Monday, August 20, 2012

First Thoughts on The Talismans of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXXXIX

In my end is my beginning -T.S. Eliot

So, dear reader, I end where I began.  The first Shannara book I read was The Talismans of Shannara.  I don't quite remember how I came to pick up the last book of the Heritage Series first.  Somewhere along the line I suppose I got the impression that they were serial novels.  Anyhow, I was experiencing severe withdrawal after having come to end of all the Tolkien I could get my hands on.  Back then, when a young teenage boy asked what he could read next, the Shannara books were where everyone sent him.  So, just an author's name in hand, I shuttled off in my mom's Taurus wagon to the library (a wonderful, old Victorian edifice).  There among the stacks I grabbed the first volume by Terry Brooks (who I assumed at the time must be a woman since I didn't know any Terrences) that came to hand.  I remember sitting at the table in the breakfast nook and looking out the window at the forest where the trees made their endless dance of silver and green.  There, I opened the book and began reading about a man named Rimmer Dall.

It's been a long road from Connecticut to Texas.  Picking up The Talismans of Shannara, even just looking at its cover, opens up a doorway in my mind to those lost summers.  Scents, sights, voices, odd sensations, a different state of mind all come flooding back as if the intervening years mean nothing.  There's the garrison colonial at the bottom of the hill with its grey walls, white trim, black shutters, and the big red door.  -or the sound of Canada geese lifting off the lake in the morning.  I remember living in the finished room in the cellar, and trips with the quiz team to Pennsylvania.  All the lost years are there, wedged into the pages of a paperback book.

*Begin Spoilers and Other Relevant Stuff*  

This post will cover up to the beginning of Chapter 5.  Herein we learn how Rimmer Dall plans to deal with the scions of Shannara, how Padishar Creel discovers Par and Damison in Tyrsis, how Damison is then captured by the odious Federation and with the aid of the Mole her escape is attempted, and how Walker Boh finishes his druidical transformation and is besieged together with Cogline and Rumor by the Four Horsemen.

The Talismans of Shannara resumes with the same tone as The Scions of Shannara.  This means that there is (again) a slight jerk in the mental gears as we shift from the previous novel.  Stringing out three plots over four books puts a definite strain on the series, but it is not terminal.

Moving on, it is interesting that the novel begins with Rimmer Dall.  This is a good move on Brooks' part as he gives us a scene that immediately raises the tension and creates a sense of anticipation.  By letting us in on Dall's "evil genius" planning session, we instantly know what problems our heroes will face and begin wondering how they will get out of it.  That curiosity will carry us through the next few chapters as Brooks then takes time to establish said challenges or at least produce adventurous interludes that keep readers turning pages.

Once Rimmer Dall is out of the way, we return to the hero who began it all three books ago, Par Ohmsford.  Par is the weakest character in the ensemble, but by now there's enough material to at least make him a character that can hold readers' attention if there's a suitable amount of action.  Brooks is wise to keep the story rolling at a fast pace whenever we turn to Par, and the reappearance of Padishar Creel with the subsequent capture of Damson Rhee do the job.  Brooks does incur some authorial debt by having Damison captured, however, as the "prison break" motif is already overused in the series.  Again, the pace of the adventure, the increase in stakes due to the growing unpredictability of the Wishsong, and the rich setting of Tyrsis all work to mitigate some of this debt.

Walker Boh is a little bit more robust of a character, so when we turn to him the narrative can slow down a little.  Walker is just finishing his transformation into the new druid when we meet him, and it's interesting that the process of becoming has been spread out over all four books, rather than confined, like Wren's, to a single volume.  With Cogline and Rumor still alive, it seems that the final stripping has yet to take place before he can truly be divested of his old identity and reconstituted as the new Allanon.  Stringing the process out like this means that The Druid of Shannara lacks the same "punch" as The Elf Queen of Shannara, but it also serves as plot thread that unites the four works together.  This leads me to wonder: if the first series is really about Allanon, is the Heritage Series really about Walker?

Those are my thoughts for now.  The school year is getting started around here, so future posts may be less frequent and more abbreviated.  We'll see.

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