Origins and publication
Christopher Paolini started reading fantasy books when he was ten years old. At the age of fourteen, as a hobby, Paolini started writing the first novel in a series of four books, but he could not get beyond a few pages because he had "no idea" where he was going. He began reading everything he could about the "art of writing", and then plotted the whole Inheritance Cycle book series. After a month of planning out the series, he started writing the draft of Eragon by hand. It was finished a year later, and Paolini began writing the "real" version of the book. After another year of editing, Paolini's parents saw the final manuscript. They immediately saw its potential and decided to publish the book through their small, home-based publishing company, Paolini International. Paolini created the cover art for this edition of Eragon, which featured Saphira's eye on the cover. He also drew the maps inside the book.
Paolini and his family toured across the United States to promote the book. Over 135 talks were given at bookshops, libraries, and schools, many with Paolini dressed up in a medieval costume; but the book did not receive much attention. Paolini said he "would stand behind a table in my costume talking all day without a break – and would sell maybe forty books in eight hours if I did really well. [...] It was a very stressful experience. I couldn't have gone on for very much longer." In the summer of 2002, American novelist Carl Hiaasen was on vacation in one of the cities that Paolini gave a talk in. While there, his stepson bought a copy of Eragon that he "immediately loved". He showed it to his stepfather, who brought the book to the attention of the publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. Michelle Frey, executive editor at Knopf, contacted Paolini and his family to ask if they were interested in having Knopf publish Eragon. The answer was yes, and after another round of editing, Knopf published Eragon in August 2003. It also led to a new cover, drawn by John Jude Palencar.
Inspiration and influences
Paolini cites old myths, folk tales, medieval stories, the epic poem Beowulf, and authors J. R. R. Tolkien and Eric Rücker Eddison as his biggest influences in writing. Other literary influences include David Eddings, Andre Norton, Brian Jacques, Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist, Mervyn Peake, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Frank Herbert. Paolini has also received inspiration from the two authors Philip Pullman and Garth Nix. In Eragon, Paolini "deliberately" included the "archetypal ingredients" of a fantasy book – a quest, a journey of experience, revenge, romance, betrayal, and a "special" sword.
The ancient language used by the elves in Eragon is based "almost entirely" on Old Norse, German, Old English, and Russian myth. Paolini commented that "[I] did a god-awful amount of research into the subject when I was composing it. I found that it gave the world a much richer feel, a much older feel, using these words that had been around for centuries and centuries. I had a lot of fun with that." Picking the right name for the characters and places was a process that could take "days, weeks, or even years". Paolini said that "if I have difficulty choosing the correct moniker, I use a placeholder name until a replacement suggests itself." He added that he was "really lucky" with the name Eragon, "because it's just dragon with one letter changed." Also, Paolini commented that he thought of the name "Eragon" as the two parts of it: "era" and "gone", as if the name itself changes the era in which the character lives. He thought the name fit the book perfectly, but some of the other names caused him "real headaches".
The landscape in Eragon is based on the "wild territory" of Paolini's home state, Montana. He said in an interview that "I go hiking a lot, and oftentimes when I'm in the forest or in the mountains, sitting down and seeing some of those little details makes the difference between having an okay description and having a unique description." Paolini also said that Paradise Valley, Montana is "one of the main sources" of his inspiration for the landscape in the book. Eragon takes place in the fictional continent Alagaësia. Paolini "roughed out" the main history of the land before he wrote the book, but he did not draw a map of it until it became important to see where Eragon was traveling. He then started to get history and plot ideas from seeing the landscape depicted.
Paolini chose to have Eragon mature throughout the book because "for one thing, it's one of the archetypal fantasy elements". He thought Eragon's growth and maturation throughout the book "sort of mirrored my own growing abilities as a writer and as a person, too. So it was a very personal choice for that book." Eragon's dragon, Saphira, was imagined as "the perfect friend" by Paolini. He decided to go in a more "human direction" with her because she is raised away from her own species, in "close mental contact" with a human. "I considered making the dragon more dragon-like, if you will, in its own society, but I haven't had a chance to explore that. I went with a more human element with Saphira while still trying to get a bit of the magic, the alien, of her race." Paolini made Saphira the "best friend anyone could have: loyal, funny, brave, intelligent, and noble. She transcended that, however, and became her own person, fiercely independent and proud." Saphira's blue tinted vision was in turn inspired by Paolini's own color-blindness.
Paolini added in archetypal elements of a fantasy novel like a quest, a journey of experience, revenge, romance, betrayal, and a 'special' sword. The book is described as a fantasy with Booklist writing "Paolini knows the genre well—his lush tale is full of recognizable fantasy elements and conventions". The book has been compared to other books of the fantasy genre such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Reviews have also felt that the plot genre is too similar to those other fantasy novels. The book was called a "high fantasy" by Kirkus Review.