Unleashing the Dragon
Christopher Paolini by Talita Paolini
First published in Home Education Magazine, 2002.
Added by editor
Paolini starts writing at 18, homeschooler
becomes famous author.
Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Eragon - Christopher Paolini
"I dream of dragons," my eighteen-year-old son, Christopher, will tell you. "Especially a brilliant blue dragon named Saphira" (pronounced suh-FEER-uh). Christopher will then explain that Saphira lives in the land of Alaga'sia with dwarves and elves and men, the evil King Galbatorix, a curious werecat named Solembum, and her Dragon Rider - a young man named Eragon.
Three years ago, Christopher decided to write a story. Not just a three- to ten-page short story. Oh no! My son
determined to write a full-blown epic fantasy novel... and he did.
If he had not been homeschooled,
I doubt that the book Eragon would exist. My husband Kenneth and I always made books an important part of our lives, so we naturally began reading to Christopher and his sister Angela when they were infants. We showed them how to carefully hold a book and turn the pages slowly so they wouldn't tear. We cuddled our children on our laps while we read to them.
Reading was a pleasurable time when they felt loved, secure, and supremely happy.
When Christopher was a toddler, we played little games with him to introduce the sounds of the letters. We associated the letters with pictures of objects that started with the letter's sound, for example a for apple, b for bottle, c for cat and coat. Christopher matched pictures of these objects with letters, saying their name and sound together. I provided craft activities that emphasized letters. One day, for example, I showed him how to trace his fingers over a giant letter s that I wrote on a sheet of construction paper. Together we said the sss sound. He then drizzled glue over the letter and sprinkled it with cornmeal. When it was dry, his masterpiece was hung in the kitchen where it could be admired for a time. Each day as I cooked and we chatted, I would comment on his work and ask him to tell me about it. "That's s" he would proudly say.
It wasn't long before he was pointing out letters in magazines, books, and cereal boxes, and on signs around town. Next, I taught him to blend the letters together. We were playing a blending game with the letter c when Christopher suddenly stopped. He got a faraway look in his eyes, then he repeated the word "c-a-t." He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a smile that grew wider and wider. "Cat," he said. "CAT!" He leaped up and ran to get a picture of a cat. He could read.
The next years were filled with the trials and joys faced by most homeschoolers. Kenneth and I decided to continue our children's education at home, so cooking, housekeeping, and teaching became my daily routine. We continued to read to our children daily and encouraged them to read on their own. I taught them how to organize their work - whether it was a collection of math problems, spelling words, artwork, or writing - into little books. Each book got a construction paper cover and was stapled or bound with yarn at the sides. And I organized study units so that they were done in "little bites" or pages that could be collected into a book when the project was completed. Looking back over a year's work was then a matter of perusing a neat stack of interesting, personalized mini-books - instead of a pile of loose papers.
Another factor I attribute to Christopher's love of reading and writing is our weekly outings to the library. I can still see my son struggling to navigate down the front steps of the library with a stack of books in his arms nearly over his head, his sister similarly laden at his side. Christopher read a wide variety of subject matter, working his way through the children's section to the young adult section to the adult section.
When it was time for high school, we decided to enroll both children in American School because of its accreditation and acceptance by colleges, and because we wanted them to get a firm foundation of the basic subjects. Looking back I can see that we could have taught them successfully ourselves, but at the time, it seemed like the best choice. It worked beautifully for Christopher and Angela. Both finished before their fifteenth birthday.
Focusing several hours a day on study left Christopher time for projects of his own. He developed an interest in drawing and painting which he later used to draw the maps and cover for his book. He designed a house: an architect friend drew up blueprints of it for him. Christopher's love of working with his hands expressed itself as he designed and built an easel for his painting, built a forge in our backyard, dug an enormous hole through river rock to make himself a subterranean shelter, and carved beautiful wooden walking staffs and letter openers. He even learned to form and hone his own steel knives.
Each of these tasks took hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months of patient, determined, persistent work. No one told him to do them. He faced numerous challenges that he surmounted through sheer ingenuity and creativity. He learned that hard work was required to bring his visions to reality, and he gained an I-can-do-it attitude that would be needed for his greatest project of all... writing a novel.
Christopher didn't realize it at the time, but many factors influenced his writing adventure. First, he had the confidence borne of homeschooling. Never had he experienced the devastation of being told he couldn't do something or was a failure. Second, he had the research skills and resources to find information to create his imaginary world. He delved into Nordic and Icelandic traditional epics to find the words for his "ancient language." He read with renewed interest the Beowulf saga and found similarities between it and Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. He pondered the threads that wove through these stories and more contemporary ones such as Star Wars. And he searched for his own expression of the archetypal heroic young-man-coming-of-age adventure story. Thus was born Eragon.
It took Christopher a year to write his tale. He immersed himself in several texts on "how to construct and write a story." During that time he learned to type, his spelling improved tremendously, and he learned how to capture his mental images on paper. The challenge was that he was learning to write professionally while working on a novel-length manuscript.
Seeing the flaws in his first draft and frustrated by the way it read, he determined to rework his manuscript. His second draft took him another year. Each day he would rise, eat breakfast, then work diligently at his computer until lunch. He tackled each paragraph with zeal, trying to convey the drama that played out in his mind. More writing, exercise, dinner, and perhaps a movie completed his day.
To help with his learning process, we provided a steady stream of reading material and movies so he could see how other writers had created characters, written dialog, and developed plot. We analyzed different styles of writing and grammar usage. Both children delighted in dissecting novels, finding inconsistencies, or sharing what they considered horrid or great passages. During this time, Angela began writing a novel of her own.
Then it was Kenneth and my turn to read his manuscript. We loved the story and were amazed that our son had created such a captivating, expansive work. But it still needed editing. Christopher quickly discovered that, like most beginning writers, he had several annoying phrases and grammar constructions that he used repeatedly. He learned to cut words, phrases, and sometimes whole sections that didn't support the story. With a dictionary, thesaurus, and several word usage and grammar books at our side, the final editing process became a full-time family project, to make sure every word and comma was just right.
After a final review from Kenneth's mom, an English professor of Comparative Literature, and nods of approval from published authors, we were ready to publish. Eragon is being published through our family-owned publishing company. We have helped Christopher prepare promotional materials, such as brochures and press releases, and advised him on marketing. As usual, he has taken the task in hand and read widely on the subject. He will be speaking on radio and television shows and promoting his book wherever possible. He is particularly interested in visiting schools and libraries to encourage young people to read as much as they can... and write.
Homeschooling has allowed Christopher to reach for big goals and not feel that they are impossible, to keep a positive attitude even when surrounded by obstacles, to have the time to think and create, to unleash the dragons in his dreams... and share them with you.
© 1992, Talita Paolini
Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Eragon - Christopher Paolini
The evening before they left, Eragon went to a small clearing in the forest and called the dragon with his mind. After a moment he saw a fast moving speck in the dusky sky. The dragon dove steeply toward him, pulled up sharply, then leveled off above the trees. He heard a low-pitched whistle as air rushed over its wings. It banked slowly to his left and spiraled gently down to the ground. The dragon back-flapped for balance with a deep, muffled thwump as it landed. Once it was firmly settled, he approached.
He opened his mind, still uncomfortable with the strange sensation, and told the dragon that he was leaving. It snorted with unease. He tried to soothe it with a calming mental picture, but the dragon whipped its tail, unsatisfied. Though he knew it did not understand, he murmured out loud, "Don't worry, hunting often takes you farther away from the farm than I will be in Carvahall. Besides, we'll be able to contact each other at any time. Tomorrow evening I will return and we'll see each other as usual." He rested his hand on its shoulder and tried to radiate peace and serenity. Scales bumped under his fingers as he patted it gently.
A single word rang in his head, deep and clear.
It was solemn and sad, as if an unbreakable pact were being sealed. He stared at the dragon and a cold tingle ran down his arm.
A hard knot formed in his stomach as unfathomable sapphire eyes gazed back at him. For the first time he did not think of the dragon as an animal. It was something else, something... different. He hesitated and then raced home, trying to escape the dragon. My dragon.
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