Drawing Strength from Books

There’s a book series my husband and I listen to on audiobook nearly every day. It’s called the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, four books titled Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance. My depression is shit right now, and it’s interesting how often and how much I depend on this book series to provide me with the strength to keep going. (I’m probably going to spoil major plot points, so… yeah.)

It’s a series about magic and oppression and racism and religion. It’s really an eclectic series that touches on a range of subjects and mostly in a good way. Problematic in some ways, as most things are, but overall pretty good. Strong female characters, all that.

Two of the main female characters, Arya and Nasuada, are constant sources of inspiration and strength for me. I also draw strength from the character Roran, although I identify with him far less. Arya is an elf, and in this universe there is no gender disparity amongst elves. She’s an independent woman with a complicated history. She’s a powerful magician and warrior, but she’s often more vulnerable than she allows other people to see. She’s committed to her people and to her duty, and she won’t allow anything to deter her.

At the very beginning of the series, Arya is captured by the Empire and tortured/imprisoned for roughly six months. We don’t get to witness her captivity in any great detail, but she discusses it with the main character, Eragon, in the third book.

Eragon tries to draw her out, pointing out that she discusses the facts of her imprisonment readily enough but never mentions what it was like for her. “Pain is pain. It needs no description,” she says. Eragon points out that no one can escape unscathed from something like that–not on the inside, at least (in a universe in which magic heals wounds). This is the first time in the series that Arya really opens up to Eragon, talking about how it was for her to be tortured for months on end, how it has changed her, and how she continues to fight in spite of the scars from her ordeal.

In this conversation, Eragon and Arya also discuss how killing others (there is a war happening) affects them and how they continue to function normally in spite of basically having PTSD. Arya tells Eragon how she came to terms with taking others’ lives within the context of fighting against a tyrannical dictator, and how she imagines herself in the gardens of her home whenever she starts to think of the dead. She also advises Eragon that breathing helps–slow regular breathing as if you were meditating. Arya is strong, and it makes me feel stronger to empathize with her.

And then there’s Nasuada. Nasuada is the leader of the army opposing the Empire. She is the embodiment of willpower. She’s a human, and unlike Arya has a significant amount of sexism to wade through and defeat in order to maintain her position.

In the fourth book, Nasuada is kidnapped by the Empire and ends up being tortured by the king himself. This imprisonment we do get to see a lot of, and from within Nasuada’s own perspective. The chapter title that marks the beginning of this section of the book always stirs my blood–“The Torment of Uncertainty.”

Nasuada only spends like a week and a half, maybe two weeks imprisoned in the Empire’s capital, but the king nearly succeeds in breaking her. Her implacable determination is evident from the start. She wakes up tied to a slab of stone and immediately starts to order her thoughts. Her jailor visits her the first time to let her pee and feed her and she’s already contemplating how she can kill him and attempt to escape. When the king first visits her to actually begin torturing her (by repeatedly having his servant, Murtagh, touch a hot iron to her skin), she curses him the whole while.

There are several gems of quotes from this section. “I am stronger than the weakness of my flesh,” is currently on the white board in my kitchen. The whole quote I have saved on a document of inspirational quotes from the series–“It is only in my mind. I shall not give in. I am not an animal; I am stronger than the weakness of my flesh.” This is the part where the king is using his magic to create illusions in Nasuada’s mind. I also have a block of text saved from when she first wakes up tied to the stone:

Then she disciplined herself and put aside her despair. The only control she had over the situation was self-control, and she was not about to relinquish it for the dubious pleasure of indulging her doubts, fears, and regrets. As long as she was the master of her thoughts and feelings, she was not entirely helpless. It was the smallest of freedoms–that of one’s own mind–but she was grateful for it, and knowing that it might soon be torn away made her all the more determined to exercise it.

I have another quote saved from the beginning of the second book, when Nasuada is first made leader of the Varden. She’s talking to Eragon about her plans, and she says “The Empire will be brought down, Galbatorix will be dethroned, and the rightful government will be raised.” A single tear falls down her cheek. I’m sure you can see why I love Nasuada so much.

I don’t have as much to say about Roran, but I do find one of his quotes particularly inspiring: I fight to win, not to lose.

And that’s how a book series is keeping me from completely losing my sanity.

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