Friday, August 31, 2007

I finished reading... The Sword of Shannara

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil had ruined the world and forced mankind to compete with many other races--gnomes, trolls, dwarfs, and elves. But in peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knew little of such troubles.

Then came the giant, forbidding Allanon, possessed of strange Druidic powers, to reveal that the supposedly dead Warlock Lord was plotting to destroy the world. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness was the Sword of Shannara, which could be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rested the hope of all the races.

Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flew into the Vale, seeking to destroy Shea. To save the Vale, Shea fled, drawing the Skull Bearer after him . . .
I first read this many, many years ago and it left a good impression on me. On checking the copyright date, I see that it is for 1977, which startled me. I thought the book was about 20 years old, not 30, but I guess this is proof, more than anything of the fact that I'm getting older. I suspect I read this a bit over 20 years ago as a teenager and lately I'd found myself wanting to reread it. I think it is Brooks' new books, linking the modern world to the Shannara world that did it, but being a bit anal (something I believe I've said before) I wanted to start at the beginning, so went back to this one.

I'm very sad to say that it was a mistake. This is a book that has most emphatically not stood the test of time. What possibly made it new and interesting all those years ago all counts against it now. I recognise that this was an important book in that it is one of the ones that helped open up the field of fantasy into the wonderful variety of opportunities it is today, but...

The book is wordy in the extreme - it doesn't need to be anywhere near as long as it is - and most of those words describe the action. There is very little dialogue, so that you never really feel a part of the action. The manner of the prose puts a distance been the action and the reader, to the book's detriment. There are pages and pages of characters walking and walking (and yet I really felt that the amount of time it took them to walk the distances shown on the map was much too short, or certainly not quite right) thought plains and swamps and forests and mountains and on and on and on, and even when some action happened, that distance between events and reader remained.

There are virtually no female characters in this book at all. We finally meet a woman (or more of a girl really) about 2/3 through and she's only there to be rescued and then become the chaste love interest of a main character (both of whom are deeply in love after about 2 days). I know strong women is a major trend in books at the moment, but it isn't like we only recently popped into being in the last few years. Or that older books don't have them. However, this one doesn't.

The characters have all these shocking encounters with troubles and monsters and they often think one or other of the company is dead, but in the end not one of them dies. They just improbably pop up again later, having caught up with the rest of the party (who were forced to leave them behind) by walking steadily through those marshes, forests and/or mountains all on their own. Sorry, but no. Doesn't work for me.

The Sword of Shannara has been described as heavily influenced by Tolkien and this does show, especially in the above points. However, despite my personal issues with rereading The Lord of the Rings (I read it all when younger, but have never managed to reread even The Fellowship of the Ring, getting less and less read each time I try - first time I got to Rivendell, then to Tom Bombadil, third time the hobbits never even got out of the Shire and I gave up trying) I have to say that Tolkien did it a whole lot better.

I started off reading the book, then skimming, then skipping and finally I just read the end and called it finished. I think I've been cured of my urge to reread Brooks, although I remain fascinated by the Word and Void concept and the tie up with the history of the Four Lands - someone tell me, should I try those ones or just give up completely?

The Sword of Shannara
Terry Brooks

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