Thursday, June 27, 2013

First King of Shannara (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCXX

Today's post will cover chapters VI and VII of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara.  Those who wish to remain spoiler free should not read on.

*Begin Spoilers (on a 19 year old book)*

Noticed something yet?  The book is called First King of Shannara and we don't begin with Jerle Shannara, first king of that line.  In fact, Chapter VII marks the end of the first fifth of the book, The Fall of Paranor, and we still haven't caught more than a prophetic glimpse of the titular character.  There's a distinct similarity here with Star Wars: Episode I, which was just entering pre-production as this novel was being released.  In fact, Terry Brooks wrote the novelization of The Phantom Menace.  But I digress...  What might be reason for Brooks' decision not to begin with his titular character?  Familiarity foes breed contempt, so perhaps Brooks wants to keep Jerle Shannara far enough removed from the audience to keep him a tad bit legendary?  You would figure that he'd make that choice with the storied Bremen.  First King of Shannara does have a bit of a "tell all" feel to it though that would mitigate against such a choice.  Maybe the book isn't meant to focus on Jerle Shannara as a person so much as the events and characters that lead to the ascent of the first Shannaran king and the legends surrounding him.  In that case, Jerle Shannara himself might be a more minor character, dwarfed by the events that created him.  Since the next section is titled The Search for the Black Elfstone, I think we'll have some answers to the whole Shannara question coming up soon.

Chapter VI finally gives us some action and seems to be a sop to the fans.  It's a cutaway from the main plot that details the final minutes of the druid community at Paranor as the Warlock Lord overruns the keep.  Since we haven't met very many druids and aren't really disposed to like them, any pathos in the chapter has to come from Caerid Lock and Khale Rese, the two sympathetic characters that we've already been introduced to.  Here also we get to return to Brooks' love of monsters as the Warlock Lord brings a force of undead horrors to lead the assault.  A little bit of graphic violence at key places in the chapter seems meant to increase the drama of the scene (since the Warlock Lord and his minions are not really that scary).  It's unclear what this chapter does from a plot perspective.  We wast a few pages on characters that we have little sympathy for when that extra space is needed to beef up the ensemble.  As I said earlier, I think it's a sop to the fans who want to "see" the fabled fall of Paranor and the Warlock Lord in action.  It also infuses a little of the high adventure that the series is known for and that so far has been lacking.

Chapter VII loses a little bit of its punch due to the fact that we already know what's happened at Paranor and what kind of ambush lays in wait for Bremen from chapter VI.  The fact that Caerid Lock survives for a few precious seconds to give Bremen a warning is cliche, but it does extend his character into another chapter and thus helps to strengthen the unity of the first section.  Brooks is also careful to employ all three members of his team (Bremen, Kinson, and Mareth) so that the ensemble as a whole continues to develop.  The fight scene is well narrated in the style that we have come to expect from Mr. Brooks.  Between this chapter and the last, we are now firmly into the world of high adventure and ready to move on to the next section, The Search for the Black Elfstone.  I worry about the narrative consequences of abandoning the most interesting character in book so far, Bremen, for the less-than-three-dimensional Tay, but we'll see what Brooks can do with him.

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for the next installment!

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