This week’s reading:
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Elfstones of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Wishsong of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Scions of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Druid of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Elf Queen of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Talismans of Shannara, Terry Brooks
The Man Who Folded Himself, David Gerrold
This was totally the week of reading vaguely shameful things which turned out to be much better than you’d think.
I’ve read Terry Brooks before, of course. In fact, that’s more or less why I picked the series back up - I was having a craving for some nice, easy, safe, unchallenging reading that I could lose myself in, and that’s more or less what I got. I used to read these books over and over again when I was a teenager, because I never got to the bookstore often enough to satisfy my voracious reading needs. I think this must be my ninth or tenth reading of the first trilogy, and maybe my third or fourth of the quartet which follows it. So you know.
It was, though, the first time I’d read these books in about ten years, and I was really surprised both by how good and how bad they are.
The bad’s unsurprising. Brooks’ characters spend an awful lot of time gaping at things of “wondrous beauty” and trying to destroy the evil creatures, who are always somehow both shadowy and anti-environmental. He’s a big teller-not-shower when it comes to character development, and he loves to have his characters spout exposition at each other for at least a couple of chapters in each book. His names are often embarassingly bad. (The “Mist Marsh” is a marsh! With mist in it!) Magic seems to exist at his convenience, without any sense of coherence or consistency. And he uses the phrase “wondrous beauty.” A lot. Without a hint of irony.
The good, though, is surprisingly good. His Four Lands are (or, more accurately, were when they were written) an original take on the fantasy tropes, with lovely details like Dwarves who remember the generations their people spent trapped underground and are now basically all claustrophobes who love the wilderness. I’d forgotten how willing he is to get his characters into all sorts of trouble, and how deft he is with action scenes. Some of those scenes have haunted me for years! Amberle and Wil in the Pykon. Menion Leah’s entire sequence from entering Kern to leaving Tyrsis after the battle. Jair’s rescue by Garet Jax. Totally classic scenes, all of them, and those are just a few samples.
Then I read a book about using time travel to have sex with yourself, which totally blew my mind. Go David Gerrold. It’s hard to make me go, “Buh?” The book reminded me of the movie Primer, actually, which also made me go “Buh?” but without any sex to speak of. (Watch it, folks. It’s worth the rental price for the scene where you find out the guy’s wearing an earpiece, all by itself. Though you’ll probably have to watch it twice to figure out what happened. I did.)
And on that note, folks, Shabbat Shalom. :)