Friday, 11 July 2014

Blast From the Past: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.
I was going to start this column from the beginning, with a middle grade fantasy book, but I've decided to start with the book that got me hooked on fantasy instead.

Two of my older brothers were heavily into fantasy when I was 12 and, like any tag-along tom boy younger sister, I wanted to be like them.  So for Christmas they bought me a fantasy trilogy by Terry Brooks: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara.

I was into Christopher Pike and other horror/mystery authors at the time, so when I read the back of The Sword of Shannara and saw that it was about a boy who knows nothing about magic going on a quest where he defeats a big bad guy it didn't really interest me.  The premise just sounded so fake.  I read the first few pages, got bored, and put it back on my shelf.

My brothers read the books though, so when I finally picked up The Sword of Shannara again a few months later, needing an escape from the drudgery of life, the spine was well broken in.  This time I pushed past the first 50 or so pages, and before I knew it I was hooked.  I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.  Rather than being an unrealistic 'boy saves world after becoming good at everything' story it was actually a 'boy saves world despite knowing very little' story.  I found myself relating to Shea and his problems, the fact that the others needed to protect him and his resentment of that.  I loved that there were a number of characters who each had their own roles to play in the story, first as part of a fellowship and even more so when the fellowship failed.

I'd read The Hobbit before this, though not the Lord of the Rings so I didn't see the parallels between the stories at the time or, their derivative nature.  After I finished this trilogy I started into my brothers' collections with a vengeance and have never stopped loving fantasy.  

I knew I wanted to write novels before I read this, but this was the book that made me fall in love with fantasy as a genre.  I loved the sweeping descriptions.  I loved the use of words I'd never heard of (my dictionary got a good workout, and my vocabulary increased a lot reading these).  I also loved the idea that regular people could do extraordinary things if given the chance.  

Fantasy also started teaching me philosophy.  I began a notebook where I wrote down pithy phrases and words of wisdom like, "Don't believe everything you hear, you're young, not stupid." (Which is from Wishsong.)

When working at the bookstore I found it hard to recommend these, as a lot of people are turned off by the 'you have to get past 50 pages' requirement, and it's true that Brooks' opening would likely have been edited down were this published today.  But these are fun books once you get past the exposition and the action begins.  Also remember that a lot of the fantasy cliche's that are so common now were still being created back when these books came out.

I loved The Sword of Shannara, and used to reread the series every time a new book came out.  I've read it so many times that the last time I tried I discovered that it's so imprinted on my brain I just couldn't keep going.  The wonder and mystery were gone.  I'm hoping if I wait a few years to read it again it will feel new and wondrous once more.

A few years back I had the opportunity to meet Terry Brooks at Ad Astra, an SF con in Toronto.  I felt embarrassed handing him my tattered copy but I now have an autographed Sword of Shannara on my shelf. :D

And it seems that the Shannara series, long since optioned for a movie, will be coming to TV!

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