Two decades after Christopher Paolini self-published his debut book, Eragon, which launched The Inheritance Cycle, this year is unfolding as a blue-ribbon one for the author. On November 7, Knopf will release Murtagh, a standalone novel spotlighting the eponymous Dragon Slayer and his sword Thorn from the cycle’s world of Alagaësia. Set one year after the events of that series—which has been published in 50 countries and has sold more than 40 million copies—Murtagh has an announced U.S. first printing of two million copies.
Due from the publisher on the same day, in honor of Eragon’s 20th anniversary, is Eragon: The Illustrated Edition, featuring full-color paintings by Sidharth Chaturvedi and seven illustrations by Paolini. Last April, Knopf published repackaged paperback editions of the Inheritance Cycle titles (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance), as well as a new boxed set of the four novels. And this past May, Tor Books released Paolini’s latest science-fiction adventure, Fractal Noise: A Fractalverse Novel, for which the author created six illustrations.
Paolini, who holds the Guinness World Record for the youngest bestselling series author (an accolade he earned at 19), was homeschooled, and began writing Eragon at the age of 15. He self-published the novel in 2002 at 18. After Knopf picked up the novel and released it in August 2003, Eragon sold one million copies within six months, became a #1 bestseller, and paved the way for the similarly successful sales tracks of its Inheritance Cycle successors.
Published in 2005, Paolini’s second novel, Eldest, sold more than 425,000 hardcover copies in its first week, making it the largest single-week sale ever recorded for a Random House Children’s Books title—hardcover or paperback—and the fastest-selling book in the publisher’s history at the time of its release. In 2011, Inheritance, the final installment in the series, sold 489,500 copies on its pub date, the highest first-day sale of any fiction or nonfiction adult or children’s title published in North America that year.
A Return to Alagaësia in ‘Murtagh’
Since concluding the Inheritance Cyle, Paolini had intended to revisit the World of Eragon because, he told PW, “There are a host of stories therein that I’d like to tell.” Yet the initial inspiration for Murdagh was hatched by a random tweet Paolini received when he was working on his science fiction novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, several years ago.
“A fan tweeted to ask me what Murtagh was up to at that moment,” Paolini recalled. “It was way past my bedtime, and I was feeling a bit punchy, and as a result, I replied, ‘Murtagh enchanted a fork to be as deadly as any sword. He called it Mr. Stabby. Thorn was not amused.’ Absurd though it was, the idea stuck with me.”
In 2018, that premise came to fruition. “When I decided to finish a collection I had begun of short stories set in Alagaësia, I thought back to that tweet,” Paolini said. “With some adaptation, it formed the basis for the first story in what became The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia, Volume One.”
The story, in turn, eventually led to Murtagh. “I could feel the outline of a larger tale coalescing around that core story,” Paolini said, “one that might serve as a proper, full-sized return to that world.” His imagination pulled him back to Alagaësia, where Murtagh and Thorn, exiled to the outskirts of society, must find and outwit a mysterious witch.
Knopf executive editor Michelle Frey, who first acquired Eragon and has worked with Paolini on each of the Inheritance Cyle novels and his other World of Eragon titles, warmly welcomed Murtagh’s reappearance.
“Murtagh has always been one of my favorite characters in the Inheritance Cycle—and he’s a big fan favorite, too,” Frey said. “I think this is in large part because he’s deeply flawed. He has done things that are wrong, but he is also a victim, and we can see where his scars come from. In this novel, Christopher shows Murtagh navigating his own path in the world. It’s a path that’s full of adventure and suspense, of course—but it’s also a journey through his inner landscape.”
Celebrating the Past, Speculating on the Future
Showcasing the art of Sidharth Chaturvedi, Eragon: The Illustrated Edition, has a 200,000-copy first printing on order. “Sidharth did a wonderful job of capturing the look and feel of the world,” Paolini said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate Eragon’s 20th anniversary. Fifteen-year-old me would have been thrilled beyond belief to have such a wonderful edition of Eragon.”
Paolini’s future writing plans are open-ended—in a promising way for his fans. Venturing again into Alagaësia, via another standalone book or a spinoff series, “is definitely something I would like to do,” Paolini said.
Asked if he might embark on a fantasy adventure series set beyond the parameters of the World of Eragon, Paolini replied, “Between my Fractalverse sci-fi series and Eragon, I have plenty on my writing plate for the rest of my life—especially if Disney+ gets its TV adaptation of Eragon [which is in early development] off the ground. But yes, that’s also something I hope to do—it will depend on how much time and energy I have.”
Yet Paolini’s next remark belies his concern about limited time and energy. “As for the future,” he concludes, “I can’t wait to write some of the books that I’ve been daydreaming about for decades.”
Murtagh by Christopher Paolini. Knopf, $29.99 Nov. 7 ISBN 978-0-593-65086-8.
Eragon: The Illustrated Edition by Christopher Paolini, illus. by Sidharth Chaturvedi. Knopf, $45.99 Nov. 7 ISBN 978-0-593-70446-2.