselling author and a household name in the canon of fantasy literature.
I remember four great turning points in my life. Four points where I know for certain my life would have turned out completely different if I had chosen other than I did.
The first was when I fell in love with reading and writing. It wasn't a conscious decision, and it's only in retrospect that I've come to appreciate its importance. At the time, I was very young, and all I knew was that I had found a book (a children's detective novel) that I enjoyed. I don't remember much of the story--it involved tomato sauce being mistaken for blood--but for whatever reason, it was while reading that book that I finally made the connection between the symbols on the page and the things they represented. If I hadn't, or if the connection had occurred with another book, my life would have turned out very differently indeed.
The second was in 1991, when I came across "The Ruby Knight" by David Eddings. The book had an awesome cover--a knight in full armor facing off with a giant, scaly monster. At that point I'd never heard of the genre of fantasy, and in fact, I had no idea what the book might be about. But it didn't matter. I knew that any book with a cover that awesome was a book that I had to have. So, I took it to my grandfather, who was with me at the time, and pleaded with him to buy it for me. Fortunately he agreed, and it was "The Ruby Knight" that introduced me to fantasy and set me off on the path that I've followed ever since. Because of Eddings, I read Raymond E. Feist, whose book "Magician" was shelved just a bit below in my public library. Because of Feist, I read the "Mossflower" series by Brian Jacques. And then André Norton, Ursula Le Guin, Jane Yolen, Frank Herbert, E. R. Eddison, Tolkien and many, many more. I've often wondered what might have happened if I had picked up a different book all those years ago. I might never have fallen in love with fantasy, or even if I did, I might had ended up reading it in a far different order, which no doubt would have resulted in me writing a far different story when I finally decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as the case may be).
The third great turning point in my life was when I had to decided whether or not to attend college. I had always intended to pursue higher education, and in fact I actually applied to and was accepted by Reed College in Portland, Oregon. They offered nearly a full scholarship, and I was going to go. I even had the orientation papers on my desk. However, at that point, I had spent over two years working on my first book, "Eragon," and I just couldn't bring myself to abandon it. That said, it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made--mainly because I was acutely conscious of the fact that I stood at a fork in the road, and that whatever I chose, my life would be completely different ever after. Somewhere in an alternate universe, there's a Christopher Paolini who went to Reed and who ended up doing . . . what I haven't the slightest idea. Maybe something in art, maybe something in writing. Who can say?
I've often thought about that day, thought about the exact moment that I realized that I had to go ahead and publish "Eragon" and see what might happen with it. My parents were incredibly supportive throughout this process; they told me I could do whatever I wanted, but that I needed to be sure that it really was what I wanted--a big responsibility when you're 16. As I said to them, I had to tell stories. Even if I fell flat on my face, I had to try. After all, I could always go to school, but I wouldn't always have the chance to write books.
The fourth and final point came after my family and I self-published "Eragon" and Random House approached us about acquiring the entire "Inheritance cycle." Up until that point, we had maintained complete control over the series; in fact, that was why we had gone with self-publishing in the first place. The prospect then of handing my baby over to someone else, without knowing how they would treat it, was a daunting prospect. I took a big breath, and handed "Eragon" over to Random House, and it has proven to be a wonderful home for the series.
At each of these points, my life could have veered in a completely different direction. I might have never gotten interested in writing. Even if I did, I might never have started reading fantasy. And I might very well have gone to Reed College and missed out on the whole experience of publishing "Eragon" and the rest of the "Inheritance cycle." Heck, I might even have gone with my first choice of name for "Eragon," which was (of all things) "Kevin." Somehow I don't think the series would have been half so successful if the main character had been called Kevin - as much as I like the name.
But in the end, I chose "Eragon." And as he might say, "Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass!"
May your swords stay sharp.
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