Friday, June 22, 2012

More Druid of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXI

It's Friday morning, the piano (a hundred year old Hardman and Peck baby grand) is being tuned in the next room, I have my toast and tea and it's time to blog.  So... What shall we blog about?

Well, at the top of today's list is Terry Brooks' The Druid of Shannara.  Having advanced to somewhere around chapter 4 (the book is upstairs and I don't want to disturb the piano tuner to get it), let's continue our rambling discussion of this second book in the Heritage of Shannara Series.

After finding out that the King of the Silver River so loved the Eastland that he sent his one and only daughter that whosoever meets her will get warm eco-fuzzies, we move on to Morgan Leah (don't worry, I will get back to the warm eco-fuzzies).  Morgan has now firmly detatched from Par and Coll's orbit and seems to be spinning towards Walker Boh.  This is an interesting and probably wise choice since the Highlander doesn't seem to be able to develop much as a character while in the shadow of the Ohmsfords.  I'm not sure why that should be the case, but maybe it's because his role among them is established as the over-weening trickster.  Whatever the case may be, Morgan has definitely grown since we first met him pretending to be a mud-monster back in the Highlands.  He's starting to become a seasoned resistance fighter.  Ok, so did his attempt to save Auntie Jilt and Granny Elsie land him in prison?  Well at least it got the dwarf women free and that's almost as good a track record as Padishar Creel, resistance-movement leader extraordinaire.  The point is that he's no longer the shallow prankster of yore.  But what is Morgan turning into?  That's the real question.  Morgan's growth has been through experiencing loss.  In order for him to finish the growth process, he will need to find a new wholeness (symbolized, you will note, by the broken sword of Leah he still carries around with him).  Now this explains why he has to drift into Walker's orbit on the level of theme.  Walker is broken too, and not just physically.  As with Morgan's broken sword, Walker's severed and poisoned arm is a symbol of his inward brokenness.  Walker's been broken inside a lot longer than the Highlander and the effort to "re-grow" has warped him.  With a spirit like a miss-set bone, Walker Boh has to be broken again in order to be healed.

Enter Quickening and the theme of this volume.  Quickening is healing incarnate.  Her whole purpose is to give life back to the Four Lands.  Anyone who joins her is in need of healing and will ultimately need to either accept that and grow or reject it and die.  There you go, the book in four sentences.  Now, of course, if Quickening is a huge, flaming, neon, Christ-type, this healing will also necessitate her betrayal and death.  Enter Pe Ell (another character with an inexplicable fantasy name).  We know right off that he is the chosen Judas Escariot and that his whole purpose in the novel is to off the Chosen One.  Brooks waves it right in our face and doesn't bother to hide it.  Now that's interesting.  As with Teel on a small scale, so now with Quickening on a large scale, Brooks is openly telling us what he intends to do with his characters.  The interest now lies in seeing how he gets there.  That's an older writing technique: one more at home in the world of Beowulf, or The Iliad.  If Brooks can pull it off, then it will be yet another sign of his growing maturity as a writer.

One final thought.  I've talked a bit in the past about Brooks setting out to create a "thin" world that serves as a simple backdrop for the stories he wants to tell and being forced, by sheer accumulation of prose to create a "thick" world.  So far, Brooks has accepted this and used the "thickness" provided by the first Shannara series to enrich the narrative of the Heritage Series.  Right off the bat, however, in The Druid of Shannra the problem of "thickness" returns: the Four Lands have no religion; not even a lack of religion.  That's not really a problem, much of the religious aspect of Middle Earth is submerged in The Lord of the Rings.  The problem for Mr. Brooks is that he's introduced a blatantly messianic character and the only way that other characters can interact with her is to offer vague hopes for deliverance from oppression and thankfulness to the earth for being pretty and growing foodstuffs.  That's rather bland and unbelievable.  Since there are no "Pharisees" for Quickening to dispute with and no real religious sentiments to be communicated through parables, Brooks will need to get Quickening away from Culhaven, the Federation, and her disciples a.s.a.p.  Now, of course, that means that we'll have to enter some weird territory.  Brooks has established Quickening as a feminine earth-messiah with very explicit Christological parallels.  To have her suddenly break from following the life of Christ and instead follow the life of Frodo muddies things on a thematic level.  All that to say: I think Terry Brooks has painted himself into a corner this time and I'll love to see if he can get out of it.

Well, I'm out of tea and out of ideas so I guess it's time to stop.  The reading, of course, will continue and I should be back with a new post soon.  Keep well in the meantime!      


Graf Spee said...

Did you pick Opernockity Piano Tuners for your piano? They're the best you can find. After all, Opernockity tunes but once.

James said...

No, alas. The opportunity didn't come a knockin'. Maybe we weren't listening carefully enough...