Friday, November 20, 2020

The End of Shannara

Exactly one month ago, on October 20, the Fantasy genre was shaken to its core as an age came to an end for, on that date, The Last Druid by Terry Brooks was published – the final volume of his ominously titled Fall of Shannara series and with it the conclusion of Shannara saga. It sounds simple, just another series completed, but to fully appreciate this one has to go back in time to before the Golden Age of Fantasy and ask how the Fantastic went from fringe genre to a keystone of popular culture. The answer, unsurprisingly, begins with J.R.R. Tolkien. No one denies that Fantasy literature owes its bones to The Lord of the Rings; it essentially swamped all previously written works of Fantasy, and it unquestionably created "Fantasy" as a marketing category. Indeed, all the greats site Tolkien as a defining influence, from GRRM to Jones, from Rowling to Paolini, from McKillip to Gaiman. Knowing that Tolkien came first, you cannot read any other books without seeing his hand-print. Indeed, in the immediate years following LOTR, its popularity created an enormous number of Tolkienesque works, but nothing that quite captured it. People wanted, were dying for, another The Lord of the Rings!

Then, in 1977, Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara came out. Some now call the it a LOTR imitation, but I disagree utterly; it is Tolkienesque, for a certainly, yet is its own story and the Four Lands has a history/lore unique to that of Middle-earth and populated by engaging characters; furthermore, to call the two subsequent books in the Original Shannara Trilogy LOTR imitations is nothing short of madness. Regardless, however, the key fact is that Brooks' was breakthrough success that publishers had been yearning for: the first true master Fantasist since Tolkien, and Shannara became the first Fantasy novel to appear on, and eventually top the New York Times bestseller list. As a result, the genre saw a boom in the number of quite popular titles published in the following years, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Then came The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (which is one my to-read list) and The Blue Sword and its companion The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

The Four Lands 
In short, and as Fantasy author Aidan Moher states, Terry Brooks "filled the J.R.R. Tolkien-sized hole that had subsisted through the early ’70s, and helped reinvigorate the epic fantasy market. Even with all this success, however, it would have been a stretch to imagine that over 40 years later, Brooks would still be writing Shannara novels, and they’d still be selling like hot cakes." Well, at its core Fantasy is as much about making the difficult to imagine possible as anything else and, in regard to Brooks, that is exactly what happened. Forty years later and here we are. Now I have not read all of Shannara, as bookshelf-space is a valuable commodity and when all is said and done the complete Shannara saga likely outweighs Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. No small feat this, but, as implied above by my knowledge of it, I have read the Original Shannara Trilogy and loved it.

Facebook post from 7/31/2013: "Just started The Sword of Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks. I know a good Fantasy when I see it and if this turns out ill then I will declare myself blind. Well met, Allanon.
Facebook post from 9/26/2013: "Just finished The Sword of Shannara, book one of the Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. All who call it a Tolkien imitation are blind.  I am counting on seeing you again, Druid."
Facebook post from 9/27/2013: "Just started The Elfstones of Shannara, book two of the Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. It is high time we learned more about the Elves of the Westland."
Facebook post from 10/26/2013: "Just finished The Elfstones of Shannara, book two of the Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. Sometimes the right choices are the hardest ones, both to make and accept. The Four Lands are safe and the Forbidding restored...Amberle Elessedil, you made the right one. Thank you. Take care Wil (don't lose those Stones) and Eretria. Good reign Ander. Good work Allanon."
Facebook post from 10/28/2013: Just started The Wishsong of Shannara, book three of the Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. Again the fate of the Four Lands falls into the hands of the Ohmsfords of Shady Vale, and hopefully the Sword of Leah will see battle again."
Facebook post from 12/6/2013: "Just finished The Wishsong of Shannara, the final book of the Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks. Again the fate of the Four Lands fell into the hands of the Ohmsfords of Shady Vale and again dark magic was defeated. Well done Brin and Jair Ohmsford (good luck explaining things to Wil and Eretria), Rone Leah, Slanter, Garet Jax, Helt, Edain Elessedil, Elb Foraker, Kimber Boh, Cogline, and Whisper. Rest well Allanon...no Druid could have done more. And so I say farewell to the Four Lands and to the Ohmsfords of Shannara. I shall return in time, but like a certain Druid we know, it wont be for many years."
 
As one can see, this Stars Uncounted blog derived from what I already did on Facebook. More to the point and for all that it was seven years ago, Shannara remains an important series to me despite that I have in effect barely scratched the surface. Hence I cannot say much more save one of the saga's most defining feature as a whole is that it takes place over thousands of years, switching to a new generation of heroes book by book or series by series. Yet since he first began the Shannara saga in 1977, Terry Brooks has had a clear idea of how the series should end, and now after thousands of pages that amount to over thirty books, that ending has come the form of The Last Druid. Shannara, the saga of many series that continued what The Lord of the Rings began, has ended and shall be deeply missed.

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