Monday, July 30, 2012

More Elf Queen of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXXIX

This post will cover chapters 6 and 7 of The Elf Queen of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

*Begin Spoilers*

Our adventure continues with our intrepid heroes slashing their way into the heart of the mysterious jungle of Morrowindl.  Beset on all sides by strange beasts, fever-ridden swamps, and pursued by the horrific Wistron, Wren struggles to unlock the terrifying mystery of the elven island in secret hope that it will also unravel the enigma of her own origins.  However, such an undertaking seems beyond even the prodigious skills of Wren and her faithful retainer Garth, Rovers though they be.  Surely, they would have succumb to the danger of the In Ju swamp had not a fortuitous meeting with a splinterscat named Stressa given them a much needed guide.  This prickly product of magical mayhem offers to guide them through to the elven castle on the condition that our heroes return with the mysterious creature to the Four Lands.

And that's about the shape of it.  To King Solomon's Mines and The Moon Pearl, we add a little bit of The Island of Doctor Moreau.  No wonder I liked this when I was in Jr. High.  After the odd experimentalism of The Druid of Shannara, it must have come as a nice pulpy relief.  This does, however get us into the question of mixing genres.  As I've noted earlier, the mixing of genres seems about par for the course in the later period of American Fantasy writing.  It's what seems to happen when the initial territory has been explored and expanded on and no new promising territory can be seen on the horizon.  Crossovers open up new possibilities for a time simply by virtue of combination (see Tanith Lee's A Hero at the Gates for a perfect example).  While writing High Fantasy, it should be noted that Terry Brooks has been a genre crosser from the beginning: the Four Lands are a post-apocalyptic North America.  The premise for the Shannara books is drawn not from Fantasy but from Science Fiction.  Thus, if The Elf Queen of Shannara is really a turn-of-the-century adventure novel with a veneer of High Fantasy thrown over it, we ought not to be surprised.

But I am surprised.  Now why is that?  I guess it's because before the non-High Fantasy elements have felt like intrusions, brief or long, into Brooks' world.  Take, for instance, his love of trackers and pioneers which bothers my Tolkienesque sensibilities whenever they arise.  In The Elf Queen of Shannara, however, the alien elements are not intrusions, but the entire plot structure and tone of the work.  As with The Druid of Shannara, Brooks seems to be experimenting here, very consciously attempting something different.  About a third of the way through, I don't know what I think so far of the result.    

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