Tuesday, June 25, 2013

First Thoughts on First King of Shannara: The Platypus Reads Part CCXVIII

With Umberto Eco safely out of the way, we can descend from the heights of the middle-brow and return to the world of pulp.  This will mark the third "Summer of Shannara" here at The Platypus of Truth.  The First "Summer of Shannara" explored the world of the Trilogy, skipping the The Lord of the Rings knock-off that opened the series and engaging with Brooks' original work in The Elfstones of Shannara.  From there, it was on to The Wishsong of Shannara and closing thoughts on Brooks' initial foray into the world of Fantasy.  Last summer was devoted to the Heritage Series which significantly expanded the world of the Four Lands in space and time.  It also represented a real step forward in Brooks' development as a writer.  This summer, I plan to take a look at the odd chronological back-flip Brooks preformed before continuing his narrative with the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara Series.  That odd chronological back flip is the prequel to the original trilogy, First King of Shannara.

As in the past, I will be blogging my thoughts on Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara as I finish each reading session (barring travel and illness with may have me afk for more than one reading session).  The goal of this format is to provide a look at the work as it progresses in "real time."  I will also include a "Final Thoughts" post at the end of the series giving my take on the work as a whole.

To finish off this long forward to the project, I would like to add that First King of Shannara is the only book in the series that I have posted on so far that I did not read all the way through in high school.  I remember being roughly a quarter to half of the way when my reading was interupted and I haven't picked it up since.  This means that I don't have the great wells of nostalgia attached to this book that I do for the prior seven.  On the other hand, perhaps that presents an opportunity for a more "objective" view of Brooks' writing.  We'll see.

*Spoilers Ahead*

This post will cover chapters 1-3 of First King of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

We begin our story with Kinson Ravenlock, a tracker and citizen of the boarderlands of Callahorn.  Right from the get-go we are already on familiar turf.  Brooks begins his narrative from a human perspective square within the middle of Four Lands.  The first character we are introduced to is a tracker, a perpetual obsession with Brooks.  Kinson, however, represents a more mature and developed individual than the comical Slanter of The Wishsong and less of a walking stereo-type than Honer Dee of The Druid.  We get the sense that he is more of an individual than an icon -perhaps because the book begin with his p.o.v.

Kinson, it turns out, is waiting for the famous druid Bremen, whose shade we have caught glimpses of in the original trilogy.  The Shannara series has been short on Druids so far, with the dark and tormented Allanon presenting the archetype of the enigmatic order.  As the only other official druid (Cogline was a wash-out) we have met in the prior series, Walker Boh, is literally re-made in Allanon's image, we are set up to expect something of the same sort.  In the person of Bremen, then, Brooks surprises us.  Bremen is not the dark giant tormented by inner demons that we find in Allanon and Walker.  Instead, he is kind and grand-fatherly old man; closer to Obi Wan Kenobi than an ostensibly benevolent Darth Vader.  Bremen is a figure that we can immediately like and sympathize with and that's good, because this is the first Shannara book that doesn't start us off with a gaggle of psuedo-hobbit teenage valemen.  Maybe they come in later, I don't know, but Brooks' break with this foundational trope seems to signal that he is trying to write a maturer novel for a maturer audience.

Speaking of audiences, Brooks seems to trust his more than in the past.  In the opening three chapers, not much happens.  There are no horendous fighs with terrible monsters or desperate midnight flights from same.  We see one skull bearer far off in the distance, but Bremen and Kinson quickly elude it and it serves only to add the faintest tint of tension to what follows.  Instead, we get a narrative of Bremen's journey deep into the heart of the Skull Kingdom along with the revelation that the Warlock Lord has returned followed by his futile attempt to convince the other druids of this reality.  It's not shocking or gripping fair, but if you've read the seven prior books you have as much an idea of what all these events mean (maybe more) than the characters do and Brooks banks on this fact to carry his readers through until the action can properly start.  The dominant sensastion in the first three chapters is thus one of intrigue: "where is this going next?".

Catching a glimpse of Paranor in all its glory is a bit of a treat, but one that Brooks' plot (wisely or unwisely) does not allow the reader to really capitalize on.  I am intrigued by Brooks' choice to show us so little of the place.  Maybe making the druids utterly familiar, as introducing us to supporting characters Risca and Tay runs the risk of, would lessen their mistique?  Maybe there isn't much at this point of the story to show as order seems to have fallen into a dillentantish decandence under the rule of High Druid Athabasca's rule?  I don't know.  What I do know is that with Athabasca and the council's refusal to believe Bremen's claim that the Warlock Lord has returned, we now have the beginning of the "desparate quest achieved by the rag-tag band" trope that made Brooks his post Lord of the Rings fame.  Bremen (Druid), Kinson (Ranger), Risca (Dwarf), and Tay (Elf) contra mundum.  Now all we need are a man of the south and four hobbits (d'oh!).

Well that's it for today -just the set up.  It may not be a very gripping start to a Shannara book, but it shows promise of a more mature and balanced story overall.  I'm curious to see how it will turn out!      

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