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Paolini on Names

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In the back of Eldest there is a short essay entitled "On the Origin of Names". This is where Paolini tries to make his world be deep and meaningful and indicate that it does, in fact have culture. "To the casual observer, the various names an intrepid traveler will encounter throughout Alagaesia might seem but a random collection of labels with no inherent integrity, culture or history." (page 672) This, of course, does seem how the world has been named, with random labels that were made up. There appears to be no difference between the elven and the dwarf names, just as there appears to be no difference between the elven and dwarf languages.

But the best sentence of all in this short essay on languages is, "The enthusiast is encouraged to study the source languages in order to master their true intricacies" He then gives off a list of his made up words and their translations. The biggest problem with this statement, "to study the source languages" is that there is no way to do this.

He says that we should should study them, but how do we do this. There are no books written on his forms of Elvish, Dwarfish and ancient languages. There are only the words that he has given us in the back of the book. The only reason why he says that we should try and study them is that he's trying to imitate Tolkien. The big difference between him and Tolkien is that Tolkien actually provided a way for would be scholars to learn his languages.

Tolkien had an entire appendix worth of language instructions; from how to pronounce words, to corresponding letters in the English and Elven languages, to grammar guides. Pretty much everything that would be needed to learn how to write and speak in that language. Why was he able to do this? Because, as we all know (bob)[*] he was a linguist. This is what his first love was, the creation of languages. It took him eons to create and perfect his languages.

Paolini, who must have taken less that three years (assuming he started to create the languages after starting to write Eragon) could not have created such an intricate language as he claims to have. So, all of this claims of a language is in fact Paolini trying to imitate Tolkien and pretend that his world is greater- fuller - than it seems.

However, I say, this is totally unnecessary to create the illusion of a fully cultured and thought out world. There are hundreds of fantasy worlds out there that do not have made up languages in them that are richer than Paolini's Alagaesia[+]. Why is this? It is because the writers of these world take the time to actually plan out their worlds instead of just copying things that they like from other worlds and patching it in, thinking that it'll make a cohesive whole. One of the things that I've constantly called Paolini's world is a patchwork quilt. You can see the seams and where the patches come from. And while it may do the job of being a world, it is still a patchwork quilt. Now the patches may be pretty, it is just the covering of the world. If it doesn't have any substance -any filling- it's not going to do any good.

Substance comes, not from things that are similar to other worlds, but things that are different. Things that make the world unique. Careful thought has to be put into such things. And when the writer is starting to think about the differences, they have to start thinking about how these things will work in the world. Or at least, they should. Basically, a world should be started from scratch. You can add elements in from other things, but these other elements shouldn't be overwhelming the original material. Cultures and lands should be at least sketched out, by this I mean, a character sheet should be created for it, including population, major cities, imports/exports, brief history, religions, relations with other neighboring civilizations. Everything that is needed to make a three dimensional character should be used to make a three dimensional culture.

I must admit that I cribbed some of this from one of my D&D manuals. Perhaps later, if I recall, I shall put up the format that the manual uses to give the basics of a land or city. If anything it should be useful.

Another thing, now that I think about it, that is useful, is the creation of a word bible. This would contain all the notes and everything that you have on your world in one place.[@] You could have a section on Flora and fauna, on religions, on kingdoms/countries/etc/, on main characters, on the history of the world, a time line. Everything you need all in one place. And it'd be easy to update and change as things happen. All the things need to make a world a richer and better place.

And this was a fascinating train of thought as I started out to mock Paolini and wandered into world building. Funny how that happens.


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