Saturday, September 01, 2012

More Talsimans of Shannara: The Platypus Reads CXCII

Well, we have a bit of an inevitable slowdown with the commencement of the academic year but things will march on at The Platypus of Truth.  So, bobbing up to the surface again to peer about, here's what up.  My reading of The Talismans of Shannara is stopped at chapter XVIII.  That brings us almost half way through the book.  Without further ado, let's get on to the review.

*Spoilers*


Chapter 10 narrates Walker's decision to try and break the siege of Paranor.  Predictably, this first plan fails.  The scene is well-narrated in a way that compensates for its predictability and the assurance at the end that Walker has learned something from the episode keeps up our interest.

Jumping locations, the next chapter features Morgan's plan for breaking Padishar out of the slammer (yet again).  Damson seeks to force herself into Morgan's confidence in order to speed up the rescue process and force a little emotional healing on him in time for the still young and dashing highlander to notice Matty Roh (dude really is a lady).  The rescue attempt itself is pretty desperate and we end the chapter on a cliffhanger outside the walls of Tyrsis (which somehow has become conflated with Narshe and the Returners in my poor little psyche) discovering that Padishar Creel is to executed the next day.

Moving back to Wren, we find her out and about spying on a Federation army that is coming north to obliterate the elves.  With typical panache, Wren wrestles her divided council into launching a counter attack and manages to get herself where all great fictional captains, commander, admirals, generals, etc. manage to get themselves: fighting right on the front line.  Fighting front line commanders may be bad tactics since the end of the Phalanx, but it still makes great story whether it's the Iliad or Babylon 5.  To be fair, Brooks does relegate Wren to the roll of "dangerously close observer" during the actual fighting in some form of nod to modern tactical sensibilities.

Back to Walker now for chapter XIII (do you notice what Brooks is doing yet?).  Here we have the second attempt to break out of Paranor and rejoin the other scions of Shannara.  Walker again fails and is forced to flee.  The question is: can the audience figure out how the Four Horseman can be defeated before Walker?  We have a puzzle here and that, more than well-described battle scenes, is what's really meant to hold our interest.

Chapters XIV and XV turns us back to Par and Coll and represent a significant upturn in their story.  the mere fact that they get two chapters back to back should tell us something.  The conflict between the two brothers as the each seeks to gain possession of the Sword of Shannara is excellent and its culmination in the confrontation between Rimmer Dall and The King of the Silver River boarders on the mythic ("Rimmer Dall's voice was the grate of iron on stone" definitely got lodged in my mind at somepoint; unless he's borrowed something from Tolkien there that I'm not remembering.).  In fact, this is again one of the places where Brook's world becomes "thicker" with the return of an implied cosmology.  There are definite Johanian echoes: "In the beginning was the word ... the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

To finish up, chapter XVI and XVII belong to Wren again, giving us the necessary time to rest and process after the stunning climax of the Par/Coll thread.  The night raid here is pretty standard Fantasy fair, but it keeps the story moving and introduces a more hopeful note after all Walker and the Ohmsford brothers' failures.  Tib Arne serves as a nice foil for Matty Roh.  It was not obvious to me as a young teenager that he was a shadowen.  Now, I don't know how I missed it.

The main thought that stands out to me after looking at this section, aside from the awesomeness of the final Ohmsford sequence, is that much of this story is carried by a simple trick of structuring.  Have you spotted it yet?  Briefly, Terry Brooks keeps breaking up the plot by ending chapters before a conflict has been fully resolved and constantly jumping from subplot to subplot before our curiosity can be fully satisfied.  Looking at any of the subplots on their own, there really isn't much story there.  Artfully jump from subplot to subplot, however, and connections begin to emerge that form a larger narrative.  Brooks' goal, of course, will be to bring the subplots together in a satisfactory fashion for a final and suitably epic conclusion to the novel.  This should be evident to us from the first chapter where Brooks tells us the major plot conflict through the character of Rimmer Dall: the four scions of Shannara must be kept apart from each other and their friends so that they cannot unite their magics to overthrow the Shadowen.  Just so, Brooks breaks up the subplots because the minute they resolve and converge the story has to end.  It's a nice little trick, and also a good reminder that much of our interest in story comes from plot.

So there you have it folks.  We're almost half-way through the final book of the Heritage Series.  I'll keep trying to crank away at it and let you know what I think a.s.a.p.  Thanks for reading!

  

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