Tuesday, June 05, 2012

More Scions of Shannara The Platypus Reads Part CLV

I read through chapters 16 and 17 last night which takes us (finally) to the meeting with Allanon and the Shannara childrens' decisions.

*All That Spoiler Warning Boilerplate*

In case you've forgotten, just a little recap on what Cogline and Allanon said.  The Shadowen are bits of magic that have evolved consciousness and are possessing people around the Four Lands.  There ultimate goal, whatever it is, will have the effect of turning the world into a wasteland where what life remains serves as the play-things of the Shadowen.  To put a stop to them, it will require the retrieval of the old Shannara magic.  Par will need to find the Sword of Shannara.  Wren will need to bring back the missing elves.  Walker Boh will need to return Paranor to the world of men and revive the Druid Order.  Of course, we can all guess by now what each scion will choose.  Walker throws up his hands in disgust, Wren says "that's nice, but where do I even start," and Par and Coll deliberate a sort time before embracing the quest.

Points to notice:

1.) The fact that each character's choice seems natural and that it take the amount of time appropriate to the character to make that choice shows us that Brooks has done a good job overall in taking us to this point.

2.) The interesting twist that it's Coll, not Par, who serves as the catalyst for deciding to go after the sword shows us that he is a necessary character for the plot, not just padding.  Par and Coll may be pretty easily discerned analogs for Frodo and Sam, but the fact that they are brothers and not master and servant shifts the relationship just enough to make it interesting.  However, like The Lord of the Rings, I think we should expect Coll, and not Par, to end up being the real hero of the story.  We'll see.

3.)  After that, the characters who don't have anything directly to do with Allanon or one of the scions begin to feel a bit unnecessary.  What do Mennion, Steff, and Teel really contribute to the story?  Why would Steff and Teel even agree to go after a legendary sword?  What convinced them?  Mennion's also a little too close to Steff to really stand out as a character. Something needs to be done to keep these guys from becoming window-dressing post Hadeshorn.

4.) The actual scene with Allanon's shade is appropriately gripping and gives away just the right amount of information to move the plot while not defeating the sense of mystery that makes us want to read on.  Brooks is at his strongest in scenes like these, and the fact that this scene has had a long build-up adds to its strength in a way that throw-away episodes, like the Shadowen on Toffer Ridge, lack.  If all of Brooks' episodes could have this tight, organic unity, it would improve the story overall.  Even a random encounter has to fit in with the overall logic of the story.  After all, running into a gang member in Central Park doesn't need much explanation, but running into a mummy does.  Even if you've got an explanation, mummies are beginning to awake and emerge from their tombs, unless you establish that its the middle of the mummy apocalypse, it's going to feel a little forced if the heroes keep encountering the walking dead every time they turn a corner.  If it is the mummy apocalypse, then that's cool, but at some point the author needs to realize that constant exposure to creepy bag guys will lessen their creep factor with the audience.  Familiarity breeds contempt, even of the undead.

5.) Chapters 16 and 17 remind us how pulp authors stay in business even when they struggle with sloppy writing: fast-pacing, and epic awesomeness.  A lot can be forgiven if the pacing is fast enough to get the audience not to mind that-man-behind-the-curtain, and if there's frequent yum-yums (like the Hadeshorn scene) to reward continued reading.

6.) Building on point 5, another reason that Brooks stays in business is that audiences like some notion of objective good and evil.  Sure, Allanon is an ambiguous character, but we always get the sense that he's trying to serve an objective right, even if his methods aren't always ideal.  We know the Shadowen are bad, we know saving the world is good.  Whatever mistakes our characters now make, we know that they're the good guys.  I think this is one reason Brooks' books turn out to always be New York Times bestsellers.  I've been reading quite a bit of Fritz Leiber lately (a pulp author from the mid-twentieth century) and he's clearly a superior writer.  The trouble is, not very many people read his books.  I don't think the problem is that his era has passed (look at how many people still read Lewis or Tolkien) or that his style is too lofty (again, see Lewis or Tolkien), but I think it's that Leiber's heroes are moral reprobates; after a while, we can't call them "good" any more, just not as bad as the "bad guys."  I'm deliberately ignoring issues of art or the true-to-life right now.  What I am observing is that there's a certain sort of story people like and will turn out in droves to pay money for.  One reason for Brooks' phenomenal success, and it is a bit of a mystery to me at times, is that he's writing that type of story.

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