The focus of my last two series have largely centered around science fiction. I’m drawn to the genre for many reason, many because of the relevance to society today and themes that we are currently living. It also shows where our world could go given the exponential increase in technological power. It is a broad genre that allows for a number of different stories and memorable characters. But for this series, I am switching gears and focusing on a different genre — fantasy.
Fantasy was my first love, and could possibly be “the one who got away.” My childhood was spent buried in pages of whatever fantasy books I could get my hands on. But as I grew older and fell victim (as did many others) to the perils of forced reading in schools, I read the genre less and less. In all unfortunate honesty, up until now the last fantasy book I read was two years ago.
However, that has not stopped me from exploring the world that the genre offers, and I have added many volumes and tomes to my collection aboard the airship over the years. This series will be a walk through my youth, and an attempt to relive the joy that the genre brought me. Feel free to join me as I indulge myself in Fantastic Worlds (isn’t that what I do with all these things anyways?).
Today we will be visiting the first fantasy book I ever read as a child. So let me set the scene:
My mother once had an office located in a school’s library. During that summer I would go with her to her office. I had the library all to myself. Every summer the librarian would clear out old books to make room for new ones. The old ones were placed in a “free to a good home” box. It was filled with various books that had been in the library since the 70s and 80s. Books that hadn’t been checked out since 1983 (I checked the cards). Fascinating tomes, really.
And that is where I found it — The Wishsong of Shannara by Terry Brooks. At 11 years old, this small trade-paperback with its ominous cover art intrigued me so much that I swiped it from the box and began reading it immediately.
Now, the young me did not at first know that this was part of a larger series and the last in a trilogy, and I probably didn’t care. It was written well enough that I didn’t need to know what had happened in previous books to become engrossed in the story.
You may or may not have heard of the Shannara series of books, or you may only know it by the television show The Shannara Chronicles that recently appeared on MTV. The series itself (book and television) have received mixed reviews.
If I were being honest, there are things early on in the series that seem a bit derivative of fantasy masterpieces like Lord of the Rings; but the books, stories, and characters really do grow into their own to create a truly unique world and memorable stories. And I definitely did not envision the characters and world of Shannara to look exactly like how it is depicted in the TV show. But, I’m also not really one to put much stake in critics’ opinions anyways. I’m easy to please when it comes to entertainment.
Being the first fantasy books I read, the Shannara series is very dear to my heart. If you are looking for a unique fantasy setting and memorable characters then I highly recommend this series. You might love it, you might hate it, but I believe it is worth checking out.
Full disclosure, I have not read every book in this series as it is almost 30 volumes and I am only one man with a little bit of spare time on his hands. Some books are arguably better than others, but I have spent a lot of time looking into the world that Brooks has created and where those stories take their characters. I’m a fan.
If you want the classic experience, begin at the original trilogy with the Sword of Shannara and work your way through from there. You could also begin with the First King of Shannara, a prequel to the original trilogy written a couple of decades later. If you want the full experience however, and begin literally at the very beginning of the Shannara universe, you will need to start off with Running With the Demon.
Disclaimer: the world that is in the Word & Void and the Genesis of Shannara series is VERY different from what you will encounter in later books. Long story short, these trilogies describe the time before the creation of Shannara and the nuclear war which “destroys” the modern world.
If you begin with these, it truly works to create a unique universe that leaves you invested and knowledgeable in its creation. Think of these two prequel series as a type of Silmarillion, except it reads like fantasy novels instead of a history book. But, it is definitely not for everyone, and you get the same amount of satisfaction starting with the original series.
Next week we will explore other fantasy stories of my youth and young adulthood. As always, if you have any recommendations for stories that I have not mentioned, let me know!
Until next time …
- The Book Keeper