Welcome, readers of Shady Vale! Knights of Tyrsis! Home Guard of Arborlon! Welcome, one-and-all, to the reread of Terry Brooks’ classic epic fantasy novel, The Elfstones of Shannara. For the next several weeks, leading up to MTV’s debut of The Shannara Chronicles in January, 2016, we’ll join Amberle, Wil, Allanon, Eretria, and the elves of the Westland in their quest for the Bloodfire, and their war against the Dagda Mor and his demons of the Forbidding.
About The Elfstones of Shannara
Immediately following the release of his immensely successful debut, The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks began working on a sequel called The Song of Lorelei. It starred the son of Menion Leah (one of the main characters in Sword), and a siren named, aptly, Lorelei. Eventually, plagued by irresolvable plotting issues, at the insistence of his editor, the legendary Lester del Rey, Brooks abandoned the novel and began work on what was to become his most lauded novel, The Elfstones of Shannara.
(Fun fact: Lorelei was later re-purposed and appeared in The Heritage of Shannara series as Quickening.)
Where Sword took many of its cues from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (literally lifting the structure for its first half from Tolkien’s trilogy, along with characters obviously inspired by Sauron, Gandalf, the Nazgûl, Frodo/Sam, Wormtongue, etc.), Elfstones is entirely its own beast.
Set two generations after Shea and Flick Ohmsford’s adventures in Sword, Elfstones introduces readers to a new generation of characters, and brings back a few fan favourites along the way. Young Amberle Elessedil, scion to the royal elvish family of Arborlon, lives in self-imposed exile—eschewing her responsibility as one of The Chosen, caretakers of the magical Ellcrys, a sapient tree with the power to maintain the Forbidding, a demonic realm bent on the destruction of the Four Lands. Wil Ohmsford, grandson of Shea, leads a quiet life as a healer among the gnomes of Storlock, mostly ignoring the outside world until the Druid Alannon appears on his doorstep. As Druids are wont to do, he turns Wil’s life upside down, setting the young valeman, alongside Amberle, on a perilous adventure deep into the heart of the elven homeland in search of the Bloodfire.
For the Ellcrys is dying, and only Amberle, with Wil’s help, can save it.
Elfstones? Why not Sword?
Let’s be honest here, The Elfstones of Shannara is a much, much better novel than its predecessor. Where The Sword of Shannara was (intentionally) derivative, Elfstones is rich and unique—an epic fantasy that can stand against the best the genre has to offer.
Also, as you may have heard, Elfstones is being adapted for television by MTV. It’s debuting in January, 2016, and it looks awesome. Seriously, check out the trailer for The Shannara Chronicles, and tell me you’re not excited. As we read through the novel, I’ll be sure to discuss some of the aspects that I’m most excited to see translated to television, and some of the areas where I think improvement can be found as they modernize the show and mold it for a post-Game of Thrones world.
So, it’s not that Sword would be uninteresting to read—the opposite, in fact! With all its connections to Tolkien and its fascinating ties to modern epic fantasy, it’s an endlessly interesting novel to dissect—it’s just that Elfstones is (a) more topical, (b) a stronger book, and (c) a better place for new readers, especially those bred on modern fantasy, to begin reading the Shannara series.
Who Am I?
More importantly, I have been a fan of Terry Brooks for almost as long as I’ve read fantasy (I started with Tolkien when I was ten, then moved onto Brooks, thanks to a recommendation from my mom), served for several years as a moderator on the Official Terry Brooks Forum, and still regularly review his latest novels. I also attribute Brooks for changing my life as a teenager through an act of kindness at a writing convention (which we’ll talk about later), the generosity of which cemented my desire to become a writer, and to fully embrace science fiction and fantasy fandom.
In March 2015, I wrote “How Terry Brooks Saved Epic Fantasy.” It’s an essay about Brooks’ impact on epic fantasy, and how, through his adventurous debut novel, The Sword of Shannara, and the genius of Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey, he helped to pull epic fantasy from the post-Tolkien doldrums and become one of the most exciting genres in the ’80s.
Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is a collection of five science fiction and fantasy stories spanning adventure, comic whimsy, and powerful drama—from a star-faring military science fiction tale of love and sacrifice, to a romp through the dragon-infested Kingdom of Copperkettle Vale. Brooks had an enormous impact on me as a young writer, particularly in my desire to explore the interpersonal relationships of people who are thrust into life-or-death fantasy adventures, and his mark is all over the stories in my collection.
If you can’t tell, I love the guy.
The Elfstones of Shannara is an old book, read by millions of people, but there’s also an entirely new audience brewing thanks to MTV’s adaptation. So, I’m going to try to be somewhat judicious in the way I talk about spoilers in my commentary. If I think revealing a spoiler helps me better analyze something that happens earlier in the book, poor Allanon will let you know:
Otherwise, I’ll keep spoilers specific to what’s being discussed per the reread’s schedule. If you want to stay entirely spoiler-free, beware the comments section on each post. All you readers are free to discuss spoilers to your heart’s content—for Elfstones or the entire Shannara series. There are so many interlinking bits and bobs that rereading Brooks’ books is almost more fun than reading them for the first time, so don’t hold back!
Rereading Shannara will run every Wednesday from September 2, 2015 to January 6, 2016.
- Sep. 2, 2015: Chapters 1-3
- Sep. 9, 2015: Chapters 4-6
- Sep. 16, 2015: Chapters 7-9
- Sep. 23, 2015: Chapters 10 & 11
- Sep. 30, 2015: Chapters 12-14
- Oct. 7, 2015: Chapters 15-18
- Oct. 14, 2015: Chapters 19-22
- Oct. 21, 2015: Chapters 23-26
- Oct. 28, 2015: Chapters 27-29
- Nov. 4, 2015: Chapters 30-32
- Nov. 11, 2015: Chapters 33 & 34
- Nov. 18, 2015: Chapters 35-37
- Nov. 25, 2015: Chapters 38-41
- Dec. 2, 2015: Chapters 42-44
- Dec. 9, 2015: Chapters 45-47
- Dec. 16, 2015: Chapters 48 & 49
- Dec. 23, 2015: Holiday Break
- Dec. 30, 2015: Holiday Break
- Jan. 6, 2015: Chapters 50-52
- Jan. 13, 2016: Chapter 53 & 54
So, to wrap-up here, join me in the comment section below and tell me a bit about yourself, rereader. Who are you? What do you love about The Elfstones of Shannara? What are you expecting from The Shannara Chronicles? And, finally, what do you hope to get from this reread?
Aidan Moher is the Hugo Award-winning editor of A Dribble of Ink, a blog about science fiction and fantasy, and author of Tide of Shadows and Other Stories. He lives on an island in British Columbia with his wife and daughter.