Saturday, June 25, 2011

Platypus of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CV

As Wil and Amberle prepare to enter the Wilderun, they encounter a genuine piece of fantasy creation: the Wing Riders.  Whether they correspond more to the world of Pern or Middle Earth, I'll let you decide, but they aren't directly lifted from either.  So far in the world of the Four Lands, the fantastic creatures we've seen have been mostly evil (several kinds of demons and a bog monster).  Good has the Elcrys and the King of the Silver River.  Yup.  Brooks is probably at his strongest imagining all kinds of creepy antagonists for his heroes to fight; the heroes themselves are rather prosaic.  Adding the Wing Riders and their Rocs helps even things out a bit.  It also provides him with an opportunity to describe a "first flight;" a touchstone that most of us can remember in this age of mass air travel (no doom blimps... sad).  Perk is also one of those plucky little NPCs that you know the GM created purely for the satisfaction of having the villain kill him in some nasty way just to prove how bad he is (I tried that once with a gypsy boy and a horde of sword-wielding Thules attacking an Austrian monastery.  Very effective.).  Like Tolkien's eagles, the Rocs also allow for a little tasteful flying deo ex machina.  With Wil and Amberle safely deposited in Wilderun, however, it's time for the great narrative shift.

Ala Tolkien, Brooks now shifts to what's become of the rest of the company.  That means narrating the struggle of the elves to hold back the demon hordes long enough for Amberle to find the Bloodfire or for the other races to rally to the defense.  This wouldn't be interesting at all if we didn't have the anchor character of Allanon.  I wonder to what degree the Shannara series is really about him.  He dominates the first eight books that Brooks wrote (I can't say about the others as I haven't read them).  Anyhow, Allanon is now equipped with a +100 unique staff of demon-butt-kicking (sorry, non-socketted) and thus gets all the fun of being Gandalf the White without having to take a face plant in the depths of Khazad-Dum.  As Peter Jackson points out when describing the Battle of Helm's Deep, this follows a classic war-movie cliche: the noble, outnumbered defenders facing hordes of merciless opponents and doomed to destruction but receiving that last minute help that just might tip the balance and give them a chance.  It's made for a good story since Herodotus.  So, first we get the staff of the Ellcrys and then we have the Free Company show up (last minute support should always be colorful to catch the audience's interest).  We also get to see Brooks continue to build up Prince Ander into enough of a character to hold our interest (though Ander would be a bit more intelligible as a character if he was a bit younger).  If he can succeed in that, then then he won't have the reader skipping pages just to get back to what's happening with Wil and Amberle.

Brooks, as seems typical in this novel, is a little clunky at first in achieving these objectives.  We're supposed to be struck by the Boarder Legion and their heroic "iron man," Stee Jans, but it all comes of as a bit trite and forced.  Ander, on the other hand, slowly but surely is winning himself a personality, as is his father, Eventine.  Arion still remains pasteboard, as does Pindanon, and that's a pity as it saps the narrative of some of its strength.  The actual description of the elven army and its journey to defend the Breakline against the first onslaught of the demon hordes is nice and evocative.  Once again, however, the real interest in the story is Allanon.  He is the only character with enough weight to really hold the reader's attention.  Brooks seems to know this and is wise enough to keep working the Druid in as often as possible.  

As another note, Brooks lays down some more capitol for future novels in bringing up the Federation.  They will become important in later books and his mention of who and what they are now, even though they aren't very important, adds the kind of "thickness" to his world that should make for increasingly better stories later on.  Brooks claims to have set out to write something like Tolkien but without all the depth; a page-turner.  The irony seems to be that after thirty years of writing Shannara books, he has created his own titanic backstory; a "thick" world.

And that should bring us to about chapter 30...

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