Part II: Battle Under Farthen Dur

“The Urgals will arrive in a matter of hours. We know their numbers are great, but we must hold Farthen Dur. Failure will mean the dwarves’ downfall, death to the Varden- and eventual defeat for Surda and the elves. This is one battle we cannot lose. Now go and complete your tasks! Jormundur, ready the men to fight.”

Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, rallies his men to begin the preparations for battle; Galbatorix’s Urgals are almost upon the Varden. It just goes to show how desperately Paolini wanted this battle to be the most epic thing that ever happened to the universe- this quote is extremely excessive. Because, when you think about it, are the Varden really that important to the survival of the other races? King Orrin’s family has been holding their own against Galbatorix for generations. And the elves… well, are a few hundred warriors that much of a help to an entire race of magical superheroes? Get real, Ajihad. This battle determines the fate of the Varden, not the entire world. Less ego, please.

So, for the hours before the battle, the Varden prepare; collapsing tunnels, building fortifications, and training. This is actually not bad- Paolini somewhat justifies not collapsing all the tunnels, but it’s still a little weak. Apparently, the dwarf city Tronjheim rests on the tunnels, so portions of the city could sink into the ground if the tunnels were all collapsed. Somewhat valid, but can’t a few dwarves sacrifice their homes so hundreds of Varden warriors can survive and continue fighting Galbatorix? Isn’t that a worthy cause?

Finally, after an agonizing chapter where Eragon single-handedly collapses hundreds of tons of rock with magic, the battle begins as the Varden line up before the mouth of an un-collapsed tunnel. An un-collapsed and booby-trap free tunnel, I might add. That’s right. The Varden had several hours to prepare, but they didn’t put stakes directly in the tunnels, drench them with flammable oil, dig pits and trenches in them, or anything of the sort. Sure, they put all of those things right in front of their ranks, which definitely prevents the Varden from maneuvering, but nothing in the tunnels. Why didn’t they put a Welcome Mat while they were at it?

After all the Varden soldiers are assembled and armed, Arya feels the need to clarify that, yes, the battle has begun.

“It has begun,” Arya said sorrowfully.”

Good to know, Arya. I hadn’t realized. What tipped you off? The soldiers ready for battle? The hundreds evacuating Tronjheim? Or was it your divine elfish powers of intuition? Hmmm, I’ll go for intuition.

Before the battle had even started, the Varden had to take several important steps: firstly, realize they were direly outnumbered, and respond to it, and second, assess the advantages they had and use them. The Varden have an ideal position for countering larger numbers. The Urgals could not leave the tunnel all at once, and had no time to form up. The Varden’s chance to remove the Urgals’ advantage in numbers was to fight at the opening of the tunnel. If a line could be held there, the Urgals wouldn’t be able to swarm the Varden, like they did in the book. Let us consider which formations would have been best for the Varden to hold the Urgals at the opening of the tunnel. The Greek Phalanx, for instance, depended heavily on the front line holding out. The Hoplites were well armed, and would fit well in this scenario; an average hoplite was armed with a spear approximately 2-3 meters long, an aspis shield or hoplon, and often a secondary weapon. Considering this was an average ancient Greek soldier, and that if the Varden had forced the fight to the opening of the tunnel, which opened upwards, the Varden would have had the higher ground- the spear would have been extremely effective in this scenario. In addition, the Hoplites’ large circular shields would have prevented the Urgals from breaking their line with arrows. The Hoplites did have a major weakness, however, which would have been disastrous in this situation. The Phalanx formation depended heavily on its front lines, but had no way of relaying or replacing them. Often, in a long battle, which is the case with Farthen Dur, the front line of Hoplites would collapse in exhaustion, and the entire Phalanx would fall apart.

To remedy this, a new formation must be adopted. One that defeated the Phalanx because it could, in fact, relay its front lines and give them a rest. The Roman Legion was one of the best ancient formations. The Legion was organized into six centuries: the forward and rear Hastati, the forward and rear Principes, and the forward and rear Triarii. The Legion could relay its front ranks, and did not crumble like the Phalanx if they fell, instead, it advanced the rear centuries. Using the Roman Legion to bottle up the Urgals in the tunnel would have effectively removed their advantage of superior numbers, as they couldn’t use them all at once.

All right, all right, let’s come back to what happened in the book. The problem is, the Varden completed step one, they realized they were outnumbered, but they didn’t do anything about it at all. Instead of forming at the mouth of the tunnel, they left two lines of spearmen to hold the line. Good tactics, Paolini. Really. Leave a dozen spearmen to die for no reason other than to delay the battle for a few seconds? What is this?!? At least have them retreat into the main ranks once they become overwhelmed!

Sorry, forgot to mention, there doesn’t seem to be any ranks in the Varden at Farthen Dur. Consider the quotes:

“The Varden bunched together.”

“From the corner of his eye, Eragon saw Orik hewing Urgal necks with mighty blows of his ax. Beside the dwarf was Murtagh on Tornac, his face disfigured by a vicious snarl as he swung his sword angrily, cutting through every defense. Then Saphira spun around, and Eragon saw Arya leap past the lifeless body of an opponent.”

Before I start on what’s wrong with this, I have to laugh at the picture of a three-foot tall dwarf ‘hewing the neck’ of a Kull described as being over seven or eight feet tall. Can he even reach that high?

This description gives the reader the idea that the Varden are rushing the Urgals as a huge blob, each soldier fighting their own single battle as the two armies mix together with no cohesive order, direction, or sense. That’s how you lose when you’re outnumbered. In a battle as large-scale as this, single combat fights don’t exist. The Urgals are said to have hundreds more warriors than the Varden. If each Varden picks one Urgal to kill, five more will come from behind. If both groups run at each other like a swarm of ants, the Varden are quite literally giving the Urgals every advantage imaginable. As we found before, the Varden had the potential to fight an organized, well-planned battle and win with few casualties.

The Urgals are attacking the Varden on their own territory. That means Ajihad has the home-field advantage! Where’s the secret attack coming from a small tunnel the dwarves but not the Urgals knew about? Why just flaming tar in the tunnels? Couldn’t you prepare spiked logs to roll down, or covered pits? How about weakening the main tunnels, then collapsing them on the Urgals during the battle? It seems like the Varden were trying to lose!

Another factor Paolini underplayed or forgot about during the battle was magic. It’s been stated in the books Urgals have no magic. This is a major advantage; while there may be a few casters among the Urgal ranks, the magician guild led by the ‘Twins’ should be able to deal with them. Instead of using Thrysta a couple of times to kill a few Urgals, the Varden magicians could have added their own advantage to our previous battle-plan.

The Varden, arrayed in Legions, are awaiting the Urgals at the upward-facing opening of the tunnel. This way, the Urgals cannot make use of their greater numbers. But with the help of some magic, the Varden could actually fight less Urgals at a time. The magician guild could put up a powerful magical barrier, and when a few Urgals managed to slip through, the Varden could promptly “hew their necks”, as Paolini puts it. If this is too difficult for the magicians to do, couldn’t they simply make a smaller shield? That would also reduce the Urgals ability to leave the tunnels. Instead, magic was used in the most unimaginative and ineffective way possible: snapping Urgals necks and stopping their hearts. There was the potential to destroy the Urgals’ advantage in numbers more effectively than the Legion, but they chose to kill a few dozen instead. Nice going, magicians.

Finally, Paolini stated himself that Galbatorix threw away the battle. The Urgals and Varden were somewhat evenly matched. So why didn’t Galbatorix send his own soldiers into battle? An easy victory, which results in the annihilation of the dwarves and Varden, as opposed to a probable victory using only Urgals. I know he’s supposed to be crazy, but not even a madman would choose a probable victory over an easy one! And what is Ajihad’s brilliant explanation for
Galbatorix not sending his soldiers along with the Urgals? He says- and I quote-

“If he hasn’t (Galbatorix not sending his soldiers with the Urgals)- because he doesn’t want his alliance with the Urgals revealed, or for some other reason…”

So… this evil, mad, merciless dictator isn’t seizing the chance for an easy victory because it won’t appeal to his people? Since when has he cared? According to Paolini, Galbatorix oppresses his people! They already don’t like him! There’s no logic behind this train of thought at all. We have to settle for the “or some other reason”, which pretty much means Paolini had no idea why Galbatorix would throw this chance away.

If the Varden fought every battle this way since their foundation, it’s really a miracle they are still alive. When outnumbered, they attempt to swarm the enemy with no order or formation. When they have time to prepare, they ignore almost every possibility to boost their chances of winning. Fighting a battle this way is suicide. By the end, I was rooting for the Urgals, and with good cause.

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  1. ZeeZee on 6 February 2011, 00:07 said:

    Leaving the tunnel un-booby-trapped always seemed strange to me to. I spent a lot of the time thinking “Why aren’t they collapsing it on them or something? Anything?”

  2. falconempress on 6 February 2011, 05:10 said:

    Before I start on what’s wrong with this, I have to laugh at the picture of a three-foot tall dwarf ‘hewing the neck’ of a Kull described as being over seven or eight feet tall. Can he even reach that high?

    Maybe he bounces around like Yoda in those godawful Star Wars prequels.

  3. The Cat on 6 February 2011, 13:05 said:

    Maybe… that would in fact make for an interesting battle scene.

    Bouncing dwarves. And apparently, there’s going to be an army of Werecats in Brick #4.

  4. Snow White Queen on 6 February 2011, 14:06 said:

    This is a really thoughtful and sensible article. Just out of interest, what books on warfare and strategy would you recommend reading? (Because I definitely don’t want to make CP’s mistakes.)

  5. Kilgore on 6 February 2011, 15:29 said:

    Well I don’t know about Cat and I know you didn’t ask me but here goes.

    On Killing. The Psychological Cost of learning how to kill in War and Society by Lt. Colonel (Ret) Dave Grossman.

    Warhorse: Cavalry in the Ancient World by Philip Sidnell.

    On War by Carl Von Clausewitz.

    The Complete Roman Army and Roman Warfare by Adrain Goldsworthy.

    The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander.

    Byzantine Armies 886-1118 by Ian Heath and Angus Macbride.

    Medieval Warfare by Peter Reid.

    Sassanian Elite Cavalry 224-642 by Dr. Kaveh Farokh. A good, although some of the illustrations are hideously innacurate.

    The Art of war in the 16th Century by Sir Charles WC Oman. (This is an older work, published in 1937, but it more than holds it’s own against more modern works)

    Rennaisance Warfare by Bert S. Hall.

    The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare. Not without its flaws but worth a read.

    The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

    Soldiers and Ghosts by Peter Lendon (Disclaimer, I haven’t read this one).

    Also check out the Osprey publishing website, some of their work definitely has its flaws but for the most part their very reliable, and they have pictures.

    That’s all for now.

  6. The Cat on 6 February 2011, 16:07 said:

    WOW! That’s an extremely complete list, Kilgore.

    One of my favorites is Warfare in the Classical World, by John Warry. It’s got some great diagrams/illustrations, and is very reliable.

    Also, you should look at some biographies of Generals and leaders. You could find some specific formations, actions, quotes, etc. you might want to use for your main Generals and such.

    But Kilgore kinda covered it :)

    Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone!

  7. Kilgore on 6 February 2011, 19:44 said:

    Yeah. . . I’m kind of obsessive compulsive.

    Sorry for stealing your thunder man, in hindsight I should have let you go first.

    I’ll have to check out Warfare in the Classical World.

  8. RandomX2 on 6 February 2011, 20:14 said:

    Nice article series. Inheritance mostly disappeared from my mind, so it`s nice to see some solid critique on it now and again.

    “Another factor Paolini underplayed or forgot about during the battle was magic. It’s been stated in the books Urgals have no magic. This is a major advantage…”

    Paolini tried to cover himself on that end in Eldest (although it was kind of transparent, since there was no reference to this in Eragon); apparently there were enemy Urgal magicians (I don’t remember anything about them not being able to use magic, tbh), but they were instructed not to attack Eragon.

  9. The Cat on 6 February 2011, 20:47 said:

    You’re right about Paolini covering up about a lot. Like the prolouge for examle: Arya says that the elves had wards, but Durza but a special spell on his arrows.

    Sure. Like Paolini was actually thinking that while he wrote the problem.
    BTW, I’ll double-check all the books, regarding the Urgals, because I’ve seen a quote stating Urgals have no magic in Eragon, but maybe that’s amended in Eldest? I’ll check it out.

    And Kilgore- don’t be sorry. I couldn’t have put together that good of a list :)

    Battle of the Burning Plains is next, although this one’ll take longer to write and upload.

  10. swenson on 6 February 2011, 21:37 said:

    Oh goody, this should be fun.

    I’m interested to see what you have to say about BBP. I know there’s some… issues with it, to put it politely, but I’m not sure if it’s better or worse than the Battle of Farthen Dur—it’s larger and described more, so there’s more chance to screw things up, but hopefully in the intervening years Paolini learned a few things.

    I did wonder about the tunnels. It seems like they had a pretty good thing going there, with the enemy restricted to the tunnels while the Varden had lots of room to maneuver and even time to prepare, but then it was all “no! They are evenly matched!” And it really does make you wonder how incredibly incompetent of leaders these people have to be not to take advantage of their resources!

    I can see a couple of justifications for a few things, such as the magic—it is explicitly stated that the Varden only has a few spellcasters and they aren’t very powerful or well-trained, so that could explain why their talents are really only useful for small things and maybe some healing, but that doesn’t excuse Arya and Eragon from doing more with their magic. This doesn’t excuse the overall thing, of course, but it is something I thought of while reading this.

  11. TakuGifian on 7 February 2011, 00:46 said:

    Sun Tzu wrote: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” What the Varden are doing is even worse: few tactics, no strategy.

    I always say that one shouldn’t write about something without thoroughly researching, interviewing survivors, or even experiencing it for one’s self.

  12. lookingforme on 7 February 2011, 09:45 said:

    Ohhh, NOW I understand…It’s not so much that Paolini didn’t research medieval battle strategies, it’s that he did no research to speak of. Why am I surprised? I should have seen this coming…

  13. Golcondio on 8 February 2011, 17:28 said:

    Dear Glod, if only Pao-Pao had spent some time playing Dwarf Fortress, he would have had plenty of FUN ideas (mostly involving !!kittens!! and magma) on how to booby-trap those tunnels…

  14. The Cat on 8 February 2011, 18:22 said:


  15. swenson on 9 February 2011, 12:29 said:

    Don’t ask. It’s Dwarf Fortress, just keep your head down and pray it doesn’t choose you as its next target.


  16. Golcondio on 10 February 2011, 08:52 said:

    Let us just say that if that siege had been in Dwarf Fortress, the Urgals would have been: – crushed under a tower of kitten tallow soap – dropped into a drowning room that burns them to death at the same time – led into a never-ending maze full of spinning blades and gigantic corkscrews – caged, stripped naked and dropped at the bottom of a pit, to be slowly mauled to death by dozens of puppies. – much, much more…

  17. Hamdi on 26 February 2011, 18:15 said:

    Very interesting =)