Quick Read: The Sword of Shannara

BKTG21975

Shazam! We’re back.

Unfortunately I’m still swamped with college stuff, which means a) this will be the last Quick Read before the poll goes up (I had planned to do one more) and b) expect updates to be sporadic.

And now back to our previously scheduled content:

I have a slight personal history with Terry Brooks’ Shannara series despite knowing nothing about it except that it’s apparently the world’s most blatant Lord of The Rings rip off. When I was a wee person I frequently visited my cousins, one of whom had The Elf Queen of Shannara on his bookshelf.

I was young enough at this point that I had never heard of The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings. I don’t think I even really knew what fantasy was as a codified genre, so it’s quite likely this was the first work of adult capital-F fantasy I had ever laid eyes on. I remember being fascinated by that cover and staring at it for ages; this was shortly after I had moved to Ireland from New York and I think I assumed it was based on Irish mythology in some way.

Then I grew up and actually tried to read fantasy, the results of which you can experience for yourself in the annals of this blog.

For our next Quick Read we’re going back to the very first Shannara novel. The time is ripe to dive into it, as MTV of all people are coming out with an (I’m assuming very loose) adaptation of the second book, which will either lead to an uptick in mainstream Shannara fandom or faceplant once it’s revealed to be an attempt to cash in on Game of Thrones’ success. I guess we’ll see.

First: the cover. There were many to choose from, but I decided to go for the original because… well, look at it. Look at that dude’s shimmering golden tresses. Look at that bulbous dwarf nose. It’s perfect. A thing of beauty.

My copy of the book doesn’t have a map, but a little googling revealed that there is one. Here’s our setting, The Four Lands (click here for a bigger version):

FirstKingMap

 

As you can see, it appears to have been designed in a similar manner to a classic JRPG overworld map, ie by tossing mountains and forests down in random patches.

Several things jump out at me here, the first being a location called “Skull Kingdom”. Is this a kingdom inhabited by skulls? I certainly hope so. To the east near the Darklin Reach (not just “The Reach” but close enough) we find the incredibly named Grimpond, which is presumably the grimmest of all ponds. Over near Skull Mountain a random, tiny patch of desert can be found– I had assumed it was just part of the indistinct yellow void that takes up most of the map, but apparently not.

There’s absolutely no sense of how large an area we’re looking at here. Is this a country? A continent? How far apart are the cities? There doesn’t seem to be any borders of any kind, and the territory shown just fades out at the edges.

1

The sun was already sinking into the deep green of the hills to the west of the valley, the red and gray-pink of its shadows touching the comers of the land, when Flick Ohmsford began his descent.

I can’t decide whether “Flick Ohmsford” is a terrible name or the best name. It sounds like the name of the protagonist in a particularly whimsical steampunk novel.

The story begins with Flick wandering around in a forest, similar to how The Fifth Sorceress and Wizard’s First Rule began with their protagonist’s wandering around in a forest.

Flick listened intently for some sound of life, but his keen ears could detect nothing. He shook his head uneasily. The deep silence was unsettling, particularly in view of the rumors of a frightening black-winged creature sighted in the night skies north of the valley only days earlier.

A frightening black-winged creature, you say? Is there by any chance also a rider in a strange dark cloak and/or or a mysterious vine? Will this creature signal that Adventure has come to our hero’s tranquil Arcadian home? Only time will tell.

Flick lives in somewhere called Shady Vale, which is an isolated rural community where few people venture far from home and not a Thomas Kinkade painting. Flick is braver than most and roams further to sell stuff to people in outlying communities. So in other words it’s Fantasy Setting Number One.

The dark figure was almost on top of the Vale man before Flick sensed its presence looming up before him like a great, black stone which threatened to crush his smaller being.

The writing doesn’t seem particularly fantastic so far, to put it mildly.

To my great surprise this is actually a threat and not Flick’s horse or his jolly chum coming to engage in some wholesome shenanigans or some other bullshit.

“Wait a moment, friend. I’m no enemy and have no wish to harm you. I merely seek directions and would be grateful if you could show me the proper path.

[…]

Enough of this, boy! We have played our little game and still you know nothing of me. I’m tired and hungry and have no wish to be delayed on the forest trail in the chill of the evening while you decide if I am man or beast. I will set you down that you may show me the path. I warn you-do not try to run from me or it will be the worse for you.

Dialogue so wooden you could burn it for heat.

The dude who’s accosted Flick is seven feet tall and “all blackness and size”, whatever that means.

You must learn to know a friend from an enemy. Sometime your life may depend upon it

People tend to be suspicious when gigantic strangers grab them from behind and talk about cutting their heart out. That’s just common sense.

An odd exchange ensues where Mr. Size is like “hey you have a brother” and Flick is like “yeah how did you know” and he’s like “Oh was I just assuming” and I think it’s supposed to all mysterious and entice us to continue reading but it’s handled extremely clumsily.

Flick and Dude take an unnecessarily-wordy journey to Shady Vale, but on the outskirts of the town danger strikes when a big wingy flying thing appears.

On one hand hooray for stuff happening so quickly, but on the other hand I have no idea who these two dudes are or why I should care about them. In stark contrast to most fantasy stories, this book is actually moving way too fast.

A sudden feeling of terror raced through Flick’s mind, trapping it in an iron web as it strained to flee the fearful madness penetrating inward.

These kinds of overwrought character reactions are one of the earliest and most visible signs that your writing is Not Very Good, and should therefore be avoided. Conveying characters emotions and reactions without resorting to “he felt sad” or “she felt angry” or using cliches like “his heart raced” can be difficult– I know I struggle with it in my own writing– but resist both personifying the character’s mind like this and getting too over the top. Even if the character is facing life-threatening danger, it comes across like an over-reaction.

The two quickly reached the inn.

If this place is so remote and isolated, why is there an inn? Who’s staying in it? The way the town is described makes it sound as if it’s surrounded by essentially wild forest, with only a narrow dirt footpath leading in or out, so it can’t be along some kind of well-traveled route. This is the sort of thing that a lot of fantasy novels don’t handle very well– it’s established fantasy canon that all towns have inns, even when that doesn’t make any sense. See also big cities and “thieve’s guilds”, which will invariably operate more like something from D&D than an actual organized crime group.

Flick slid back the heavy metal door latch and pulled on the handles. The big door on the right swung open to admit them into a large lounging room, filled with benches, high-backed chairs, and several long, heavy wooden tables set against the wall to the left and rear. The room was brightly lit by the tall candles on the tables and wall racks and

This is basically what the book is like at this point: lots of very long and very dry descriptions of not terribly interesting locations.

Flick and the stranger meet his Dad, who I guess owns the inn, and they sit down and eat and talk… about… some stuff……

mde

Oh shit sorry, this is so uninteresting I started falling asleep. Where were we?

After some conversation we’re not privy to Flick’s brother Shea arrives.

For one frightening second, Flick believed that the stranger was somehow about to destroy Shea, but then the idea disappeared and was replaced with another. The man was searching his brother’s mind.

Why on Earth would you assume that? Also, “destroy”? Was this written by George Lucas?

Apparently Shea is an elf/is part elven, since he has the classic wispy elf features.

“I don’t believe we have met, yet you seem to know me from somewhere, and I have the strangest feeling that I should know you.”
The dark face above him nodded as the familiar mocking smile crossed it fleetingly.
“Perhaps you should know me, though it is not surprising that you do not remember. But I know who you are; indeed, I know you well.”

Who wants to bet that Shea is long-lost royalty, The Chosen One or a prophecized child of destiny?

The stranger announces that his name is Allanon, and the three Ohmsfords are all amazed and shit because Allanon is a super famous philosopher/traveller/teacher/possible wizard.

Allanon smiled warmly for the first time, but inwardly he felt pity for them.

For fuck’s sake, pick a POV and stick to it. Up until this sentence we’ve been firmly rooted in Flick’s viewpoint, suddenly switching so we’re getting Allanon’s thoughts is really jarring. This should really be Writing 101 but multiple novels we’ve read have messed it up.

“What brings you here?” Shea asked at last.
The tall man looked sharply at him and uttered a deep, low chuckle that caught them all by surprise.
“You, Shea,” he murmured. “I came looking for you.”

So the (apparent) viewpoint character isn’t the super special one? I guess that’s kind of interesting. Sort of.

But otherwise this thing seems BOOOOOORING. The writing is seriously dull and as an opening chapter this gives me nothing to work with apart from vague assurances that a series of well-worn fantasy tropes are going to be trotted out later.

But enough about that, let’s look at my brand new puppy!

mde

Her name is Eve. She’s a four-month old cross between a Lurcher and a Something (we don’t know what) and as you can see she’s the cutest puppy ever.

Last week my family’s elderly Australian terrier who had been with us for twelve years died. We decided to go out and get a new doggy without delay; I know some people feel that they need time before replacing a pet, but we had done the same thing when our cat of many years died several years ago (right before Christmas as well) and felt that it helped greatly in moving on and letting go. Also, we wanted to give a poor rescue puppy a good home.

It’s my hope that Eve and my cat Marvin will become friends and cuddle with each other in a heart-meltingly adorable manner. If that happens you will undoubtedly see photographic evidence either here or on my twitter feed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Quick Read: The Sword of Shannara

  1. Pingback: Let’s Watch The Shannara Chronicles Ep. 1 | Doing In The Wizard

  2. Delamay

    I read this book about ten years ago. I wasn’t as good in english back then and I think it helped me enjoy the novel.

    Reply
  3. Straw Man

    The worst thing (if it’s possible to single out a “worst” thing) is that he commits a Steven King: he not only mixes fantasy and sci-fi, but does it randomly because he can’t be arsed to think of a coherent plot. Thus we get random leftovers of the “age of science” cropping up all over the place, and at least one entire novel in which an insane computer installation kidnaps Allanon to use him as a power source (because leftover technology from the pre-magic days has no trouble inventing a magic-based electrical generator, of course)…

    Reply
  4. reveen

    There are over twenty books in this series. TWENTY. And I somehow doubt that Terry Brooks is like Pratchett and has a different idea or premise for each book. They’re all fucking trilogies or quadrilogies.

    Reply
  5. DXW

    Even as a middle schooler with zero good taste, when I read this book I was like “……. I’m pretty sure this is just a shitty ripoff of LotR.”

    Reply
  6. zephyrean

    These books are mind-numbingly awful. Actually all of these books are mind-numbingly awful, the only characters I cared about were the direwolves. Please please please do a Quick Read of The Brazen Gambit.

    In D&D, village inns are bases of operation for an emergency response team when there’s a monster infestation. Otherwise, they mostly stay empty. Shannara is not a D&D world, though; it has an inn because LotR had one, obvs.

    I knew there would be dog pix. I’m not a dog person, but she’s an incredibly cute dog. Moar.

    Reply
  7. Andrea Harris

    When this book came out I went and snatched it up because I had finished the Tolkien thing and yearned for more “like that.” I was not a discerning reader, let’s just say. At the time I recall being disappointed at the, er, “quality” of the writing, but thought *some* of the set pieces were fun, and somewhere behind the sludgy word vomit you could just discern a few compelling descriptions here and there. But I didn’t appreciate its badness until I’d gotten some more years of reading and writing experience under my belt. A few years ago I came across the paperback in the store, and in a fit of nostalgia I bought it. Well, I wasn’t far into it when I accidentally left it at a California Pizza Kitchen where I’d eaten lunch one day. The book cost me about ten US bucks, which is still steep for a paperback even now, but I didn’t go back to the restaurant to see if they still had it.

    Reply
  8. Signatus

    The book is boring and your pup is s cute. You know who’s the winner here.

    Anyways, as an aspiring writer I also struggle with begginings. In my newest novel I rewrote the first chapter like three times, because I can’t quiet get it right. I want to expose a bit of the characters before I get into the conflict. Anyways I’m going for pseudo-fantasy mixed with alien conspiracy and SciFi because after struggling to make pure fantasy I said; “fuck this shit, if I’m going for bad and crazy lets go for truly bad and crazy”

    There will not be any romantic relationship. I hate romance. Also, the main characters are brothers so…. f* you romance.

    Reply

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