Thursday, August 6, 2009
Once upon a time, there was a young man with a magical gift. Even though he had grown up in a verdant valley, which was surrounded by a mountain range that rose above the land like a wild animal’s teeth, he left the comforts of his homeland to share his gift with others. Decked out in a costume that included a pair of black pantaloons, a billowy red swordsman’s shirt and a black beret cocked atop his head, the young man traveled to a barren landscape, where he used his magical gift to transform the region into a world bursting with hope and promise.
Though fantastical elements were added, the preceding paragraph describes the real life journey of fantasy writer Christopher Paolini, who grew up in Montana’s Paradise Valley. At just 15 years old, Paolini wrote a fantasy novel titled Eragon, which energized the sagging publishing world by spending an amazing 121 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Paolini even donned a medieval outfit at early events to promote his book in bookstores, schools, public libraries and, believe it or not, grocery stores.
The young author will present a special program titled “Making Literary Magic” at the Fox Theater this Saturday as a part of this year’s Steinbeck Festival. Titled “Legends, Myths and Magic,” the four-day celebration pays homage to Monterey County’s most beloved writer John Steinbeck and his love of the Arthurian Legend. In addition to Paolini’s presentation, the festival is stuffed full of events including discussions of mythic themes in film, a community concert by the Carmel Bach Festival and an art exhibit, inspired by Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, by the local arts group The Octopi Collective.
In 2007, Paolini was asked to write the foreword to John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, an adaptation of the Arthurian legend that was unfinished at the time of Steinbeck’s death in 1968. Writing the foreword caused Paolini to be re-introduced to Steinbeck’s work. Currently, the precocious author is immersed in Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath. “[Steinbeck] has such an evocative language: the images, the pacing of the prose itself,” Paolini says. “As a writer, I read it and I revel in it because it’s so well done.”
For his presentation at the Fox Theater, Paolini is going to discuss Steinbeck’s approach to Arthurian legend and the tale’s influence on the fantasy genre, including his own work. In addition, the author hopes to introduce the fans of fantasy novels to a whole new magical world.
“I especially want to talk about how The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights can serve as an excellent introduction to Steinbeck’s work for younger readers or for people who tend to prefer the fantasy genre,” Paolini says. “It’s a nice entrance point for those sorts of readers.”
Home schooled in Paradise Valley, Paolini had no idea that his first literary quest would last so long after he began to sketch out a fantasy world called Alagaesia and the basic plot of Eragon, which concerns a boy who finds a magical stone that transforms into a dragon. “I actually viewed Eragon as a test, a test to see whether or not I could write a book-length project,” Paolini says from Paradise Valley. “So I was going to go write Eragon, and then I was going to write a real book. But, of course, Eragon ended up sort of taking over my life.”
A fan of fantasy works including Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher and Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, Paolini set about writing the sort of story that he enjoyed reading. Initially, Eragon was self-published by his parents’ publishing company, Paolini International LLC. But real magic occurred when author Carl Hiaasen, whose stepson had read Eragon, brought the fantasy novel to the attention of his publisher.
In 2003, Eragon was published by an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. It made the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller list, and in 2006, a movie version was released, starring Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich.
Since Eragon hit bookshelves all over the nation, Paolini has written two follow-up books about the boy and his dragon: 2005’s Eldest and 2008’s Brisingr. When Brisingr was published last year, it became the largest first-print run in Random House’s Children Books’ history.
Currently, Paolini says he is hard at work on the last book in what he is calling the Inheritance Cycle series. “It’s going very well, but I definitely want to make sure the last book is as good as possible, because I want to wrap up the series in a nice way,” Paolini says. “Hopefully, I will satisfy all the readers who have followed Eragon’s adventures since the first book.”
At a mere 26, and with three bestselling fantasy novels tucked into his sash, Paolini expects to leave the land of Alagaesia behind for a while after he finishes the fourth book.
“I just want to try some different things,” he says. “I’ve gotten very comfortable in writing the characters and the world of the series. I feel like it’s time to stretch myself a little bit and tackle some new subjects.”
CHRISTOPHER PAOLINI will unveil a presentation titled “Making Literary Magic” as part of this year’s Steinbeck Festival 8pm Saturday, Aug. 8, at the Fox Theater, 241 S. Main St, Salinas. $50/general for presentation and feast; $45/National Steinbeck Center members for presentation and feast; $18/general for presentation only; $12/center members and students for presentation only. 775-4721. Note: Feast begins at 6:30pm.