Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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

This post will address Chapter XXIII of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara.  Those who have not read the work and wish to remain spoiler-free should not read on.

*Plotsees my precioussss....*

Chapter XXIII brings us to the moment we've all been waiting for: the forging of the sword.  Here, at last, Terry Brooks is firing on all cylinders.  There is just the right blend of anecdote and archetype for the scene to function in the novel and yet be the epic moment that fans have wanted since 1977.  If more of the First King of Shannara was narrated in this tone it would be a better book (think how the elevated tone of The Silmarillion preserves its feeling of antiquity even when the narration "zooms in" on specific characters and events).  We even have the satisfaction at the end of the chapter in knowing that Urprox Screl isn't a throwaway character but the ancestor of the the Creels so that when Panamon and Padishar insist that their fates are bound up with the Shannara family, they are saying something true.  That should be hokey, but when Brooks is at the top of his game, as he is in Chapter XXIII, then it works.

The trouble Brooks has been having in this book seems to be a result of the project itself: to write a successful prequel.  Tolkien got lucky when he created the material for The Silmarillion, published The Hobbit and then wrote The Lord of the Rings.  Each part of the story developed as a story in its own right first and then fed into the next work as it was in turn developed.  The Silmarillion and The Hobbit can function as "prequels" to The Lord of the Rings because they really do precede it.  More importantly for them, they can also function as isolated works in their own rights without reference to any others in the Legendarium.  I've had college friends who made their first entre into the works of Tolkien with The Silmarillion and loved it.  Coming back to Brooks, he didn't have this advantage of organic development when he sat down to write First King of Shannara.  Instead, he was left with seven books of developed material and a few disconnected episodes he had used in the first to get the story going and then modified in the third (the introduction of the Ildatch) to keep it going.  Here we have an author who is forced to commit to decisions he made twenty years ago as a college student.  It's not exactly a recipe for success.  I know his most recent efforts have been to create even more prequels to link his various series together and it makes me wonder if he's learned anything about the difficult and dangerous art of prequel writing (look what happened to George Lucas!).

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