The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Review by Joshua S Hill
One of the more frustrating assertions to come from the so called “literary critics” are claims that “so and so author” is copying “so and so.” They use this derogatory critique as a way to deprive the author of any originality in their storytelling. And while I can’t speak for every book that has received this “critique,” I can speak for Terry Brooks’ Shannara Trilogy.
Written across a span of 8 years crossing the end of the 70’s and early 80’s, Terry Brooks first leap into the realm of Shannara was impressive, to say the least. However, sadly, Brooks’ work has oftentimes been unfairly called a pale imitation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Whether this is because there is a wizard, a quest, or a variety of races, I’m not sure. But it is a layman’s comment and one that, in Shannara’s case, is definitely not on the mark.
The simple fact of the matter is Tolkien was not the original master that everyone claims: he simply reinvented the genre. He would be the first to tell you that he borrowed, begged and stole from other mythologies and – for the invention of his languages – past and present languages.
But putting aside this unfair criticism of the Shannara series, let us look specifically at the first of the original trilogy. The Sword of Shannara introduces us to the Four Lands and their people. We follow the adventures of Shea Ohmsford, resident of Shady Vale, but half-Elven. He soon finds himself the unwitting pawn of the druid Allanon in a quest to find the Sword of Shannara in an attempt to defeat the Warlock Lord.
Brooks manages to weave in and out of the story characters that may later become important, or are simply there to move the story along for a little while. Some characters you will love others you will hate. Characters like Allanon will provide you with a never ending source of unease, while characters like Flick will at times annoy and at times make you laugh.
In its truest sense, this book is a fantasy adventure. Gnomes, elves, dwarves and “men” all appear, along with magic, warriors and magic swords. The fate of the world is at hand, but similarly, Brooks manages to begin eliciting the question “where is all this happening.” He also manages to wonderfully keep a lineage of characters continually appearing in the following two books, and on. The Sword of Shannara is not only the beginning to a trilogy, but an entire world that will amaze you and enthrall you if you let it.
The book is not perfect, however. It does not have the same gripping and enthralling dialogue that Lord of the Rings has, and is not as well written as books by Hobb or Erikson. There are times where you will find the need to put it down and read something else, simply to take a break and recharge. Not that it is a bad read, but more that it sometimes becomes heavy handed and measurably boring.
Spending any time in Wikipedia is sometimes a hazard. In this instance, you will find many references to critiques from authors and reviewers alike. However it is nothing short of amusing to see how intent some of these people are to degrade Brooks’ work. They draw tenuous and tedious links between characters and places in an attempt to say that Brooks “ripped off” Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
And while I will agree that Brooks draws inspiration from Tolkien, he doesn’t copy him.
The reason I linger on this is to hopefully, impress upon you an open mind to reading this book. Do not cross this book off your “to read” list because you’ve heard people knock it. Similarly, do not go into reading this book attempting to cross reference everything back to some other work. This is a book that deserves being critiqued on its own merit.
Hannah from U.S.A.
Thank you so much for finally writing a fair review of this book. This was the first book I ever read out of this genre, and I am probably biased as far as this particular book is concerned, but I find it unfair and somewhat distressing to see so many people bashing it. The dialogue is a little cumbersome sometimes, but you have to remember that this is Terry Brooks' first novel, so you can't expect it to be perfect. Having read almost all of his books, and being an aspiring writer myself, I can appreciate Brooks' growth over his writing career. This book will always have a special place in my heart, even though it isn't perfect by any means. I highly recommend it.
Luke from Durham, north England
The best description of terry brooks Sword of Shanara is that what is good is not original and what is original is not good. I had not read a single criticism or comment about the book before I started, so went with no preconceptions, yet only four or five chapters in I! was thinking the book was a pale copy of Tolkien in its structure, plot and characters. Still worse, while Brooks stole Tolkien’s plot hole sale, he sadly didn't look at Tolkien's superb characterization or writing style, sins Brooks’ attempts both are laughable and heavy handed with neither humour nor realism. To show the ridiculous stereotyping of brooks writing, It's possible to pretty much stick a dungeons and dragons class description on every single character in the entire book just by their physical description, whether the leather armour wearing ranger, the cloaked and bearded mage, or even the feeble kidnapped princess(the only female to appear in the entire book). One of Tolkien's chief contributions to the fantasy genre was to have realistically human characters inhabit his fantasy world, not the mighty thewed Conan the Barbarian mythological figures which had preceded him. Brooks blatantly stereotypical characters therefore actually represent a major step backwards in the genre, particularly combined with the rudiments of Tolkien’s plot. I also have no patience for Brooks naming schema. Tolkien was not only a careful linguist when it came to naming his characters, but he also considered the names significance to the novel, which was why he changed his principle characters' name from Bingo to Frodo Baggins. Brooks took none of this care at all, indeed as I first read Sword of Shanara as an audio book hearing the reader pronounce names like flik and shear was painful, not to mention naming his principle wizard after the acronym for Alcoholics anonymous, characters speaking of having a meeting with alanon was particularly amusing for this point, obviously everyone in Brooks land is a drunkard! In recognition however of the fact that authors can have one bad novel, and that Brooks had written many more, I went on to read two other books by him in the Shanara series. While their events were less blatant a parody of Tolkien, the paper thin characters, heavy handed, uninspired writing style, the blatantly silly naming system, and all around juvenile standard of writing continued unabated. Generally, I will not pass up the chance to read a fantasy novel (not the least because not too many are available in audio form), with Brooks however there was literally nothing good to say about his writing, world or style, thus I would never recommend a brooks novel to anyone unless you’re looking for something to start a fire with, even less his pathetic parody of Tolkien.
Gaz Edmunds from San Francisco
Colin is absolutely spot on. While fantasy authors will always plaugerize ("draw inspiration from") other works, Sword of Shannara is particularly heinous. From characters (Shea = Frodo, Flick = Sam, Allanon = Gandalf, Balinor = Aragorn, plus Skull Bearer ringwraiths, a mythical Tom Bombadil-like King of the Silver River, and a crazy wee Goblin who's obsessed with the Sword (maybe he thinks it's... Precious?) to the various scenarios - wizard comes to little village to tell unsuspecting hero only he can save the world, but his faithful sidekick can come along, off they go on their own (wizard had pressing business elsewhere, y'see) making for magical village where he'll meet up with them again, on the way they encounter noble warrior who's actually the heir to a throne. Once they reach Riven... I mean, Culhaven, their band becomes a kind of.. Fellowship. They head across the land, finally reaching the Mines of Mori... Um, Hall of Kings, after which our intrepid hobbit hero goes his seperate way, encountering a scizophreniak goblin who talks to himself a lot but promises to help, but really just wants the story's central talisman for himself. Cue trek into dark and forbidding evil lands, for an eventual confrontation with the evil one. Who was once one of the good guys, in an interesting Sauron/Saruman mashup. Seriously, the only speck of originality was that SoS' evil land was to the north instead of the south. One of the most blatant examples of literary theft I've ever read, and I'm amazed the Tolkien Estate's lawyers didn't take him to the cleaners.
Colin from Essex
I appreciate the reviewer's different take on the criticism this book has received. Personally I found it guilty of all the accusations levelled against it. I found it a drudge to read and eminently forgettable.
Justin from Australia
A top read. Easy and fun characters that you quickly begin to bond with as you read. The story has a nice flow and you are never left reading for chapter after charter with no action. Highly recommended.
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