Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Talismans of Shannara: The Platypus Reads CXCV

This post will cover chapters XXIII, XXIV, and XXV of Terry Brooks' Talismans of Shannara.

*Spoilers ahead*

With Padishar Creel found, Morgan and Co. are now free to track down Par Ohmsford (and maybe Coll, poor fellow).  Being the odd assortment of dysfunctional adolescents that they are, this leads to lots of moody bickering.  One might expect Morgan's experiences up North to have matured him.  One might expect Matty and Damson's long history with the Freeborn to have hardened them into disciplined fighters, wise beyond their years.  No.  Instead, we watch Matty poke Morgan's ego, Morgan bluster, and both women sue the poor highlander for Radical Emotional Intimacy.  This might work if they were all in college...  The problem is they're not.

This all brings up the question of audience.  Who is the intended audience for this novel?  When I was 13, this stuff worked just fine.  Being a teenager was almost as mysterious as being an adult.  What did I know?  Now I do know -and find it grating.  The Heritage Series always feels a bit like two series that have been chopped up and mixed together: one for adults and one for "young adults."  I'd love to know what pressures Brooks was under when he wrote it.  Earlier Sci-fi and Fantasy writers like Robert Heinlein struggled with the desire to write adult fiction when the publishers only saw a "young adult" market for that sort of stuff (for instance, he was required to re-write the entire ending to Podkayne of Mars because his publishers thought it too severe for young readers).  Was there pressure from Del Rey in the early nineties for Brooks to "dumb it down" for a younger audience?  Anyone who knows, feel free to jump in here.

Whatever the case may be, my interest revives again when I hit chapter XXIV.  Coll has always been a bastion of pragmatism among the Ohmsfords, but he hasn't gotten much screen time so far.  Seeing things from his perspective, and learning that he's the real hero of the book (seeing some Frodo and Sam influence here) is a refreshing return to maturity.  Sadly, Coll's nascent hero's journey is cut short by the need for an interesting way for him to link up with our aforementioned trio.  Getting kidnapped by slavers is the sort of thing Edgar Rice Burroughs would pull with a wink at the camera.  Brooks can't afford to wink, however, as his world is too serious for him to ever admit that he knows he's straining credibility.  His only hope is too keep the action coming so that the audience doesn't have time to cry "foul."  Poor Coll, another victim of narrative debt.  Them's the breaks: a good character moment, or a nice piece of writing can't carry the weight of a story on its own.  Brooks has committed himself to plot and pacing: that means that under the bus is where Coll needs to go if the larger work is to hold together.

Chapter XXV leads us right where we need to go: Par.  Keeping the tension high, Brooks opts to open this chapter with a nightmare.  Sure, we all know the cliche that's coming, that Par is really running from himself.  It's hackneyed, but it still works.  What counts now is increasing the sense of peril and impending doom as we have less than 150 pages to go.  The tension doesn't let up when Par awakes as he is immediately forced into a conversation with Rimmer Dall.  By now we, the audience, know that the First Seeker is evil right down to the core.  His "milk and cookie" approach isn't meant to take us in so much as to keep us in suspense about whether Par will be taken in.  We're also meant to be wondering at this point what exactly it is that Dall wants.  Keeping us guessing on these two questions is what keeps us turning pages.  One wonders what the effect on the reader would be if Brooks had labored to keep Rimmer Dall's alignment truly ambiguous.  Would there be any more "punch" to the narrative if we were guessing about whether Dall was telling the truth or not ourselves?

So there you have it, The Talismans of Shannara, chapters XXIII, XXIV, and XXV.  In the next chapter, we shift back to Wren and the Elven army.


Herch said...

By the time I got to Talismans, I had lost almost all interest in Par and Coll. I found Walker and Wren to be far more interesting characters with more interesting storylines. So with their return to prominence in Talismans, I found myself not welcoming back old friends but instead saying, "Go away. I don't like you anymore." And it made it worse that they are the main characters of the series. It will be interesting to see if my opinion changes on a second read. Somehow I suspect my reactions will only be more pronounced.

James said...

That's been my experience so far. Talismans really does feel like going back to less mature material -except when Walker's in focus and sometimes Wren. I still wonder what accounts for the odd split.