The Sword of Shannara: An Epic Fantasy Hardcover – 1977
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All in all, this is a wonderful book and a triumph in fantasy, as well as the start of one of the greatest fantasy worlds of all time.
When The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977, it became a Times best seller and helped revive a maligned field of fiction. Terry did not quit his legal profession until 1985 and two sequels in the Shannara world, The Elfstones of Shannara and The Wishsong of Shannara. Both of those catapulted to the top of the bestseller lists as well. You know you’re doing well in the writing industry when you can quit your lawyer job in New York City and move to full time writing. That or you are a really bad lawyer. I have no idea how good of a lawyer he was, but Terry Brooks is one awesome writer. He should be to have over 20 bestsellers with several hitting the top spot.
His first book though remains one of my cherished favorites. Adorned with an illustration by the Hildebrandt Brothers on its cover, the book lurked in my school library for a year before I saw it. Having read The Hobbit but not yet ready for The Lord of the Rings at my age of 13, I was intrigued by the glowing sword embedded in a block of stone. The Arthurian image got my attention and a few pages later the book was checked out. I read through all 726 pages twice in a month. Between Tolkien and Brooks, my imagination was awakened and it has never been quiescent since.
Here was a tale to rival Tolkien. In fact, many critics thought it was a copy of Tolkien in some ways which it does resemble. Yet, other attempts at high fantasy had avoided Tolkienesque concepts and failed to generate an audience. Not so with The Sword of Shannara. The story of a young half-elf destined to save the world from evil by wielding a magical sword that only he could use after going on a long and dangerous quest with a mysterious druid, some elves, a dwarf, his brother and a few friends is the magical high fantasy formula that fuels reader’s attention spans. Tolkien had hit upon that formula decades ago. Other would copy what Brooks had figured out over the next several decades.
Everything an imaginiative reader seeks in fantasy fiction is in The Sword of Shannara. Brooks would follow this up with explorations of his magical fantasy world and the people that inhabited it. One of the things that keeps his books fresh is that he does not retain the same characters from each book. He advances the storylines through decades of time and multiple characters which keeps them fresh. Characters from one book or trilogy rarely make it into the next book. If they do, their fate is usually not what they sought. The world expands, yet retains the same familiar feel. Reading a Shannara book is like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes. You don’t know where they will take you each day, but you feel comfortable wearing them.
This first entry to the Shannara world gave us some amazing places to visit. The Highlands of Leah, Culhaven, Storlock, the Hall of Kings, mystical Paranor, and the homeland of the elves caught my imagination. Heroes fighting against impossible odds emerged. Somewhere in the midst of the destruction and despair, love flourished as one young prince fought to preserve another king’s capital from falling into the darkness. Treachery, honesty, half truths, and nobility sprawled across the pages and until the very end you were riveted to the pages. That’s why I had to read it twice. I burnt through it in a few days and had to go through it again just to catch the details I sped through. That’s when you know you have a good book in your hands.
Having read every Shannara that has come out and anticipating the newest one arriving in June, I can safely consider myself a fan. I am once again rereading the older books in the series for the seventh or eleventh time. As I do I will post my opinions of the books along with my memories of my first encounter with them. I enjoyed reading The Sword of Shannara again for the umpteenth time and can say that it is one of my all time favorite books to read. If you are looking for a good book to read, you will not be disappointed in this one. I was ecstatic over it the first time and nothing has caused me to change my mind since. Make sure you get the version with the Hildebrandt Brothers’ illustrations in it. I think those were very important. Now stop reading this and go read the book! Tell Allanon I said hello.
I enjoyed it as a youngster, and enjoyed quickly browsing through it again before sending it along. My cousin said she really liked it.
This edition had the single page b/w paintings by The Brothers Hildebrandt, but lacked the full color fold-out print of the entire "fellowship" that my long-lost version had. The painting can be easily found via online search. Their art added a great deal to the story for me long ago; the style is so distinctive that as you read the book you see their visualization of each character. It is unfortunate that this integral print was not included in later editions.
I read several of the sequels; and while I enjoyed The Elfstones of Shannara, I liked the books following that one less and less.
If you have read LOTR, there is no real reason to read this book. For a younger reader intimidated by Tolkien's prose (or anyone who just doesn't enjoy his style - they exist), however, this book is a good alternative in the fantasy genre.
14 year old me enjoyed it immensely; and current me still feels confident recommending it.