The Sword of Shannara
The words on the cover of the thick tome beckoned. I’m unsure how many times I’d walked past that bookshelf as a child. One day, I stopped and looked, and there it was, the largest paperback book I had seen. The cover revealed a shining sword and a party of adventurers looking in wonder. It was 1982 and I was ten. The Sword of Shannara was my first taste of fantasy fiction. I’d read it repeatedly through high school, and now, after a long respite, I’m reading it again.
What’s It About
Shea Ohmsford, adopted half-elven everyman learns he’s the last heir to an elven King and instead of an inheritance, he’s got to save the world. Together with his brother, they flee their home before a Skull Bearer finds them and the quest is on to meet up in the dwarven city of Culhaven and a party forms to go retrieve the Sword of Shannara, which only Shea can use, lead by the mysterious druid Allanon. Things go wrong, the party has to split up and warn people and fight the armies of the Warlock Lord or continue chasing down the Sword. Epic adventure ensues and we’re given a conclusive ending.
Isn’t This Just Like…
Yes. But it’s different and it’s well written. In 1977 when this book came out, LotR dominated as the sole book of epic fantasy. Terry finished his book and no less than Lester Del Rey loved it and edited it and made it the flagship book for his new fantasy line. There are a lot of parallels between LotR’s story arc and the Sword, but it is well written and Lester’s no idiot, so if thought it stood on its own, it could. And did.
The Making of the Sword
Terry Brooks wrote this over the years he attended law school. Like a lot of us writey types, he’d been writing since High School, but like many of us writers, the need for a trade drove him to a sensible degree. During that time, around the age of 22-23, he’d received a copy of the Lord of the Rings. It inspired Terry to write fantasy and no doubt showed him a good story arc to build from. The world he came up from, a future where war has driven humanity into fantasy genre worked. Terry’s goal was to be a working writer, and he’s built a platform to tell stories and entertain.
The Man Behind the Sword
I met Terry Brooks in 2018 at a book signing (Murder By the Book in Houston, TX). Affable and kind , he answered questions with humor and patience. Many fans have all his books and some re-read them every year. Made my beat-up paperback from 1977 seem tame. But Terry signed it, pleased that his first work was so enjoyed and cared for. Gave me some encouraging words toward my own goals as a writer.
The Final Word
Sure, the Sword is just like LotR but different. And Eragon is Star Wars. Twilight is the Book of Mormon. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet. I could go on. It’s well written. Tolkien gets a lot of heat for being harder to read and not likely to have gotten a book deal in today’s era. Shannara holds up far better, as Terry’s understanding of writing and storytelling eschewed heavy prose. I’m happy that I read it before I’d heard of Lord of the Rings and could enjoy and judge it on its own merits.
PS: Speaking of Derivative
One of my favorite authors is Jim Butcher, he’s a great writer, supportive of new writers and having met him a couple times, a good, funny person. We’re about the same age and have similar interests, except I wrote software for 20 years and he pursued writing books (among other differences). In his bio, he cites getting sick as a child and reading Lord of the rings as his inspiring moment.
Well, I didn’t get sick, and I read Sword of Shannara instead. Meanwhile, the Technomage book I’m working on, is about a guy who wanted to become a wizard like on Babylon 5 or you know, Harry Dresden of Jim’s Dresden Files series. Sometimes you need to accept that while you’ve set what you want to be like, it’s not that you’ll never achieve it, but the path you take will be different. It will be your path. And the outcome is yours.