Updated: Feb 24
Terry Brooks is no longer going forward with his beloved Shannara series, at least in terms of continuing with its future timeline. This came as a great disappointment to me, as, like many devoted readers, I loved to travel with his favourite characters as they journeyed to the furthermost reaches of the Four Lands. The exploits of Wil Ohmsford and Amberle Elessedil, in particular, seemed to signify for me adventure, intrigue and long held secrets the revealing of which both shocked and surprised (I’m still reeling over the idea that that babe was finally transformed into a tree!). Like many, I soared over the Streleheim on the back of the Dagda Mor’s winged beast (sorry, it was just cooler than the Roc) and shuddered in anticipation of the ceremonial showdown between Allanon and the lead demon (I was rooting for Allanon of course...no really! Although give me the Dagda Mor’s staff of power against any of the other Druids anydays. With the possible exception of Grianne Ohmsford, of course; that Druid-ette, like, scares me).
Mr. Brooks continued where JRR Tolkein finished and, in my opinion, created a structured mythology that perhaps wasn’t as detailed as the great master’s but, overlaid with a smooth, efficient writing style, wove a world that was more lovable, filled with characters that were more relatable.
Some say there are two types of story, one delivering a narrative style and the other symbolic, and you must decide which of the two you will write. But there is no rule preventing you from blending the two, employing symbols to craft a fine, commercially digestable narrative, as long as the symbols you choose are relatively straightforward and understandable. Save me from the torture of arthouse allegory where a camera might dwell on a woman’s breast for a full 15 minutes to demonstrate the juxtaposition of nurture versus nature. Or, say, the deconstructing sexual norms of ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ (you sucked all the romance fun out of that one, Abdellatif Kechiche!).
Good epic fantasy offers both narrative and symbolic approaches. In The Sword of Shannara, when Shea Ohmsford finally grips the sword, he uses its blade against the Warlock Lord not as a physical weapon but as an agent that reveals the truth, illuminating (and eliminating) deception, cutting through the layered tissue of lies that created the Warlock Lord out of the Druid Brona, destroying him along with his alter ego as nothing that was true of him remained inside the latter. Brona’s backstory is as interesting as the manner of his demise and the two approaches are skilfully interwoven to heighten the reader’s attention as the story winds toward its climactic showdown. The sword represents explicit truth and implicit action, the one supporting the other, against an enemy that is filled with illusory qualities, the tableau an action-allegory that, together with some seriously cool main and secondary characters (Clizia Porze taming the deadly Jachyra...anyone?...anyone?...Bueller?), helps to drive the story forward.
Terry Brook took Lord of the Rings to the next level. Let’s see if we can now go beyond that.