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.
Review by Joshua S Hill
6 positive reader review(s) for The Sword of Shannara
The Sword of Shannara
The Shannara Trilogy: Book 1
Long ago, the world of the Four Lands was torn apart by the wars of ancient Evil. But in the Vale, the half-human, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford now lives in peace - until the m [...]
The Elfstones of Shannara
The Shannara Trilogy: Book 2
Thousands of years after the destruction of the age of man and science, new races and magic now rule the world, but an imminent danger threatens. A horde of evil Demons is [...]
The Wishsong of Shannara
The Shannara Trilogy: Book 3
The Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford to help win through the vile growth that protects the Ildatch, ancient source of evil--for only Brin holds the magic power of the wish [...]
The legendary hero Allanon takes center stage in the first of three gripping new stand-alone eBook short stories set in the world of the fantasy-fiction phenomenon that is [...]
Five hundred years have passed since the devastating demon-led war that almost exterminated humankind. Those who escaped the carnage were led to sanctuary by the boy saviou [...]
For five hundred years, the survivors of the Great Wars lived peacefully in a valley sanctuary shielded by powerful magic from the blighted and dangerous outside world. But [...]
Science has become an outmoded concept, in its place magic is born as a power source in the world of Shannara where Elves, Gnomes, Trolls and Dwarves, even men have tried u [...]
With the discovery of ancient powers, a legend begins... There was an age when the world was young. It was a time before the coming of humans, a time when magic was the dom [...]
The age of peace that has reigned across the Four Lands is now at an end. An army of invaders, wielding a terrible new magic, is cutting a bloody swathe across the far nort [...]
James from United States
Easy to read.
Peter from England
Very good, do not compare this to Tolkien. Many have imitated him and why not he was a genius. This book and the two others in this series are great reads and stand in their own right. There is a lot of snobbery in the fantasy readers world of course there are similarities to Lord of the Rings as there are with many others. This book is well worth reading...
Valorie from USA
I had a great deal of trouble getting into this book. I had heard so much about it, and there were so many more books written in this world that I was determined to give it a solid try. I will not, however, read another one. There are many great series of books that are patterned after "The Lord of the Rings"(Thomas Covenant, most notably in my opinion) This one is the worst. The characters are boring, barely differentiated from one another. Apparently the only descriptive word Terry Brooks knows how to use is "giant" to describe anyone or thing as large. He seldom referred to each character by their name, instead we constantly had to be reminded that Flick & Shea were "Valemen" Thst Mennion was "The Highlander" The two elf brothers ( did they have names?) His description of places and people are vague, not the rich tapestry I would expect from a well-known author. I did't like any of the characters (except Kelsey the rock troll) and did not care whether the world got saved with this sort of Shannara or not.
Jack from USA
I read this years ago when it first came out. At that time, I had been reading fantasy for fifteen years or so and had even studied LOTR in high school and college so I was pretty well versed in fantasy. I found the book highly derivative of Tolkien although somewhat interesting, much more so than I could justified. My biggest problem was the ending which was a terrific letdown. I went "Huh?". In retrospect, it reminds me of Douglas Adams' brief mention in his Hitchhiker series of a proof that God does not exist; God reads it, says "Oh" (or something like that), and promptly disappears. All that action for such a letdown. Knowing this also make First King of Shannara less than enjoyable when it came out. Most of the other books I have enjoyed, some more than others although Legends of Shannara left me with a feeling that there ought to be more.
Robin from United States
I first read this book as a child. I remember loving the whole trilogy. I recently re-read it and I was appalled. First, it is indeed a blatant rip off of LotR. Two diminutive creatures live in an idyllic "vale" away from any danger. A wizard appears and warns of impending doom. They end up being chased out of town by black-hooded wraiths. On the road they meet a man who ends up being heir to the most important kingdom of men. They arrive at their first destination and form a multi-racial fellowship, intended to find a magical artifact. There is a wormtongue character who has poisoned the mind of a leader of men. The "fellowship" is forced to pass under a dangerous mountain. There is a cowardly, insane creature who pines after the magical artifact. The hero is forced to penetrate into the heart of the enemy's fortress to defeat him. I have no idea why the reviewer uses the word "layman" to describe accusations of plagiary. In my opinion, it would take a layman, and a very unobservant one, not to notice the repeated story line theft. However, I would forgive much if the writing were good. There are other Tolkien imitators, and I can appreciate some of it. But this book is poorly written. Character action is wooden and over-described. Dialogue is awkward. Word choice is painfully elementary, and sometimes flat out wrong. ("The drums of the gnomes boomed out in a steady CRESCENDO as..") This is a terrible book, and only a child who has had no exposure to Tolkien would find anything of value in it. I was truly disappointed by the writing and disgusted by the blatant plagiary. It is worth noting that the second and third books are better, since theft of Tolkien was no longer an option. However, a huge plot point in "The Elfstones of Shannara" is a demon who can shape shift and is thus able to both murder all the chosen and spy on the elves for most of the book. If only they had some kind of magical talisman that's purpose is to reveal truth... Moronic that the second book could be solved by using the sword from the first book that everyone magically forgets.
Devin from Reese
A writer can be influenced, but must do something original and great with his influences. Such as every great fantasy author DID. Doing an inferior is a copy. Transforming an idea, and/or doing your own version is a great idea. Execution is all.
Vern from USA
I really wanted to like this book. I read a lot when away from home at work. I had heard this series was good and I kinda like the tv show as escapist entertainment. The only part of this book that can be judged on its own merit is the incredibly poor execution. There can be no doubt about the blatant plagiarism. Shocking really. I'm trying to use it as a sleep aid but I keep getting irritated by how bad it is.
Andrei from Romania
I respect the reviewer's view on Sword of Shannara and his endeavour to criticise it on its own weight, not comparing it with Lord of the Rings. I bought the book solely on the fact that it had a pretty cover (ameteur's mistake) and I had 4 hours to kill while on a train ride. Never reading any reviews whatsoever regarding the book, I started it with enthusiasm and an open mind. And I just couldn't stop comparing it to Tolkien's book. No matter how hard I tried to put a distance between the two, every step of the way felt like a return journey to Middle Earth. Only it was like Mel Brook's Space Balls parody of Star Wars WITHOUT trying to be funny. The plot revolves around a generic magical artifact that the main hero must retrieve, who is told by a wizard that he must go and save the world and, therefore, starts a journey with his sidekick, only to be hunted by shadowy creatures and nearly killed by a dark magical forest. They manage to reach the first checkpoint and press onward accompanied by a merry band of heroes and..... well, you know the rest because you read Lord of the Rings, and, if you haven't, SHAME ON YOU. The characters feel devoid of life or any real emotional connection to everything that is going on, and they are so stereotypical their depiction literally feels like a collection of excerpts from D&D character sheets. The storytelling lacks the fine refinement Tolkien has, and, although the description is lush and detailed, it can't make up for an uninteresting and uninspired story. I ended up with having to put the book down and for the rest of the journey just took in the wonderful landscape, admiring the beautiful sunset through the train window.
Joel from US
This reviewer is offensive to call to call people laymen for daring to critique Sword of Shannara in a way he doesn't like; besides which, he contradicts himself by calling them literary critics and then laymen. Which is it? I've been reading fantasy since I was a child and jumped at the Sword of Shannara. I was, even as a child, appalled at how much it followed to the smallest details the storyline of LotR. True, that would be the layman's reaction, though I don't see how that should be derided. Since then I have gone get a BA in English and a MFA in Creative Writing. My critique as a teenager still stands...even more so. It is not a well written book: poor characterization, stolen plot, flat prose, the list goes on. That said, it can be entertaining for a child, especially one that enjoys a simpler action orientated tale; Tolkien can be pedantic, interrupts the tension, and avoid detailing action scenes. I can see why some may prefer Brooks, but that doesn't negate the fact that he completely copied Tolkien's story. You can enjoy the subtle flavors of sushi and still go out for fast food sometimes.
Michael from US
Though I am now 44 this book is one I always read again every so many years. The entire series is excellent however the Sword of Shannara is what originally roped me in. It will unlock your imagination and you feel for the characters. You feel as though you are in the story. I know Terry Brooks himself has said the Lord of the Rings influenced him however I find his books more entertaining and easier to read.
Troy from USA
I'm not really a reader but, once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. I read it straight through, I was addicted, I will definitely buy it and every Shannara book I can get my hands on. If I could give it more than a 10 rating I would.
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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