Fantasy & Beyond

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#1666
When it came to 1977, I actually found 2 books released in that year that I felt fitted this. Ultimately, I chose The Sword of Shannara, because the other contender; The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams was by an author whose work I had already covered (Watership Down 1972) and while that may happen later on, it's probably unavoidable to be honest, I didn't want it to happen just yet. From a certain point of view I think The Plague Dogs is a better book than Watership Down and The Sword of Shannara, but there you have it.

The Sword of Shannara launched the career of Terry Brooks and along with Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, the first book of which came out the same year, made high epic fantasy Lord of the Rings style popular again. Even now, over 40 years since the first Shannara book came out, Brooks is still writing them. He's also authored the comedic fantasy series The Magic Kingdom of Landover.

The Sword of Shannara has often been accused of crossing the line of inspired by into derivative, and the words rip off have even been used, of The Lord of the Rings, and being entirely honest it is very derivative of Tolkien's magnus opus. I was first alerted to its existence when I was about twelve years old by a friend who was reading it. I had actually read The Lord of the Rings by that stage, I'm not sure if my friend had. I found The Lord of the Rings very hard going at times. I've read The Hobbit a bunch of times and enjoyed it every time, but only read The Lord of the Rings once.

Even then I could see how heavily Brooks had borrowed from Tolkien. I could find a lot of direct analogues, but it didn't really bother me. Certainly not as much as others I've seen who seem to be mortally offended by it. I found The Sword of Shannara for more accessible than The Lord of the Rings, although this may have been influenced by me being twelve years old at the time, I have read The Sword of Shannara a few times since that first experience, and I still like it. For all the rip off accusations, it does have a few significant differences, the main one being set in a post apocalyptic Earth, not a secondary world like Middle-earth. Brooks did later write innumerable sequels and prequels, and one of these covered how the world went from being the one we know to the one that his stories took place in. I think it may have been suggested that his magical races of dwarves and elves were the result of fall out from the apocalypse, certainly the awful TV series based on the books seemed to think so. I never got that impression from the first book, though. One of the other differences for me was the presence of the smooth talking, one handed outlaw Panamon Creel and his giant mute sidekick Keltset. The two of them put me in mind of Han Solo and Chewbacca, my favourite duo from Star Wars, as the film came out in the same year as the book, I doubt Brooks stole them. Panamon was based loosely on Rupert of Hentzau from The Prisoner of Zenda and it's no surprise that I warmed to the character as the frenemy Rudi von Starnberg from George MacDonald Fraser's Royal Flash also based on Rupert of Hentzau is another favourite.

The quest in The Sword of Shannara centres around Shea Ohmsford's efforts to retrieve the world saving magical artefact (the sword in the title) rather than destroy the item as in The Lord of the Rings. It was a fast paced, rip roaring high fantasy adventure, and that was what kept me turning the pages. A friend of mine in high school said his older brother stayed up all night reading it and was unable to attend school the following day.

As I said earlier Brooks made a career out of Shannara (at last count there were 33 full length novels in the series, and a further book is due out in 2025), I think it also did pave the way for the return of high fantasy, David and Leigh Eddings owed a lot of their success to the vein Brooks uncovered, as did Raymond Feist. All used Tolkien as their model, but Shannara did a lot to make things in that vein popular again. Eddings even used the same publisher.

Because of The Sword of Shannara and my reaction to it, I was eager for the sequel The Elfstones of Shannara, but the book never did it for me. Brooks struggled with his sequel. He originally planned to focus on the reckless prince Menion Leah from The Sword of Shannara, but after having written quite a chunk of that story and getting a negative reaction from his publisher, he scrapped it and wrote something set many years after the original, so didn't feature any of the characters from it. Although Elfstones gets a much better rap critically than Sword ever did, I felt it lost a lot of the magic. When I found out what had happened, I was further disappointed, because I always really liked Menion and would have been happy to read more about him. I did like the third book in the trilogy (The Wishsong of Shannara), not as much as the first one, however. I gave them up some time in the second series of books and never went back. I did also try the Landover books, but there was much better written comedic fantasy around at the time and Brooks' efforts could never measure up to them.

Even though I know The Lord of the Rings is a far superior work on nearly every level, I still have a soft spot for The Sword of Shannara and always will.
xiagan liked this
#1671
Elfstones was my favourite of the ones that I read, with Wishsong next (early “original” writing was heavily influenced by this & the Belgariad :lol: :lol: )

I would have read Sword after LOTR, and I know I read that in Year 8 at school, so I would have been 14 or so? I don’t remember if I saw the parallels between the 2 works or not at the time, but I enjoyed both of them
I also agree with it being part of the resurgence in epic fantasy - and as he’s still writing them almost 50 years later (almost a book per year :scream: ) they’re still popular.
I never picked up it was post-apocalyptic, so I was really surprised when it was made so obvious in the tv show - I remember you were very surprised I never realised earlier.
The TV show was truly terrible, but very pretty to look at. And did better when they stopped focussing on Wil…
#1682
I have no idea if I was 12 or one or two years older when I read it. It definitely was a page turner. I read all books in the series multiple times and only petered out when the author jumped far into the past
into our future, writing a Shannara/Shadowrun-medley
. The series is loosely grouped into trilogies and some where better than others. Wishsong was great too.
Shannara may be very heavily influenced by LotR but that's nothing that bothered me. He obviously was a huge fan and I think it's the same like some of us doing our first writing steps in Dragonlance-inspired worlds - with the difference that those stories never got published. Brooks grew and emancipated himself from LotR and has shown that he is a great fantasy author in his own right.
#1686
I think I also read this as the age of 12-14. I enjoyed it, enough to go through the next six Shannara books (and Elfstones is my favourite, based on this post I request that Elfy be renamed to Swordy :P). The similarities never bothered me although later, as someone who bristles at talk of Tolkien clones, I find the description really accurate with Sword of Shannara. It's really similar, absurdly so...

... and as a result, yes, reset the market.

If people will forgive the little history lesson -

Fantasy was quite popular in the USA in the 60s, but the popular mode was S&S in the mode of Howard's Conan. They could really sell that. The problem publishers had was Howard was dead and, thanks to a lull in the market driven in no small part by John Campbell's demands as to what fantasy should be, they had very few S&S authors kicking around (basically Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber). Publishers asked their S&S authors to produce more S&S, brought some more, and cast around for existing fantasy books that might meet the demand.

That's how Lord of the Rings entered the picture really. It was originally getting sold in the US as being like Conan. It then took off like just about no other book ever and from that point (mid-60s) to Sword of Shannara you have this free for all in the fantasy market where S&S is kind of dominant but all sorts of things are getting published. Then Lester and Judy-Lynn Del Rey get the bright idea "why not publish something really like Tolkien and see if it sells". I've heard that Brooks wrote it that way to begin with and that the Del Reys told him to rewrite it like that - I don't know which is true - but it sold and sold and all of a sudden, that's what people were looking for, that's what commercially minded authors decided to ape.

So yes, it completely changed things. I have to say its fascinating to me how little most of the big epic fantasy authors of that time actually drew directly from Tolkien other than what they needed to sell their work and how a lot of them don't talk about him as an influence - but Brooks I think is a publicly unabashed Tolkien fan.

I have to say, given its historical importance, I wish I liked it more. Alas, when I got around to revisiting it, I found the prose really wasn't for me.
xiagan liked this
#1688
Peat wrote: June 24th, 2024, 04:46 I think I also read this as the age of 12-14. I enjoyed it, enough to go through the next six Shannara books (and Elfstones is my favourite, based on this post I request that Elfy be renamed to Swordy :P). The similarities never bothered me although later, as someone who bristles at talk of Tolkien clones, I find the description really accurate with Sword of Shannara. It's really similar, absurdly so...

... and as a result, yes, reset the market.

If people will forgive the little history lesson -

Fantasy was quite popular in the USA in the 60s, but the popular mode was S&S in the mode of Howard's Conan. They could really sell that. The problem publishers had was Howard was dead and, thanks to a lull in the market driven in no small part by John Campbell's demands as to what fantasy should be, they had very few S&S authors kicking around (basically Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber). Publishers asked their S&S authors to produce more S&S, brought some more, and cast around for existing fantasy books that might meet the demand.

That's how Lord of the Rings entered the picture really. It was originally getting sold in the US as being like Conan. It then took off like just about no other book ever and from that point (mid-60s) to Sword of Shannara you have this free for all in the fantasy market where S&S is kind of dominant but all sorts of things are getting published. Then Lester and Judy-Lynn Del Rey get the bright idea "why not publish something really like Tolkien and see if it sells". I've heard that Brooks wrote it that way to begin with and that the Del Reys told him to rewrite it like that - I don't know which is true - but it sold and sold and all of a sudden, that's what people were looking for, that's what commercially minded authors decided to ape.

So yes, it completely changed things. I have to say its fascinating to me how little most of the big epic fantasy authors of that time actually drew directly from Tolkien other than what they needed to sell their work and how a lot of them don't talk about him as an influence - but Brooks I think is a publicly unabashed Tolkien fan.

I have to say, given its historical importance, I wish I liked it more. Alas, when I got around to revisiting it, I found the prose really wasn't for me.
I remember Jack L. Chalker saying when talking about his Dancing Gods series that in part it was a parody of S&S, because he remembered that as being a staple of the genre when he was younger and was surprised and somewhat dismayed to realise that 30 years later it hadn't really changed.
Jordan originally started The Wheel of Time as an homage to Tolkien and Tad Williams includes a very Tolkienesque world as one of his virtual realities in the Otherland series.
I may have mentioned it, but Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series draws heavily on Tolkien, too, but he doesn't seem to draw the same criticism that Brooks did for doing it.
#1692
And don't forget Jordan used to write Conan books before WoT. There wasn't enough material by Robert E Howard, so just get others to write them and put Howard's name on the cover.

Shannara also marks the start of the move to fat books. Something I've been thinking about in relation to this Lifetime of Books project since I want to reread the books as I go. Sword and sorcery books are usually pretty slender. SF&F in general, in the 70s, was largely slim paperbacks - all those Michael Moorcock and Philip K Dick books.

I wasn't a big fan of Shannara myself. I don't really know why, it just didn't grab me. I don't remember when I first read it, but I know I stopped after the first one.
#1697
So if anybody was confused by this line:
xiagan wrote: June 23rd, 2024, 18:39 The series is loosely grouped into trilogies and some where better than others.
After reading this:
DrNefario wrote: June 24th, 2024, 08:47 Shannara also marks the start of the move to fat books.
I just checked and it didn't apply to the German translations I read back then! Every book was divided in three books with about 50k-60k words each. So my memory of Shannara consists of at least 20 books, each not even as thick as my thumb. :D
Peat liked this
#1698
xiagan wrote: June 24th, 2024, 11:45 So if anybody was confused by this line:
xiagan wrote: June 23rd, 2024, 18:39 The series is loosely grouped into trilogies and some where better than others.
After reading this:
DrNefario wrote: June 24th, 2024, 08:47 Shannara also marks the start of the move to fat books.
I just checked and it didn't apply to the German translations I read back then! Every book was divided in three books with about 50k-60k words each. So my memory of Shannara consists of at least 20 books, each not even as thick as my thumb. :D
That's interesting. I thought they were still grouped into trilogies in the UK editions, but I guess I don't really know the series well enough.
#1701
xiagan wrote: June 24th, 2024, 11:45 So if anybody was confused by this line:
xiagan wrote: June 23rd, 2024, 18:39 The series is loosely grouped into trilogies and some where better than others.
After reading this:
DrNefario wrote: June 24th, 2024, 08:47 Shannara also marks the start of the move to fat books.
I just checked and it didn't apply to the German translations I read back then! Every book was divided in three books with about 50k-60k words each. So my memory of Shannara consists of at least 20 books, each not even as thick as my thumb. :D
I never knew this xiagan. Must have been hard to follow done that way. I know Tolkien was never happy about the decision to break The Lord of the Rings into 3 books.
#1706
Elfy wrote: June 24th, 2024, 05:24
I remember Jack L. Chalker saying when talking about his Dancing Gods series that in part it was a parody of S&S, because he remembered that as being a staple of the genre when he was younger and was surprised and somewhat dismayed to realise that 30 years later it hadn't really changed.
Jordan originally started The Wheel of Time as an homage to Tolkien and Tad Williams includes a very Tolkienesque world as one of his virtual realities in the Otherland series.
I may have mentioned it, but Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series draws heavily on Tolkien, too, but he doesn't seem to draw the same criticism that Brooks did for doing it.
Do you mean the way Jordan started The Wheel of Time's story was an homage to Tolkien, or that he started writing the series as an homage to Tolkien?

Because, yes to the former, but no to the latter, and that's my point. Jordan had a ton of ideas for The Wheel of Time that didn't really have much to do with Tolkien. But as he got down to writing, as he had to consider commercial realities and also just shoving all the ideas into the box, it changed. And as a result, we ended up with that reminiscent of Tolkien beginning... and then a few books later, is off doing his own thing again. There's no desire to write like Tolkien beyond what he has to do to get published.

Williams is an unabashed Tolkien fan too, and so is Donaldson (whose first book I haven't finished but it's easy to understand why a book with a rapist MC is considered less Tolkien imo). But a lot of them? Eddings and Feist and Jordan? I'm not saying they hated the guy, or have no indirect influence, but their inspiration came from very different places.

Although as a counterpoint, I think Tolkien is the only fantasy author Margaret Weis reads...