Sword of Shannara (1977)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Terry Brooks
Publication Date 1997
Format Leather-bound (225 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
Edition Signed Edition
No. of Pages 718
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 403
Frontispiece/Illustrator Doug Beekman
Original Details
Original Publisher Ballantine Books
Original Publication Year 1977
Living in peaceful Shady Vale, Shea Ohmsford knew little of the troubles that plagued the rest of the world. Then the giant, forbidding Allanon revaled that the supposedly dead Warlock Lord was plotting to destory the world. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness was the Sword of Shannara, which could only be used by a true heir of Shannara--Shea being the last of the bloodline, upon whom all hope rested. Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flew into the Vale, seeking to destroy Shea. To save the Vale, Shea fled, drawing the Skull Bearer after him....

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings set fantasy upon a path that since then has broadened into a well-traveled road. The three volumes of the novel had been published for ten years in Great Britain before it was introduced to an American audience ready to be guided into a "Secondary World." Actually, Tolkien, an academician at Oxford who was appointed Merton Professor of English in 1945, had been working on his high-fantasy novel since the 1920s, when he began reading portions of his epic to an informal Oxford group, com posed of friends and fellow writers such as Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, who called themselves the Inklings.

The first story of Middle Earth, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, was published in 1937. The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien had been writing since the publication of The Hobbit, finally was published in three volumes (because of publishing considerations): The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in 1954 and The Return of the King in 1955. Ten years later two American publishers tried, with out response, to obtain the U.S. rights. When Ace Books discovered that the books had not been properly protected under U.S. copyright, it published them in 1965 without authorization; Ballantine Books quickly negotiated a slightly revised "authorized edition," and the public was persuaded to support the Ballantine version. Three years later the three books were published as a single volume.

Tolkien accomplished two major breakthroughs: as John Clute pointed out in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, "On Fairy Tales," his 1940 lecture later expanded into an essay, "first gave legitimacy to the internally coherent and autonomous land of Faerie as part of the geography of the human imagination," and The Lord of the Rings relieved fantasy writers of any "lingering need to 'normalize' their Secondary Worlds by framing them as traveller's tales, dreams or timeslip adventures, or as beast fables." Middle Earth existed on its own terms, and the reader was drawn into it without opening a door or passing through a portal.

More important, even, the success of The Lord of the Rings as paperback bestsellers demonstrated to a skeptical publishing world that fantasy could be profitable. Up to that time the accepted wisdom was that fantasy didn't sell, but Tolkien' s massive epic paved the way for other bestsellers and entire fantasy lines. Ballantine, for instance, hired Lin Carter, himself a fantasy writer, to edit a line of "Adult Fantasy," mostly reissues of classic novels. Sales were not enough to sustain the series, but nine years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings Ballantine decided to try again. Judy-Lynn Benjamin, who had been hired to take over Ballantine's science-fiction line when the publisher had been bought by Random House, had married Lester del Rey, and del Rey was hired to edit the new fantasy series. Their name soon became the designation for their lines: Del Rey Science Fiction and Del Rey Fantasy.

At almost the same time Lester del Rey became editor, he received the manuscript for a long, epic novel by an unknown author named Terry Brooks. It was called The Sword of Shannara and del Rey recognized that this was just what he needed to establish his new line. He published it as if Brooks was a recognized master and the novel was an instant best-seller, in simultaneous hard-cover and trade paperback editions. It shot to the top of the New York Times trade paperback best seller list, where it remained for five months.

"After that record," as del Rey wrote in The World of Science Fiction (1979), "it was no longer easy to believe that fantasy would not sell, provided it was properly slanted to the readers."

To be sure, Brooks's novel owed a great deal to The Lord of the Rings, both as a trail-blazing precedent and for its narrative model. Ben Jeapes wrote in The St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, "If Tolkien constructed the bandwagon for epic fantasy, it was Brooks who set it in motion. The 'original' Shannara trilogy. . . had all the set elements of an epic fantasy quest - a multitude of magical, humanoid races; good and bad wizards; and some vital mission that only a singularly unheroic, ill-equipped innocent from the back of beyond can perform. .. ." That is, of course, the narrative structure for The Lord of the Rings, but it also is the narrative structure for the Star Wars films and what myth-guru Joseph Campbell called The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1947).

What was special about The Sword of Shannara, however, was not only the marketing strategy that made it a best-seller but the care with which Brooks established his Secondary World. It is a place that is evoked so thoroughly that it seems as real as reality itself, and Brooks provided a reason for its existence. Different from the independence that Clute ascribed to Middle Earth, the Shannara world is post-holocaust. Middle Earth existed long before humanity came on the scene; Shannara is placed long after humanity has virtually destroyed itself with wars and hubris, and, in the process, created or released strange, mythical competing races.

As the sage of Shannara, Allanon, explains to Shea Ohmsford, "the Great Wars brought an end to an age where Man alone was the dominant race. Man was almost completely destroyed and even the geography he had known was completely altered, completely restructured. Countries, nations, and governments all ceased to exist as the last members of the human race fled south to survive. It was nearly a thousand years before Man had once again raised himself above the standards of the animals he hunted for food and established a progressive civilization. . . . Then Man began to discover there were other races besides himself inhabiting the world - creatures who had survived the Great Wars and developed their own races. In the mountains were the huge Trolls, powerful and ferocious, but quite content with what they had. In the hills and forests were the small and cunning creatures we call Gnomes. . . . Man also discovered that there was another race - a race of men who had fled beneath the earth to survive the effects of the Great Wars. . . . When Man first discovered remnants of this lost race, they called them Dwarfs, after a fictional race of the old days. . ."

And then there were the Elves, "A remarkable race of creatures the Elves. . . suffice to say that they were always there in the great forests of the Westland, although the other races seldom encountered them..."

Add to all of this an evil wizard named Brona, a rebellious Druid who led armies in the First War of the Races and a huge army of Trolls in the Second War of the Races that was defeated only by Jerle Shannara, the King of the Elves, with the aid of a magical sword given to him by the Druid Bremen. Now Brona has come again and the wizard, long thought only a legend or, if real, centuries dead, can be thwarted only by a descendant of the Elven King, who is the only person able to recover and wield the Sword of Shannara.

The author of this epic encounter of good and evil was born Terence Dean Brooks in Sterling, Illinois, in 1944. He earned his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1966 and a law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1969. He took up a law practice in his home town from 1969-1986, keeping it for almost ten years after becoming a best-selling author. The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977. Five years later, in 1982, the sequel, The Elfstones of Shannara, was published, and three years after that, in 1985, The Wishsong of Shannara.

Brooks started a new Landover series in 1986 with the comic Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold! and followed it with The Black Unicorn (1987), and Wizard at Large (1988). Then he returned to The Scions of Shannara (1990) and The Druids of Shannara (1991), novelized the screenplay for Hook (1992), and published The Elf-Queen of Shannara (1992), The Talismans of Shannara (1993), two more Landover novels, The Tangle Box (1994) and Witches Brew (1995), and a prequel to the Shannara series, First King of Shannara (1996). One major difference of the later Shannara novels was that the first series was composed of individual novels that were inter-related but could be read independently, having different heroes and different adventures. The later series is more like a single adventure broken into four volumes.

Jeapes comments that the new series demonstrated that Brooks could "take an old idea and give it a novel slant. There is. . . an epic quest to be undertaken, but whereas this is normally (and was in the original three) something magical getting out of control, here it is to restore magic to the world." Jeapes sums up that Brooks "is a writer able to invest time and energy in his books, and the insertion of the early Landover novels between the two sets of Shannara chronicles shows that he is capable of diversity as well.. . . There is evidence for two suppositions: Terry Brooks is an original writer who uses familiar tropes because they were there, or he is a competent writer not afraid to exploit bandwagons."

The reader can make his own decision. But of one thing there is no doubt: Brooks set into motion (with some help from Lester del Rey) the bandwagon that Tolkien had constructed. It has not stopped rolling yet.

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas