Elva: The Unexpected Character

I never intended to have Elva in the series; she wasn’t in the initial outline. The scene where Eragon blesses/curses her was something I wrote on the spur of the moment, inspired by the internal logic of the story and a desire to demonstrate Eragon’s new position within the Varden (better to show they held him high regard than to just say). Even once the scene was written, I never thought that Elva would end up playing such an important role later in the series. In fact, I didn’t even realize that Eragon had cursed her until a good ways into Eldest. In that regard, he and I have something in common.

Elva, Alice Liddel
Concept of Elva, modified from image by Lewis Carroll (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Despite my love of language, I’ll happily admit I’m no linguist. I really had no idea how to develop the ancient language over the course of the first book. The sounds of it are drawn from Old Norse, but for the most part, the grammar is the same as that of English. Even then, it still ended up being a Frankenstein patchwork that sagged along poorly-stitched seams. To compound matters, word meaning and usage were inconsistent.

Thus, it wasn’t Eragon who made a mistake when he blessed/cursed Elva. It was me. I was the one who used the wrong word (skölir instead of sköliro) and only discovered my error while compiling a language guide for the deluxe edition of Eragon. At the urging of my sister, Angela, I had made an effort to standardize the ancient language and smooth out some of the wrinkles and missteps. Only then did it become clear what I/Eragon had actually done to poor Elva:

Atra guliä un ilian tauthr ono un atra ono waíse skölir fra rauthr.

May luck and happiness follow you and may you be a shield from misfortune.

My first instinct was to correct the error in reprints and to wave off the whole thing as a slip of the finger. After all, no one likes to admit they made a mistake. However, the more I thought about the difference between the two words (shield and shielded), the more intriguing the dramatic possibilities became.

It’s easy to become defensive about your work. The problem with that is it closes your mind to alternate paths that, in some cases, can be better than your original choices. When it comes to plotting and characters, kneejerk reactions often result in clichéd results. Only by considering the issue in depth can you arrive at something new and perhaps startling.

So how to do this? The most powerful tool an author has is the ability to ask questions. Lots and lots of them. With regard to Elva, I asked myself, “What if Eragon really had cursed her? What would be the consequences?” And then worked out those consequences, both for the character and for the story as a whole. At each step along the way, those kinds of questions were what allowed me to develop this line of thought—to give each possibility a chance to grow and flower in my mind.

My experience with Elva taught me that although I could have chosen an easier solution, my search for a deeper, more interesting way to deal with the problem ultimately led me to create one of the most memorable characters in the story. Now I’m always on the lookout for other moments that may propel my fiction in an unexpected direction and breathe new life into the plot.

Christopher Paolini

Christopher Paolini is the author of the international bestsellers Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance, as well as The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. Murtagh is now available and marks the highly anticipated return to the World of Eragon. His debut science fiction novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, came out in September 2020 and its prequel, Fractal Noise, was released in May 2023. He resides in Paradise Valley, Montana, USA.

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