40 Years of Shannara: The Only Alternative

Source: Shannara Wiki

When I first heard about The Shannara Chronicles, I will admit to probably being too optimistic. I mean, we were still talking about MTV, after all. But I wasn’t the only one, and I had some good reasons. The Smallville guys were writing it, the Iron Man guy was producing it, and Terry Brooks, the author of the series on which it was based, a man famous for refusing to let movie and television people get their hands on his story without damn good reason, was personally involved in the creative process. Beyond that, as previously mentioned, the book being adapted was The Elfstones of Shannara, arguably the best novel in the entire series. There was reasonable cause for hope.

Still, it took me over a year to get around to watching the first episode. During that time, I learned that the show had been greenlit for a second season, which was good. I also learned that it had made its way to Netflix disturbingly quickly, which was bad. Finally, at long last, I convinced my fiancée to sit down with me and watch that first episode, practically praying that it be good enough, at least, that she’d consent to watch the next one.

As it turned out, that wasn’t in any way a concern. Because I myself had no interest in watching the next episode, still haven’t, and probably never will.

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40 Years of Shannara: The Largest Tale Ever Told

Source: MBHenriksen on DeviantArt

There was a time (a very short time) when it looked like Terry Brooks’ Shannara series was finished way back in the 90s. In 1997, after the release of the stand-alone prequel The First King of Shannara, Brooks departed the world he’d spent 20 years building for a different trilogy, which came to be known as The Word and the Void. It was his first true work of so-called urban fantasy, a story that certainly involved magical creatures and events, but was set in the modern United States as opposed to a fictional world like Shannara. It was also written on the smallest scale Brooks had ever used, forsaking the “traverse the lands and fight the all-threatening evil” motif of high fantasy in favor of one person’s relationship with a hidden magical universe and the people who, like her, are aware of its existence. The heroine is Nest Freemark, an incomparable female protagonist, and even Brooks’ trademark time-hopping is confined to a few years instead of decades or centuries, as Nest ages from book to book, going from 14 to 19 to 29. It is a phenomenal trilogy that, more than anything else, demonstrated Brooks’ ability to write outside the confines of Shannara or epic fantasy in general. With the original Shannara trilogy and follow-up Heritage series having been seemingly capped off by the prequel, The Word and the Void seemed to indicate that Brooks was finally moving on.

Only he wasn’t.

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40 Years of Shannara: The Rightful King of Epic Fantasy

Source: First Edition Fantasy

I’m moving right along through Heinlein’s Double Star, but during the break between Hugo essays, it’s time for this blog to take its maiden voyage into one of my personal great literary loves: high fantasy. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, and the launching of a fantasy series that remains ongoing after four decades.

If you’ve never heard of the Shannara series, I can’t say I’m surprised, particularly if you’re on the younger side of the fantasy reader spectrum. Brooks and his work haven’t gotten a whole lot of love during the Internet Age. I’d like to believe that there’s a large constituency of fantasy nerds who read that first book, didn’t like it, and never read any more, but the truth is probably that there’s a large constituency of fantasy nerds who never read the first book, but heard it was a Tolkien rip-off that had never been turned into a popular movie or TV show and dismissed the entire series out of hand. As a result, mention that you’re a Shannara fan in most online fantasy circles and you will invariably be shouted down by people with suggestions for the good fantasy series you should read instead.

To indulge in the sort of profanity I usually try to avoid on this blog: Fuck those people. Over the course of this week, Universes of the Mind will be celebrating Shannara’s 40th birthday as only a lifelong fan could, and it’s only appropriate to start with an explanation of why it’s the most important fantasy series you’ve never read.

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