Tolkien’s estate in the guise of his grandson Christopher Tolkien
sued New Line Cinema, claiming that the studio still owed him some
royalties from the Lord of the Rings movies. We however believe that if Tolkien’s estate
should be suing anyone, it ought to be Terry Brooks . . .
Described as “the master of modern fantasy” by the
blurbs on his books, Terry Brooks’ Shannara series are currently
being turned into movies by Hollywood. Now that the
Harry Potter film franchise is fast
winding down, Warner Bros. is desperately looking around for another
reliable cash cow. Warner believes that Terry Brooks’ Shannara series of
fantasy novels just might be that cow. Only problem is that it is a bit of a
dog actually . . .
Described as the “second best selling fantasy series
after Harry Potter” by one press release, the Shannara books
seem a dead-given for a movie adaptation. After all, upon its publication
in 1977, the first book in the series became the first modern fantasy
novel to appear on the New York Times bestseller list, where it remained
for more than five months! Since then sci-fi & fantasy bookshelves across
the planet have been groaning heavily under Brooks’ various tomes (22 at
last count!) in the series, nudging out more legitimate science fiction
efforts of greater imagination out in the process.
Warner already has the second book in the series (Elfstones
of Shannara) in production and the first book (Sword
of Shannara) in pre-production as a sequel. Why release them this way around? Well, apparently the events chronicled in Elfstones
serve as a back-story to Sword and according to Brooks himself it is actually
more logical to film the one before the other. However, not wanting to be
weird, we decided to check out the books in their order of publication
instead. Thus we kicked off with Sword of Shannara . . . which is
far as we got. To be honest, after the tortuous ordeal that was Sword
of Shannara we won’t be checking out Elfstones any time soon.
Brooks started writing Sword of Shannara as far
back as 1967 after reading
Lord of the Rings. Apparently he wrote it as a way to fight what he
called an “increasingly rapid descent into terminal boredom” brought on by
his entrance into law school. Yup, nothing helps fight boredom like
spreading it around a bit. After all, Sword of Shannara is nothing
but a dull rewrite of Tolkien’s Lord of the
Don’t believe us?
Sword of Shannara kicks off
with a hobbit, oh sorry, a half-human half-elfin named Shea Ohmsford being
told by a wizard, oh sorry, a druid, named Gandalf – oh sorry – we meant
Allanon, that he is in fact the last surviving descendant of the Shannaras.
It doesn’t turn out to be a Nigerian e-mail scam though. Shea isn’t set to
inherit anything if he can come up with some cash to free those funds in
the Swiss bank account. It just means that he is the only one who can
wield the mythical sword of Shannara, the only weapon that can destroy the
The Warlock Lord is, you guessed it, a bad ass mother who
leads vast armies of Orcs. Oh sorry, we meant trolls and gnomes. Soon a
fellowship, oh sorry again, a company of people is formed. Their mission?
To boldly wander around aimlessly across the same pseudo-Medieval
landscape as the one described in Tolkien’s novels for most of the book’s
600-plus pages before killing the Warlock Lord with the mythical sword of
Shannara. The End.
"The Sword of Shannara is about as soulless and empty as
Remember Kevin Smith’s spoof in Clerks 2 of
Lord of the Rings being nothing but a bunch
of people walking around before throwing a ring down a pit?
Well, Sword of Shannara follows the same pointless “quest”
structure so beloved of the epic fantasy genre.
If there is anyone out
there who is more obsessed with landscapes and the weather than the
Victorian novelists, it’d be “modern fantasy” writers such as Brooks. Much
of the novel is nothing except . . . yup, an extended travelogue. Along
the way we have several of the situations and characters found in
Lord of the Rings being shuffled
around in an unimaginative way. Epic battles? Natch. Rulers of faraway
kingdoms under a spell? Natch. Elves, gnomes, dwarfs and druids? Natch.
you’re thirteen years old then you’d no doubt be impressed by Sword of
Shannara, but once you hit fourteen you’d be wondering what the hell
you were thinking . . .
Sword of Shannara is as soulless and empty
as Hollywood itself – and it thus comes as no surprise that they would
want to make it into a movie. It is so shallow in its characterization and
plotting that it makes Paris Hilton look like Susan Sontag. “Dreary”,
“unimaginative” and “derivative” are the adverbs that spring to mind when
describing the book. As it goes through its predictable
motions, it soon becomes a drag to read. It’s like watching
Eragon again, except it takes much longer
this time round.
But don’t take our word for it. Influential fantasy
editor Lin Carter criticized The Sword of Shannara as being “the
single most cold-blooded, complete rip-off of another book that I have
ever read”. Carter wrote that “Terry Brooks wasn't trying to imitate
Tolkien's prose, just steal his storyline and complete cast of
characters, and [Brooks] did it with such clumsiness and so
heavy-handedly, that he virtually rubbed your nose in it.”
In a 1980 book
on American fantasy, the critic Brian Attebery also accused The Sword
of Shannara of being “undigested Tolkien”, finding it “especially
blatant in its point-for-point correspondence” to The Lord of the Rings.
Author Orson Scott Card named The Sword of Shannara as a cautionary
example of overly-derivative writing. He called it “artistically
displeasing”, but we can think of much more colorful language to describe
it but won’t as we run a family Web site here.
Also check out this relevant paragraph from Wikipedia:
Assessing The Sword of Shannara decades after its
publication, the Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey found it distinctive for “the
dogged way in which it follows Tolkien point for point”. Within Brooks'
novel, Shippey located “analogues” for Tolkien characters such as Sauron (Brona),
Gandalf (Allanon), the Hobbits (Shea and Flick), Aragorn (Menion), Boromir
(Balinor), Gimli (Hendel), Legolas (Durin and Dayel), Gollum (Orl Fane),
the Barrow-wight (Mist Wraith) and the Nazgûl (Skull Bearers), among
others. He also found plot similarities to events in The Lord of the
Rings such as the Fellowship of the Ring's formation and adventures,
the journeys to Rivendell (Culhaven) and Lothlórien (Storlock), Gandalf's
fall in Moria and subsequent reappearance, and the Rohirrim's arrival at
the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, among others.
of the article - or is it someone else? probably a Brooks fan
this time round taking into consideration the collaborative nature of Wikipedia
- points out that “the plot of Brooks' subsequent novels bear
little resemblance to Tolkien's works (apart from elements shared by many
novels in the genre).” Yeah right.
After the dull, tortuous ordeal that was Sword of
Shannara we weren’t exactly ready to take a chance on Elfstones
of Shannara. Besides, Sword of Shannara is a reminder of what
we despise most about the Fantasy genre. After having spent several hours
in Brooks’ universe with Sword one simply cannot imagine him
setting another twenty-plus novels against such an anaemic and derivative
fictional universe; not in the same way one can, let’s say, imagine Iain
M. Banks setting a couple more novels in his Culture universe after having
read Use of Weapons.
Besides, the only “clever” thing in it is that the
Shannara books are supposedly set in the far distant future, instead
of a mythical past; one in which humanity has reverted back to Medievalism
after several devastating wars. But Brooks never does anything with the
concept. Never does any of the book’s heroes come across, let’s say, the
ancient ruins of New York – or maybe a shopping list with Pastrami as one
of the items to be bought. No, because then it would be a science fiction
novel and instead Brooks sticks doggedly to the tired Tolkien epic fantasy
So we won’t be bothering with Elfstones. Life is too
short to be wasted on watered-down Tolkien. Besides there are lots of
great hard SF novels out there still to be read. (Next up for us is Robert
Charles Wilson’s Hugo-winning novel Spin, which is also being
turned into a movie.)
Anyway, Elfstones of Shannara is to be directed
by Mike Newell who already showed his adeptness with the genre with his
version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of
Fire (or The 12 Tasks of Harry Potter as one jaded colleague has
dubbed it). No cast has been announced as yet, but we would suggest the
Shea . . . Elijah Wood
Flick . . . Sean Astin
Allanon . . . Ian McKellen
Menion . . . Viggo Mortenson
Orl Fane . . . Andy Serkis
Hendel . . . John Rhys-Davies