Tuesday, July 02, 2013

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

Today's post will focus on Chapters XIV and XV of Terry Brooks' First King of Shannara.  Readers who wish to remain spoiler free should not read on.  Also of note, I will be taking a week break from this series starting tomorrow in order to attend to some business.  Once that's over, the blogging will resume.

*Spoiler Stuff*

Chapter XIV returns us to the exploits of Tay, Jerle and company.  I guess I should say "little company."  Along with the word "shrug" it's one of Brooks' favorite terms.  Unfortunately, Brooks and his editor have not been able to extirpate all his bad habits over the course of two decades.  Oh well...  Moving on, this chapter returns us to the search for the Black Elfstone and also the search for Preia Starle.  There's lots of pulpy high adventure here complete with reconnaissance, sudden intuitions, chases, and a frantic ride right through the enemy picket line.  This is the stuff Brooks loves and he writes it well with panache.  We're losing red-shirts now by the half-dozen and have even lost named character Retten Kip, thus upping the stakes for our ensemble.  Hanging over the whole episode like an enormous Chekov's gun is the realization that Tay can kill people just by looking at them (with enough time and concentration).  This sparked one of the few memories I have of this book: Tay is going to have to kill himself.  That's really what we're working up to.  The audience needs to feel sorry for Tay so that they will feel the full force of his sacrifice.  There's more to it than that, but we'll discuss the rest when we get to it.  There's more of this sort of logical "tightness" in First King of Shannara than in Brook's previous work.  Though the book itself isn't as flashy or experimental as some of the others in the series, it is better written on a technical level.  Writing is a craft that can be learned and Mr. Brooks just keeps working at it.

Chapter XV is split roughly in half.  On a narrative level, it brings us from the pass to the hidden lake where the fortress containing the Black Elfstone resides.  The first half of this narrative, however, focuses on Tay and his continuing sense of dislocation.  Some of the material is repetitive, but the overall thrust remains: Tay must find some sort of meaning if he is to continue and finding the Black Elfstone must be it -the culmination of his life's work.  Thus, in finding the Black Elfstone Tay hopes to find himself.  The second half of the narrative is a Rider Haggard-esque discovery scene that provides the necessary sense of adventure after Tay's introspecting.  It's an interesting one-two punch, but the danger lies in the two elements getting in the way of each other.  I'm not sure whether I think that Brooks pulls it off.

Well that's it for now.  I'll look forward to posting again after the break.


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