Sunday, June 19, 2011

Platypus of Shannara (Cont): The Platypus Reads Part CIII

With Wil, Amberle, and Allanon now safely in Arborlon, Brooks now has two difficult scenes to manage.  First, he must depict the elven council and its decision to accept or reject Amberle.  Second, Amberle will have to speak with the Ellcrys.  We'll take them in order.

The problem Brooks faces in the elven council scene is keeping it from either seeming perfunctory or allowing it to swell into a full "council of Elrond" mega-chapter.  Since Brooks' world is a "thin" world without the depth and sweep of Middle Earth and since he's already given us all the back story we need to understand the quest for the Bloodfire it makes sense that he errs on the side of the perfunctory.  Allanon and Amberle are the only "deep" characters in the scene (Wil just sits there).  We get to see a little more of Eventine, Ander, and Arion; at least enough to confirm their characters.  Of the three, only Eventine will get enough screen time in the next couple chapters to elicit any real response from the reader.  Even then, he's a little flat.  Pindanon et al. really just fill in chairs.  Crispin gets a bit of personality as "captain redshirt," if you know what I mean.  All in all, this scene gets the job done and keeps the focus on the main characters.  Brooks' elves really aren't distinct enough as a culture to create any other sort of interest.  This only bothers me when it comes to trying to figure out why the elves are so hostile to taking Amberle back.  We really just have to take the author's word for it. 

Amberle's conversation with the Ellcrys is managed by simply shutting us out of it.  This is a good move on Brooks' part.  It's the sort of thing that's so hard to do well it's better not to attempt it in light fiction.  Allowing us to see it from Allanon and Wil's perspective works just fine and gives us a little more time to watch their characters evolve.  I do wish Brooks would stop switching p.o.v. in such short burst and often to that of minor characters.  Seeing the council through Ander's eyes is not as powerful as seeing in through Amber's or Allanon's.  On the other side of things, if we're not going to be allowed to see Amber's talk with the Ellcrys from her point of view, the quick switch of p.o.v. to her as she's walking up to the tree seems unnecessary.  Still, that one's just a quibble.  He doesn't repeat it when Amberle speaks with her mother and we're again shut out (another wise decision).  The Marian repetition that Amberle is bearing the Ellcry's seed with Wil as her Catholic-style Joseph hints at some depths in the narrative, but the story is to light-weight to really make full use of them.

Moving on, another brief pause to note that Brooks makes good use of the weather.  The rain shower is well described and adds just the right tone to the departure from Aborlon. Amberle and Wil both sound like they belong better in the Peace Corp than in a medieval fantasy.  Giving them something in common, however, is in service to the narrative.  Amberle is being called upon to give far more than she has ever imagined back to the earth, and Wil is being called on to do far more for the benefit of mankind than he ever dreamed.  This should be played up a bit more, or perhaps just deployed a bit more artfully.  On another note, all the elven hunters have come into existence merely to be butchered in nasty ways by demons.  Yeah.

Final thought: It seems like this book is more properly Terry Brooks' "first book" than "The Sword of Shannara."  Even though there are some parts that seem mishandled or disappoint, he is a good writer and I actually find myself looking forward to pressing on to "The Wishsong of Shannara" and "The Scions of Shannara" just so I can watch his technique evolve and come into its own.


Joi said...

I had the same thought in regards to this feeling much more properly his first than "Sword of Shannara." Fortunately, by the time I'd gotten around to reading the Shannara series, I'd already read his Word and the Void series (have you read those? Would love to hear your thoughts on them), and trusted Brooks as an author enough to get through Sword and move on to Elfstones (which, by the end, became one of my favorites of his).

James said...

I haven't read his "Word and the Void" series, though they have been recommended to me by widely divergent sorts of people (always a good sign). Can I ask why Elfstones became your favorite? Thinking back, I seem to remember liking Talismans best. What, in particular, should I looking for to get the most enjoyment out of it?

Joi said...

I think it's my favorite for it's answer of how to defeat evil (self-sacrifice, though I won't elaborate so as not to post spoilers :) )

Actually, I've had talks with Liz about it. Her favorite is Wishsong, which has a rather different approach to defeating evil, one that is more attune to Liz's personality. It seems that whether one prefers Elfstones or Wishsong (both good books) depends greatly upon one's view of evil and how it is defeated.

(And yes, definitely read the Word and the Void series. Modern urban spiritual thrillers: great stuff.)