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.
Spirits are powerful and elusive beings, the very legend of which is enough to scare fledgling spellcasters away from the profession, as spirits possess the ability to transform and enslave a weak magician, creating a powerful Shade. We’ve also seen a kinder side of spirits, ones who bless individuals with gifts such as golden flowers.
But what are these creatures? Is there any connection between these spirits and the spirits which humans and dwarves believe leave the body upon death? What can spirits accomplish? What is their connection with the Vault of Souls, if any? If they are so powerful, why do they remain neutral in a fight which threatens to destroy Alagaesia at the very core? We explore all of this and more in this week’s Big Twenty article – and as a bonus, this article contains information never revealed in the books!
What are spirits?
There are two distinct types of spirits mentioned throughout the books – and the distinction is very important. Although never specifically mentioned in the actual books, Christopher Paolini has answered some lingering questions regarding the distinction between spirits human mention as being released when a person dies, and the spirits encountered throughout the books within Shades and used by sorcerers.
Let’s explore each in order to offer better distinction between the two types of spirits in Alagaesia. This will allow us to understand what we’re dealing with in terms of the true spirits!
The Human Spirit: Much like in the real world – the world in which we, the readers, live – many in Alagaesia believe that when the body dies, spirits depart the body and venture off for the next great adventure (or some sort of after-life). It is here that a spirit will wander, allowing the consciousness of the deceased to live on. We know that both humans and dwarves believe in this, though their beliefs are tailored to their individual races; the elves, however, do not believe in the afterlife, which means that belief in personal spirits is likely nonexistent for their race. These spirits are not the spirits which are used by sorcerers.
A Sentient Being: Spirits, in this case, are natural manifestations of energy – what people in Alagaesia refer to as magic. These spirits are not the spirits referenced by humans and other races when discussing what leaves the body upon death; these are entirely independent conscious beings composed purely of energy. Again, these spirits are not the souls of sentient creatures returned from the afterlife, but something else entirely.
Christopher has told us (outside of the books) that these spirits are extremely dangerous; they are far more powerful than any human magician… and they’re best avoided. Spirits are not bound to the magical “drawback” which does not allow magicians to cast spells beyond what their own energy can feed. However, spirits do have limitations of their own – limitations which have yet to be revealed. We are unsure what these limitations are, as Christopher has kept them secret – which means they must come up in Book 4!
We also learn that spirits can possess any living being, not just humans – and that this will be eluded to in Book 4.
Where, when, and how have we encountered spirits?
Shades are possessed sorcerers of considerable might. These mighty and evil warriors were once sorcerers of considerable power, able to summon wicked and vengeful spirits from the void. These spirits, bent on possession and mischief, consumed the sorcerer who summoned them, turning him into a vessel or host to perform their bidding. In most cases, possession was unintentional, though there have been cases where the host – the sorcerer at the center of the spell – was a willing participant. Shades are one of the most feared creatures in Alagaesia due to their inhuman strength, capable of besting even the best elven warriors, and their uncanny control of magic.
We have encountered two Shades during the Inheritance cycle:
- Durza was the first Shade encountered by Eragon’s gang of intrepid explorers. This Shade was the right-hand of Galbatorix responsible for some of the king’s most importance tasks, including ambushing Arya and regaining Saphira’s egg, as well as leading the Urgal army in their attack against the dwarves. Eragon met Durza in combat on two occasions; during their first encounter, Murtagh was able to temporarily remove the Shade by landing an arrow between his eyes. Their second and final encounter, this time in Farthen Dur, saw the death of Durza as he was stabbed in the heart by Eragon.
- Varaug was the second shade encountered by Eragon and company. This Shade was willingly summoned by a number of sorcerers acting within Feinster. Varaug was not able to live long, as it was impossible for the new Shade to withstand the might of Eragon, Saphira, and Arya. Arya was able to deal a deathblow to the wicked being, dispatching the Shade from Alagaesia within minutes of its unnatural creation.
Sorcerers are one of several types of magicians to walk Alagaesia, including regular magicians, witches, Riders, etc. Sorcerers weave a specific type of magic, which requires the magician to summon and control spirits. A sorcerer has to be incredibly careful of the spirits they summon and maintaining control, as any lapse in judgment or skill can result in the creation of a Shade. Spirits are incredibly powerful beings, allowing knowledgeable and skilled sorcerers to accomplish great magical feats. Because of the risks associated with sorcerer, few choose to pursue this school of magic.
We have encountered one sorcerer and learned about two more during the course of the three books:
- Haeg and Carsaib are two sorcerers we have heard about through stories and memories. Carsaib was the boy possessed by the spirits who combined created Durza. Haeg was a hermit and Carsaib’s rescuer, as well as his teacher. Haeg’s death at the hand of several murderers drove Carsaib to control powerful spirits in order to gain vengeance against the attackers… a move which resulted in the creation of Durza.
- Trianna is the series’ more well-known sorceress. As leader of Du Vrangr Gata, the Varden’s . This sorcerer has an arrogant and power-hungry attitude, and it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if she ended up a Shade!
The Brisingr Encounter: During Eragon and Arya’s trip back to the Varden (after Eragon opted to venture through the Empire alone in order to deal with Sloan), a strange cacophony of lights “formed a whirling wall around him and Arya”. Eragon was quite alarmed by the many colored orbs surrounding them, which first touched Arya before moving on to explore Eragon. As he reached out and touched the strange phenomena, the Rider felt a presence enter his mind and brush away his defenses as if they were nothing. As the spirit filled Eragon with pure joy, he struggled to understand the true nature of this being. Its mind was so foreign to him; he could not discern anything past the distilled joy it spread throughout his body.
After their fantastic encounter with the spirits, Arya attempts to explain to Eragon what it was he encountered. Eragon observed that these spirits looked very different from the ones encountered after the death of Durza, to which Arya informs him that spirits can assume many different guises. He is amazed by the happiness they inspired in him and is angered by the fact that anyone would enslave them to do their bidding. As a parting gift, the spirits left the pair a surprise: they turned the flower Eragon had made for Arya into a rare flower composed of living gems. It would be possible for the flower to grow bigger, and its seeds are capable of reproducing to spread this new type of flower across the land. This encounter hammered home the fact that spirits are both incredibly powerful and exceedingly mysterious.
Important Allies or Formidable Foes?
Christopher has made one thing clear: spirits are incredibly powerful and are to be feared – and most importantly, not underestimated. Yet we’ve seen these powerful beings very few times, in very few situations. Their power has yet to be properly conveyed, and their entire existence – who, or what, they are and what they are capable of – has been shrouded from us, and Eragon, since the start of the first book.
But why hasn’t Eragon, especially after seeing what they are capable of in Brisingr, considered looking more into these spirits? Why has he not started asking around, doing reading and research, or following up on their immense power? Why hasn’t he, or the elves, considered attempting an alliance – or at the very least, a pact – with these creatures in the war against Galbatorix? Surely, like every other sentient creature in Alagaesia, the spirits have realized what is happening to Alagaesia… the sundering, the conflict, the death…
As we’ve discussed previously, the Varden (and the entire rebel movement) is in dire need of any support they can muster. If the spirits were to join Galbatorix’s cause, it would be the final tipping point for the war – pushing things in his favor – and would likely spell the end of the Varden. On the other hand, these spirits would make powerful allies of the Varden… but we have no evidence to support that an allegiance between spirits and a faction has ever happened.
Is there a connection between spirits and the Vault of Souls?
Souls and spirits are similarly defined by the dictionary; each represents a similar meaning… but not within Alagaesia. Is it safe to assume that Christopher, as an author, is referencing the same thing with two different words? Is “souls” another word for “spirits”?
Christopher has mentioned throughout the books and interviews that various raw energy/magic locations exist throughout Alagaesia… examples include the raw magical phenomena discovered in Mani’s Caves and the floating crystal in Eoam. Could these be “plot set-ups” allowing Christopher to connect the Vault of Souls to a “raw magical phenomenon” down the line which, perhaps, offers a connection between the world of humans (and Alagaesia) and the world of the spirits?
One popular theory is that the Vault of Souls is the proper door between the spirit world – where these powerful sentient beings come from – and Alagaesia. Visiting this Vault would offer Eragon the chance to either ally himself with these spirits, or to somehow harness their raw power (which we now know to be incredibly powerful and nearly limitless) in the fight against Galbatorix. We do not believe that it is mere coincidence that we have been introduced to spirits, “raw magic phenomena”, and the power of these spirits… as Helen Beddis, Inheritance Podcast Superstar has said: nothing in a book is coincidence.
The power of the spirits, either channeled through Eragon or fighting alongside the Varden, would be immeasurable; it would also be the sort of curveball that authors enjoy.
What role will spirits play in Book 4?
Spirits are either going to be huge or a dud – we just won’t know until we read Book 4. Christopher has either introduced a very interesting side-plot, offering a unique standalone glimpse at interesting creatures who roam Alagaesia… or he has begun to introduce us to a race that will prove to be incredibly powerful additions in the war against Galbatorix. We’re voting for the latter.
It’s certainly possible that Christopher has included the spirits as a way to justify and explain Shades and the power they possess. In fact, we were all for the belief that spirits would go no further in the cycle than being those creatures which power Shades… until the encounter between Arya, Eragon, and the wild spirits. This scene was too much of a coincidence to ignore; it revealed too much about the spirits and their power to be mere filler. In fact, in a book as long as Brisingr, it would be impractical to assume that such scenes are included as filler. Does an author need filler in a book as action-packed and long as Brisingr? No. Would an editor let it stick around if it had no ramifications on future writing? Unlikely.
Eragon needs incredible power to match the strength of Galbatorix and Murtagh. If not through Eldunari, which fans believe to be unlikely, how else? The Vault of Souls…
…is clearly the key. It’s the sub-title of Book 4. Christopher has told us it’s going to play a key role in Book 4. But what will the role be?
Spirits! Whether through an alliance or by channeling their raw and nearly-limitless power, we believe they will be the final push Eragon and the Varden need to defeat the Empire and topple Galbatorix.