Stories for Boys: Terry Brooks and ‘The Sword of Shannara’

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Image credit: The Brothers Hildebrandt

I was a high school freshman when I first read Terry Brooks’ fantasy adventure, The Sword of Shannara, the first volume of an epic trilogy, which is widely regarded today as a classic in its genre. Brooks’s substantial tome was featured in the April 1977 inaugural issue of Heavy Metal Magazine, complete with an excerpt and a sampling of The Brothers Hildebrandt’s illustrations. The art work alone was enough to compel me to the nearest bookstore, the B Dalton Books at the Claremont Plaza, where I picked up a paperback copy for $2.50. During the halcyon days of the late 1970s the sum I paid for my book was a not insignificant portion of the few dollars I earned each week mowing lawns and other assorted chores on my street in Pomona, CA.

So many years later—I’m a longtime college professor now—as I reread the heroic tale of Flick and Shea Ohmsford and their quest for the mythic Sword of Shannara, I could remember vividly the many nights I ensconced myself in my room as I absorbed every word of this narrative, which read like historical fiction, but which was about a time and place that only exists in the annals of the imagination. Guided by a mysterious Druid, Allanon, who seems as menacing as he does wise, Elven brothers set out to find the sword before the Skull Bearer does, as the latter is intent on conquering the known world with a massive army driven by the forces of evil. Thus, Elves, Dwarves and Druids, led by Allanon and the Ohmsford brothers, are pitted against Gnomes and Trolls who are led by the Skull Bearer, a Druid who has taken to the dark side.

As a teenage boy, The Sword of Shannara provided me a means of escape from what I regarded as a dreary existence bereft of any adventure. Equally important was the fact that I was discovering a world of fantasy art and literature that few, if any, of my friends knew about, which made me feel special. Terry Brooks—and The Brothers Hildebrandt—made me want to become a spinner of incredible tales, replete with people, places, and previously unimagined creatures! Alas, as I grew and matured, I slowly discovered I had a different calling, which was facilitated by the realization that I didn’t have much talent for art and fiction. Be that as it may, my life as a scholar and teacher—quite fulfilling in their own way—has given me the eyes of experience through which I read again Brooks’s boyish adventure today. I say “boyish” for the simple reason that Flick and Shea are very young and impetuous, willing to follow a man, Allanon, whom they don’t know, into far away places where they might be killed. One not only has to be a boy to do something that foolish but also be a boy in order to find such a story entertaining. There’s only one female character in the entire book, by the way, who doesn’t appear until some three or four hundred pages. At the very least, then, one has to remember what it’s like to be a boy, ignorant about girls and impatient for excitement and to a world unseen before. At the end of the last chapter, despite all of my supposed worldliness, after all was said and one, I smiled and nodded my head with the gratification of rediscovered youth.

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