Saturday, August 04, 2012

More Elf Queen of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CLXXXIII

A quick post today just to finish off chapter 11.

*Begin stuff-that-you-might-not-want-to-read-if-you-haven't-read-the-book*

Chapter 11 really is the most interesting chapter (for me) in the book thus far.  Brooks keeps the pacing fast even though most of the chapter is taken up with conversation.  All the character's uneasiness and Brooks' stinginess in handing out information keeps up a good sense of tension that rolls right on to the next chapter.  Even though the space is brief, Brooks' is able to give us strong and swift portraits of the key players: Ellenroh, the Owl, Gavilan, Phaeton, and Eowen (shame on you Mr. Brooks!).  The frantic battle scene that ends the chapter with its display of the raw power the elves have rediscovered is quintessential Shannara.  These last two points, strong, swift character portraits and lavishly drawn battle scenes, are the hallmarks of the Shannara series; sometimes the only thing they have going for them.  With the return of these elements, it seems like Brooks is back on his game.

This does make me wonder about the risks involved in trying something new as a published author.  As I've said before, I'm convinced that Brooks is trying some deliberately different techniques in the middle books of the Heritage Series.  There seems to be a greater attempt at working cross-genre and a willingness to discard earlier tropes (where is the "fellowship of the ring" in the novel thus far?).  Some of these novel techniques seem to have worked and some seem to have fallen flat.  To be honest, if I hadn't made a deal with myself, I'd probably have ditched The Elf Queen of Shannara by now (and missed the good stuff!).  All that to say it seems like an author needs some considerable rapport with the publisher and the audience before it's safe to experiment.  The copy of The Elf Queen of Shannara I have is a well-bound hardcover with thick and lovely faux old-fashioned paper.  I think it originally retailed at somewhere around thirty dollars.  Lavishing that sort of production cost on a pulp novel says something about the publisher's confidence that it will sell, and sell big.  I guess if every book you've put out is a New York Times bestseller, you can get a little freedom to experiment.  But what if you're not?  I think of the kind of herculean patience Allen and Unwin had with J.R.R. Tolkien.  He had one fairly decent selling book and the publisher was willing to wait twelve years for a very different and very expensive to produce sequel.  Who would have published The Lord of the Rings if they had lost their nerve?  Then I think of the creative eclecticism of C.S. Lewis.  What publisher today would allow for all the genre crossing and experimentation that marks Lewis' distinctive canon?  Brooks' experimentation is small beans compared with these old titans and yet they got away with it before they were famous.

To finish up these semi-cohate musings: I wonder what role publishers play in helping or hindering authorial development.  How free was Brooks to experiment in this series?  He's certainly grown as an author over the course of writing them.  Would greater freedom have produced better work or frittered it away chasing snipes?  What budding Tolkiens or Lewis out there have been cut off by the financial realities of the publishing industry.  Those aren't rhetorical questions.  I simply don't know.

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