Eka aí fricai un Shur’tugal. I am a Rider and friend.
-Eragon Bromsson, Eragon.
The world of Alagaësia is so unlike the world we know, yet it is a universe with which I am very familiar. People who didn’t grow up with me may never understand the way Christopher Paolini’s Eragon shaped my childhood- Eragon planted the seeds for my abiding love of fantasy, writing, and obscenely large words (I won the the school Spelling Bee three times, you know). So, since I received the first two books 10 years ago, I’ve read the novels around ten times, one reread per year. My paperback copies are absolutely tattered, the pages so worn that they don’t have corners anymore, but rounded edges.
Ridiculous, I know. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Can’t you see that these books are desperately loved?
In any case, it was my obsession for years. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Inheritance Cycle is a fantasy series centered around a boy and his dragon living under a tyrannical, immortal king. In a vague sense, that’s the best way to describe it; there are many more goings-on, but it’s hard for me to summarize without accidentally revealing a plot twist or something. The series is worth the read, though, because in a world of magic, immortal beings, and dragons, there are so many mysteries to uncover. So grab a shovel, and start digging!
I expect that the people reading this already understand the events of the Cycle, but if not: spoilers ahead. Steer clear unless you really don’t care.
Granted you understand what I’m delving into, then, dear reader: the target of my investigation isn’t Eragon, but one character who defies explanation in each installment of the series: Angela the herbalist. Who the f*ck is she?
Angela is an enigma, a simple botanist who seems to be inexplicably entangled in the web of politics that blankets Alagaësia. The woman clearly possess what speakers of the ancient language would call domia abr wyrda– or, dominance of (her own) fate. Amid the momentous occurrences across the Empire, Angela is always present where there’s action. Convenience for the plot aside, how is it that one not-so-young woman materializes all over the country whenever something is about to happen? This question is not new, as fans from all over the world have questioned Angela’s origins from the beginning; very little is known about her, and we have to wonder: is she human, or something else?
The theories about Angela range from bizarre to quite plausible, and each cite evidence from the series to assert their credibility. Unfortunately for us, we don’t know for sure what’s true, because each of the books supports and/or hints at a different possibility regarding her origins. I know, I know, “cut to the chase, Lana.” Well, we’ve dabbled back and forth, but what is it exactly that makes her strange?
Angela’s personality in itself makes her plenty eccentric, but those are no grounds on which to claim the woman isn’t human. How rude would that be? We need some solid evidence to suggest that Angela is another being entirely- luckily, her strangeness, partnered with several other clues: her unknown age, her abilities as a witch, her friendship with the werecat, Solembum, her uncanny ability to be wherever there’s trouble; all together, they make the perfect recipe for a creature of questionable origin. We have every right to wonder about her. So begins our investigation…
For your benefit, reader, I’ve gathered a plethora of Angela facts with which we’ll examine bits and pieces of her character for a decent explanation. Witch woman, WHO ARE YOU?
Angela is an herbalist who reveals herself to be a surprisingly formidable ally- or enemy. She is sympathetic to the Varden for reasons she keeps to herself, and fans have speculated that her distaste for King Galbatorix may have arisen due to her living at the time of his uprising.
Angela appears young, but even she says that she is older than she appears. Among other examples, the herbalist has detailed elaborate firsthand accounts of events that occurred over 100 years previous. In Inheritance, Angela mentions bearing witness to a “thunder of dragons,” which qualifies as a flock of ten or more dragons. This fact alone suggests that she is, in fact, even older than the Forsworn and the Broddring Empire. She also says that she is considered an adult by the elves’ standards- which is very old indeed.
Supposedly, her youthful appearance comes from eating her own herbs when times are lean- but no green, leafy plant can charm a human woman into looking 25 if she’s over 100 (if that’s the case, I’ll start devouring salad right here, right now). She is a witch, hence her poultices and potions and handy healing skills, but as far as we can tell, she is adept at magic, but not extraordinary.
If she were an exceedingly powerful magic user, it would be plausible that she possessed the ability to make herself appear younger, as the elves manipulate their bodies out of vanity. While this is very much within the realm of doable magic, Angela’s skills probably haven’t advanced much. If you recall, she abandoned her master, the hermit Tenga, in the midst of her apprenticeship. Tenga was introduced in book three, where he lived in an elven outpost in the middle of the Empire. He didn’t seem to be that important of a character at the time, but the mysterious circumstances surrounding his relationship with Angela made him into a creature of intrigue.
Anyway, without Tenga’s instruction, it’s likely that she taught herself many things, but she exhibits no unnatural level of power. Given the way she healed Eragon’s back at the end of book one, we understand that her magic skills are certainly not rudimentary, but nor are they legendary. Thus, the reasons behind her youthful appearance remain unexplained, and it provides just a wee bit of evidence to prove that just maybe, she’s not entirely human. Moving on.
Angela is the chosen companion of the werecat Solembum, which alone makes her no normal individual. Werecats usually choose to accompany people of importance; one such example is the werecat Maud, who lives among the elves in Ellesméra. Angela’s friendship with Solembum was amicable at best, and we don’t question their loyalty to each other until we meet the werecat king in book four. King Grimrr Halfpaw’s obvious malice towards the herbalist makes us aware of the werecats’ general hatred of Angela; she had cast a spell on Halfpaw in the past, and he did not remember the encounter fondly. The fact that she provided enough of an indecent impression to land her in such poor standing with a king, albeit a king of cats, is not surprising of the herbalist; however, this revelation, then, makes us question the nature of her companionship with the werecat Solembum. Why would Solembum associate with someone whom the majority of his race does not approve? Given Solembum’s general disdain towards other living things, what makes Angela special?
These misgivings aside, Angela has other skills that are pretty random. She is physically capable and possesses a Hûthvír, a weapon wielded exclusively by dwarf priests. She owns the knucklebones of a dragon, which couldn’t have been easy to come by- and walks freely among the elves, an impressive feat by all rights. Her vast knowledge seems limitless, and she is unfazed by the witch child, Elva, although she is angry about Eragon’s accidental curse… She has the ability to speak the Urgal’s tongue, the dwarves’, spoken human language, as well as the ancient language.
Alright, so she’s smart and multilingual- big deal. Where does that get us?
The point is, all in all, these various abilities make Angela out to be more than she appears. The vagueness of her history allows fans to speculate about almost anything without it seeming outlandish- now, in an attempt to uncover the potential validity of any of these claims, I’ve gathered a few notable theories that we will either accept as possible or debunk. So without further ado, onward!
During my initial search, I happened across a theory suggesting that Angela is of elven descent. This theory lacks substantial evidence, but it has persisted ever since Christopher Paolini shared the news that human and elf unions had occurred in the past. Half-elves are the results of such unions, and although they certainly exist, they are increasingly rare. There are no elven humans- with the exception of Eragon- included in the series.
Despite little factual support, this is a widely popular theory. Angela is believed to be half elf because of her age, her admittance into the elven capital of Ellesméra, her aforementioned expansive knowledge, and subtle remarks she has made throughout the series. One such suggestion, aimed at the Twins, was that her mind would drive an individual insane- not unlike that of an elf.
Unfortunately, the elven descent theory doesn’t hold water after very little research. More than once, Angela herself referred to herself as human. Likewise, she shares no physical similarities to the elves, and Arya would likely comment on the fact if Angela were one of her kind. We can cross this off the list, as there are far more compelling propositions out there.
Next up is a theory that calls Eragon’s parentage into question- this series seems to do that again and again, doesn’t it?
While this concept is entirely improbable, I have to praise its originality: that Angela is Selena, the Black Hand and Eragon and Murtagh’s mother. Even before we dive in, I’m completely confident that this theory is nowhere near the truth. Regardless, the speculation itself is part of the fun.
Believers in this theory preach the fact that Selena and Angela share a few simple similarities, which, for some reason, makes Angela Eragon’s mom (don’t scoff, even though I did). Like Selena, Angela has a twisted, unknown past, is a powerful opponent, knows of Brom and implications in his life, and shares the Black Hand’s (Selena’s) skill in traveling without alerting anyone.
As interesting a plot twist as this concept would have been, this theory was shot down almost immediately. First and foremost, it’s stupidly complicated. Angela is over 100 years old, and for her to be Selena, Selena would be a century old, which would likely make her brother, Garrow, also ancient. It’s not impossible, but it just doesn’t make sense. Not counting whether any of the Carvahall villagers would notice the presence of an immortal farmer, it’s just… It’s just bizarre.
I mean, come on. We know that Brom and Angela encountered each other more than once. Never did he recognize the herbalist- I don’t care what avid believers preach about Angela and Brom, no matter how many years have passed, Brom would most certainly recall the face of a woman he loved. Comparatively, Oromis also met Angela, and when he was shown a fairth of Selena, he did not recognize the woman (as Angela). If the women were one in the same, Oromis would not be so daft so as not to notice, nor would any others, for that matter.
Just reading that idea drained me of my energy. ** deep sigh ** Here we go again.
Of every theory I’ve discovered, the most interesting by far is the idea that Angela is a Grey Folk. I find myself wanting to believe it, despite the fact that it is purely speculation. This theory differs from the others in the sense that it’s far more serious. This concept pushes Angela beyond the realm of normal men, and turns her into something ancient, frightening, and endlessly wise. In a way, looking at playful Angela in this light makes her seem far more foreboding.
Thousands of years before the races we’re familiar with walked Alagaësia, the Grey Folk tamed the wild magic of the land. They bound magic, in its entirety, so that it could be tied to their language- the ancient language. So great was their feat that the Grey Folk exhausted their power. The race was left as a shallow remnant of their previous existence as they slowly faded into oblivion. How, then, does Angela come into play?
We know very little about the Grey Folk, and Paolini did not elaborate following his brief introduction- thus, this theory is not so easily debunked. Because of our lack of information, we can only associate the Grey Folk with their basic traits: they were strong, wise, and mysterious. In a vague way, this matches Angela perfectly. The herbalist is strange, strong, wise, and very mysterious; she seems to be a human, but she is old, possibly ancient.
Another aspect of Angela’s character that is often overlooked corresponds with this theory as well- her neutrality. It’s a minor detail, but Angela is free of obligations regarding any monarchs, be it the Varden, the Empire, the elves, or the dwarves. While she harbors no love for the Empire, to be entirely neutral and in a position of power is unheard of- unless you’re an ancient all-powerful being, of course. A fellow researcher closes this theory with this thought:
Most importantly, little is known of the Grey Folk… just as little is known of Angela’s past.
-Mike Mcauley, for Shur’tugal.
Whether she’s a Grey Folk herself or a descendant, I believe the concept of Angela’s Grey Folk heritage to be a theoretical possibility.
As I was researching, another theory popped up on my computer screen that I initially ignored- Angela used to be a Dragon Rider.
This was one of those theories that I quickly scanned and dismissed with an eye roll, until I read some of the proof. In a few ways, it makes sense. Before the Fall of the Riders, Angela may have been a Rider herself. According to the theory, Angela lost her dragon and, like Brom, lived on alone. This theory is satisfying enough, and it helps us to understand the matter of her impossible age, her importance in the Varden and among the elves, and her first hand commentary on important events of old. Likewise, the matter of her friendship with Solembum may be resolved by Angela being a fallen Rider- such a person would get along well with a werecat.
The concept isn’t perfect, however; the theory is quickly disproved by obvious facts. Countless witnesses- Brom, Arya, Oromis, and Glaedr, to name a few- likely would’ve recognized Angela if she were a Rider. Oromis especially, as an Elder, would certainly recognize a living Rider who had learned on Vroengard before the Fall. Similarly, Brom, who would’ve been a student at the time, probably would’ve met Angela if she were a student alongside him. There was no recognition between the two when they encountered each other in Teirm, so this theory remains unresolved and unlikely.
Are you still with me? There are so many possibilities, it seems endless. This next theory is almost proven fact, as it is widely believed by many fans following the release of Inheritance. It is theorized that Angela the herbalist is actually an oracle and seer, or otherwise known as the Soothsayer. Now this, this is a theory I can stand by.
Among other, more substantial pieces of evidence, Angela has predicted Eragon’s future before, and it rang true on every occasion. Also on a lighter note, the herbalist’s companionship with a mystical being like the werecat Solembum makes perfect sense, if she is truly an ancient oracle… It’s apparent, after all, that Angela has been alive for a long time, although her age remains unknown. She commands respect from all of the races, especially the elves, who bow and greet her first, in accordance with their traditions. And who else but a Soothsayer would know exactly when and where momentous events are in progress?
In Inheritance, Angela confronted the disfigured High Priest of Dras-Leona, where she displayed immense power that far surpassed the priest’s. She warned the creature that if they knew who (or what) she really was, they certainly wouldn’t attack her. When Angela revealed her identity to it, the High Priest’s sole reaction was terror.
In further support of this theory, according to Inheriwiki, “The chamber in which the Soothsayer lived in was built over a fissure, the vapors of which were thought to increase the chance of having a vision of future events. The Soothsayer lived there for centuries, even after the elves had left Ilirea. No one knows where the Soothsayer went after she left the chamber. The Hall of the Soothsayer is where Galbatorix tortured Nasuada in Inheritance. It was said by Galbatorix that the Soothsayer was neither elf, nor dwarf, nor human, but something else entirely. This could imply that the Soothsayer was a descendant of the Grey Folk, as Christopher Paolini hinted that readers would encounter such a descendant in Inheritance.”
And so things come full circle. I don’t know about you, but I stand by the theory of the oracle and of the Grey Folk- it strikes me as promising.
Last but certainly not least, I studied many theories today, but I saved the most bizarre for the end. Are you ready for this one?
There is a group of fans who believe Angela to be Galbatorix in disguise. No, seriously.
The best thing about this theory is that Paolini himself is particularly fond of it, despite it being farfetched and altogether impossible. If Galbatorix were concealed as Angela, he wouldn’t tease Nasuada with the knowledge of a Soothsayer- seemingly in reference to the herbalist. More importantly, when Galbatorix commits suicide in Inheritance, Angela does not implode, nor keel over, nor do anything akin to dying. Indeed, the residents of Alagaësia can rest easy knowing the tyrant king is indeed dead, and not living on in the body of the herbalist.
There are some possibilities we can accept as truth, and others that are too absurd; unfortunately, Angela was an enigma, and she will remain as such- that is, unless Christopher Paolini releases a fifth book, as he mentioned in passing (in which case I would probably die).
In the end, determining Angela’s history is up to our imaginations. Reader, what do you think? If you have any comments or theories of your own, I want to hear them. Maybe one day, we’ll discover the truth.
May the stars watch over you, and may your swords stay sharp! Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass!
. . .
Resources (yes, I had to conduct a lot of research, even for a dorky literature review):
Macauley, Mike. ““Big Twenty” – Angela the Herbalist… Who or What Is She?” Shur’tugal – The Official Inheritance Cycle Fan Community. Shur’tugal, 28 June 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
“Ancient Language.” Inheriwiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
“Angela the Herbalist • R/Eragon.” Reddit. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Questions, Inheritance. “Who Is Angela?” Who Is Angela? N.p., 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.