This post will cover Chapter XVIII of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara. Those who have not read this book (or others in the original and Heritage series) and wish to remain spoiler free should not read on.
*Plot sensitive material follows*
Chapter XVIII details Bremen, Kinson, and Mareth's journey to Darklin Reach and their meeting with the former druid Cogline. Bremen hopes to learn from Cogline the scientific process for making a metal that can withstand the intense forces that will be involved in forging the Sword of Shannara. Cogline, after some intial reluctance, tells Bremen the procedure for making steal.
I was first struck by the lack of "wandering monster encounters" in the journey from Storlock to Darklin Reach. Indeed, there has been a general lack of "wandering monsters" in the book as a whole. This is a real improvement from the seven previous books that seem to revel in presenting the reader with a random "freak of the week" every time there's a travel narrative. We all know how much Brooks likes his monsters, so this shows real restraint on his part in the service of telling a more believable story.
Places like Darklin Reach always remind me how very North American Terry Brooks is, and that his world is meant to be a post-apocalyptic North America, not a fantastic medieval Europe. Tolkien casts such a long shadow over all of Brook's work that these "American" elements always feel jarring. The meeting with Cogline is a thinly disguised camping trip complete with citronella candles.
Speaking of long shadows, it interests me that so many of the Shannara Books revolve around "involvement" versus "non-involvement." Bremen is good because he gets involved. Cogline is good, because once he's huffed a bit he gets involved. Being a hero = getting involved. Those who refuse involvement, like the Druids of Paranor, are not only selfish, they are also foolish since "non-involvement" always leads to destruction. This seems to be something picked up from misreading Tolkien in light of the second world war. Tom Shippey points out that Peter Jackson makes the same mistake in his film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. It's a sort of U.N. notion that we must all put aside our differences and unite to fight evil. Tolkien agreed (with all sorts of caveats and reservations) with uniting to fight evil, but he strongly opposed anything beyond a simple defensive coalition. The idea of a centralized order like the Druids of Terry Brooks' world would have struck him as a precursor to Barad-Dur.
Finally, Terry Brooks seems to envision Science as some sort of "force" locked in a ying-yang relationship with Magic. Magic and Science are both alike in that they represent attempts to know and harness the material world through practicing a technique. Indeed, they walked hand in hand together far longer than most realize. Even just a century ago, Science was charging full speed ahead as was Occultism. Brooks gives frequent nods to this in the book, but ideas like "science sleeps while magic is in the ascent" treat Science like it's a force, or power, or thing in and of itself rather than the name we give to a particular set of techniques oriented toward achieving a specific kind of knowledge with the goal of manipulating our world to suit our tastes.
So there you have it. We'll see how these ideas play out in future chapters but, for now, I'm going to find some lunch.