May 10, 2020

The Sword of Shannara

It was 1977. The Holmes Basic Set for D&D came out that year as well as the Monster Manual. The AD&D rules were still being worked on and would not come out until 1978 and 1979. The Sword of Shannara, a novel penned by a young Terry Brooks fresh out of college, released to great popularity, excepting many fantasy roleplayers. They said The Sword of Shannara was just a shallow copy of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and in some ways they were right. But in many other ways they were wrong.

This review covers only the first quarter of the novel and in its broad strokes, you will find it very similar to the Fellowship of the Ring. But although Sword of Shannara is very inspired by Lord of the Rings, it still goes its own way. It dispenses with Tolkien's poetry and gives us more action. You could even say that Sword of Shannara is the D&D version of Lord of the Rings.

Let's state the differences first. There are no hobbits in Shannara. Shannara is a world similar to ours after an apocalypse that made man evolve into gnomes, dwarves, and trolls. Elves were always around in our world but they now they no longer hide themselves. The Warlock Lord allies himself with gnomes and trolls and flying creatures called Skull Bearers. But the biggest difference is that there is no ring. There is a sword and, at the beginning of the story, the Warlock Lord has stolen it.

So while there is a fellowship of men, dwarves, elves, and a magic-user that forms after the two young men escape from Shady Vale, the quest is different. They have to find the sword. Then they have to figure out how to use the sword. And then defeat the Warlock Lord with the sword. Is that much of a difference? Yes. They are not hiding a ring as they travel to the land of Mordor, while the ring plays with everyone's hopes of power. They are on a mission of desperation. A mission that more resonates with D&D adventures than Tolkien.

I'll post more as I continue reading. What are your thoughts about The Sword of Shannara?

2 comments:

  1. I read the first trilogy and then two of the next series in the early 90s as a young boy. I was very fond of the first few books but grew weary of the books and the world quickly as I read into the next series. I don't know if it was my attention span, or if it was my taste changing over a year, or if it was simply the books getting less engrossing and the story being told being less compelling. I don't know. But I do know what I've always felt that the Tolkien influence was obvious but the accusations of direct copycatting were way over the line and unfair - with such a powerful work of fiction being so fundamental to the coalescence of a genre, how could you ever expect to avoid comparisons when you write a novel about a group on a quest to stop a bad guy? I think Brooks wrote a good first trilogy, at any rate, and I was enthralled by them as a boy. Incidentally, I did not comprehend the post-apocalypse in detail at first, for an embarrassing amount of time.

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