“Big Twenty” — Tenga the Hermit… Who is he and what does he seek?

The Big Twenty is Shur’tugal’s twenty week long series of in depth discussion and theorizing, all centered around twenty core questions, loose ends, and theories in the Inheritance universe. The Big Twenty is the ultimate fan guide to happenings in Book 4 — and we hope you’ll join us for the adventure! To learn more about the Big Twenty, view our announcement article.

Better late than never, right? We’re sure Angela would agree – just as she’d agree that this article is of importance! We briefly encounter the odd and unique character, Tenga, early on in Brisingr during Eragon’s trek back to the Varden. To say we were left puzzled may be a bit of an understatement; this “early encounter” was most definitely one to grab our interest… and we believe it is not an event that we should forget or underestimate.

We uncovered several key pieces of information during our meeting with Tenga and it’s clear that this information may become incredibly important in Inheritance. What does Tenga seek? Who, or what, is he? How can he be such a powerful magic user? Is there more to his connection with Angela? We explore these questions and more in this week’s Big Twenty article!

This week’s Big Twenty is a bit on the late side due to extreme scheduling conflicts and overflowing to-do lists. We’ll be back to our normal posting days soon-ish. In the mean time, we’re thrilled to tell you that our interview with Christopher Paolini will be releasing very soon!


Who is Tenga?

We first encounter Tenga during Eragon’s journey back to the Varden on foot from Helgrind. Eragon discovers the old hermit among the ruins of a once-great elven outpost, Edur Ithindra. Tenga’s claimed the land as his own and now dwells within the ruins’ only standing tower. Adjoining the tower is Tenga’s vegitable garden, which he was tending during Eragon’s first meeting with him. The inside of his home was covered with scrolls, books, and various bits of writing; from this we are able to deduce that Tenga is, in some way, a scholar.

Tenga himself appeared to be a man of great age, sporting an exceptionally long beard – long enough to rest in a pile in his lap while sitting – and friendly enough to allow a stranger into his home. He was chatty, eccentric, and clearly driven in his search to find “the answer”. In fact, the hermit was surprisingly forthcoming; he revealed a great deal to Eragon in his short visit. It’s safe to say that the man has been driven a bit “mad”, as Eragon observed, in his search, likely compounded by his loneliness.

Before Eragon departs Tenga’s home in a bit of a rush, the hermit shows him the various wooden animal carvings on display throughout his home. He mentions that a female carved them for him before she left. We later learn that Angela was once Tenga’s apprentice – could she have been the wood-carving female?

Later, during Eragon’s return to the Varden, Angela the herbalist wastes no time explaining this man to Eragon: he may seem deranged, but he is a brilliant individual.

Another curiosity of note is Tenga’s reference to the elves – whom he refers to as the “tricky elves” – when explaining that they were the race who built Edur Ithindra, the ruins within which Tenga now resides. Why are the elves “tricky”? This seems to imply an encounter with or exceptional knowledge of the elves.

Tenga and Magic

In our first and only encounter with the hermit – who appears to be human – we immediately learn that he is capable of magic. Not only is he capable, but he appears to be extremely proficient, as he lights his home’s hearth with apparent magic… but without speaking any words of power in the ancient language. Eragon immediately notices what the hermit has done and observes that this is a rare and dangerous type of magic to perform. Why would Tenga risk injury or death – two common “side-effects” of casting magic without using words of power – to simply light a fire?

We believe that this implies that Tenga’s knowledge and command over the ancient language may be much more substantial than Eragon first thought. Why does Tenga use magic without speaking in the ancient language? It’s possible that he does so because he is a powerful magic user capable of performing spells without the ancient language; powerful enough that doing so comes at no great risk to him. Or perhaps Tenga is ancient enough to have been around prior to magic being bound to the ancient language…

Tenga’s unbelievable hoard of seven compendiums of true names in the ancient language leads us to believe that not only is the hermit a powerful magician, but he is one of great knowledge over the powerful language. Eragon remarks that owning even one compendium is a substantial feat – owning seven is a substantial rarity.

What is Tenga’s history with Angela?

One thing is for certain: Tenga and Angela have a history together. Upon Eragon’s return to the Varden, he speaks with Angela about the hermit she immediately recognizes the name. The witch shocked and bewildered – two reactions we hadn’t yet seen out of Angela. Their history must be rocky at best if the she is reacting in such a way. Additionally, Solembum seems to severely dislike (or perhaps even hate) the hermit.

Angela tells us that she was once an apprentice of Tenga for an “unfortunate” amount of years, but this was “many years ago”. So long ago, in fact, that the witch believed Tenga to have been dead. This key bit of knowledge is especially important when we consider that Angela has alluded to her old age (despite her appearance) on numerous occasions. If Angela is much older than she appears and trained with Tenga long ago, that would imply that Tenga himself is much older than he should be as a human. The fact that Angela thought Tenga to be long dead hammers the point home – he was ancient when she left him, ancient enough to be thinking him dead. Curious!

We know that Angela is resourceful and powerful. If the witch was first trained under Tenga, it’s safe to assume that he possesses similar qualities. His quirks and oddities shined through in those few pages and appear very similar to those that show in Angela. If Angela possesses power and age beyond that of a normal human, can we assume that Tenga is the same?

Why did Angela leave Tenga? It’s clear the relationship ended on a rocky note, at least in Angela’s mind. She apparently harbors distaste for her former teacher – distaste which has yet to be explained. Solembum likes him even less, though he chalks that up to the fact that “Tenga kicks cats”. Tenga, on the other hand, implies that he misses Angela a great deal (if we are to assume that the wooden animal carvings were done by Angela). What could have happened to cause Angela to abandon Tenga?

What does Tenga seek?

“I search for the answer! A key to an unopened door, the secret of the trees and the plants. Fire, heat, lightning, light… Most do not know the question and wander in ignorance. Others know the question but fear what the answer will mean. Bah! For thousands of years we have lived like savages. Savages! I shall end that. I shall usher in the age of light, and all shall praise my deed.”

This may just be the most important question surrounding Tenga and one of the most important questions raised in Brisingr. What does the hermit seek? We learn from Angela that he’s always seeking the answer to some question:

“I have not the slightest idea. Tenga always had a question he was trying to answer. If he succeeded, he immediately chose another one, and so on. He may have answered a hundred questions since I last saw him, or he may still be gnashing his teeth over the same conundrum as when I left him.”

Which was?

“Whether the phases of the moon influence the number and quality of the opals that form in the roots of the Beor Mountains, as is commonly held among the dwarves.”

It’s clear that the question Angela mentions in the books is not the question he’s working on now. No, that would be crazy – how can one usher in an age of light with quality opals?

What would allow Tenga to usher in this age of light? Perhaps the key to defeating Galbatorix. What are his secrets? Where does he pull his magic from? Or perhaps it’s another topic entirely: the ancient language and its true name. Imagine the power one could wield with the true name of the ancient language. Tenga’s various compendiums seem to hint toward a search through these books and scrolls for certain words – could it be the word?

Another important question regarding what Tenga seeks is: Why is Tenga so forthcoming about what he seeks, especially with a stranger? From the very start, Tenga is both up-front and candid with Eragon, a complete stranger to him. Eragon doesn’t even look human – at this point, Eragon has adopted his elven-visage, and we’re sure that someone as clever as Tenga would have seen through any disguises Eragon may have adopted. Why, then, would the hermit make such a revelation to the stranger?

Our guess? Tenga knew exactly who Eragon is. Characters such as Tenga often know a lot more than they let on; they play the “mad” game to hide their true intelligence and cunning. It is our belief that Tenga was a lot more aware than he let on and knew exactly what he was revealing to Eragon, and his revelations were entirely intentional.

“You don’t know the question? I thought you might. But no, I was mistaken. Still, I see you understand my search. You search for a different answer, but you search nevertheless. The same brand burns in your heart as burns in mine. Who else but a fellow pilgrim can appreciate what we must sacrifice to find the answer?”

What do we think his role in Book 4 will be?

It’s apparent that Tenga will play some role in Book 4 – either directly or indirectly. Pages are precious to an author attempting to tell a story as complex as Inheritance, and Christopher (nor his editor) would ever include multiple pages on a character with no true purpose. This character – a hermit with incredible knowledge of the ancient language, of great age, and trainer of Angela – has more to him than meets the eye.

Our key observation is what he seeks; it’s important. Angela remarks on his brilliance and he is confident that whatever he seeks will bring light to the darkness in Alagaesia. As to what he seeks… that’s undetermined, but as we deduced above, it’s likely the true name of the ancient language.

Chaotic neutral – We don’t want a third player in this epic two-player war. Tenga has made it clear that he plans to restore peace – and light – to Alagaesia in his own way. We cannot afford another player, especially one as apparently crazy as Tenga, to wage his own war in Alagaesia. He needs to pick a side – preferably the right one – and ally himself, bringing his knowledge of this “answer” and anything else he may have to offer.

The hermit hopes to usher in an age of light, claiming he will be praised. Once he finds this answer, what does he plan to do with it? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? If he was after the true name of the ancient language, will he commit evil with it? Will he do only good things? How does he make that determination? What if the word falls into Galbatorix’s hands?

Turning to the dark side – What Tenga seeks must be important, and this is not knowledge which Galbatorix will let escape his grasp should he get wind that the hermit discovered something of importance. Either through trickery or persuasion, Eragon and company cannot allow Tenga or his findings to fall within the Empire’s grasp. Should he truly seek – and discover – the true name of the ancient language, this knowledge would be the final blow Galbatorix needs to favorably end the war against the Varden.

Playing for the light – We need Tenga. Regardless of what it is he’s seeking, his knowledge (both in book form and in his mind) would be a valuable asset in the war against Alagaesia, especially at a time during which any contribution, big or small, will make a difference. If it’s the true name of the ancient language that Tenga seeks, bringing this information to Eragon, Saphira, and the rebels would be a significant advancement for the group.

“If anyone could, it would be Tenga.” – Angela the Herbalist