This will be a brief note today, but I've had some break-throughs in my thinking about Terry Brook's The Druid of Shannara, and I wanted to commit them to writing. Today's post will only cover up to the end of book 19.
Tone. It all comes down to tone. In prior Brooks novels, it is the pacing that drives the book. Mistakes can be forgiven because episode follows episode in such a flood of action and intrigue that the reader doesn't have time to set the book down. This is the old way of it, and masters of the pulp genre like Burroughs, Moorcock, and Zelazny, all used it to great effect (though they certainly knew the necessity of tone as well!). With The Druid of Shannara, however, Brooks makes the break-through of holding the reader's attention by virtue of tone. There's a delicious rainy-day melancholy to The Druid of Shannara that keeps you reading even though there's very little action compared to the earlier works. The image of the lonely Maw Grint towering over the stone city of Eldwist (New York?) is worthy of Mike Mignola and the prowlings of the Rake seem like the Matrix eight years too early. These same creatures in a prior Brooks novel would never have that piquant twist of melancholy that elevates them into higher ranks of the middle brow. They would have been another set of monsters to be fought in flashy style and then promptly dispensed with. In the same way, compare Quickening with earlier leading ladies such as the feisty Amberle, or look at how Horner Dees compares with Slanter, or Pe Ell with Garret Jax. Walker and Morgan are certainly and improvement over Brin and Rone. Even the villain, Uhl Belk, has a mysterious majesty that is far more subtle and intriguing than the Mord Wraiths or the Warlock Lord. In each case, Brooks has added some touch of melancholy, something "oblique" that keeps them from falling into the simple stereotypes that dominate his earlier work and adds a sense of maturity, complexity, interior space, that prior novels simply didn't have time for. That's my current take at least. See what you think.