Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Christopher  Paolini

Taryn  Conley 
Bruno Bettelheim

Christopher Paolini’s Depiction of the Unconventional Hero

Bruno Bettelheim connected personal experiences with themes and messages found in fairy tales. As a child growing up in Vienna in the early 1900s, he fell into a depression caused by problems within his home. His father suffered both financially and physically, forcing Bettelheim to leave school and take over the family business at a young age. He first became interested in the psychiatric field when he attended the University of Vienna in 1918 and met his wife, Gina Alstadt. During Bettelheim’s psychoanalysis, Dr. Richard Sterba connected him with his unconscious, which focused mainly on the illness of his father. Bettelheim’s later work with emotionally disturbed children was based on his personal experiences. His own childhood with his mother influenced the way in which he interacted with his young patients. Bettelheim proposed the “refrigerator mother” theory, stating that emotionally unequipped mothers could not understand the desires of their children. In his work The Uses of Enchantment, published in 1989, Bettelheim captivated his readers by connecting “ill loving” mothers to the evil stepmothers and witches found in fairy tales.

Christopher Paolini, an author of contemporary fairy tales, uses the traditional story of the unconventional hero to create a modern version of his own hero, incorporating the themes of separation, initiation, and return. In Eragon, Paolini focuses on destiny and responsibility by using sociologist Joseph Campbell’s twelve stages of heroic development. He creates a world of fantasy including evil kings, noble citizens, and mysterious Werecats. Eragon, the main character of the novel, embarks upon a journey during which he encounters each of these friends and foes while traveling throughout the unknown. Paolini integrates fantasy, thrusting his readers into a new world, separate from reality but parallel to it. Each step throughout Eragon’s quest brings about a change within him allowing him to become more heroic. Eragon’s call to greatness reflects the separation from a normal lifestyle in order to fulfill a greater destiny. Like every other individual, Eragon’s maturation from childhood to adulthood occurs as a result of the trials he faces along his journey to heroism.

Major Works Consulted:

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment . New York: Knopf, 1989.
Paolini, Christopher. Eldest . New York: Knopf, 2005.
---. Eragon. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Sutton, Nina. Bettelheim- A Life and Legacy. New York: Basic Books, 1996.
Photo Credit: Paolini, Christopher. Brisingr. New York: Knopf, 2008.