(1944- ) Working name of US lawyer and writer Terence Dean Brooks, whose first novel, The Sword of Shannara (1977), was deliberately modelled on parts of The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), and who has always acknowledged his indebtedness to the work of J R R Tolkien. With the publication of The Sword of Shannara, TB became the first modern fantasy author to appear on the New York Times bestseller list, a triumph anticipated by his editor at Ballantine Books, Lester Del Rey (see SFE link below), who had been searching for a marketable successor to Tolkien. He welcomed TB's easy, open style and adventure-oriented narrative, and used the book to launch the Ballantine Del Rey imprint. Along with Tolkien, TB's main influences are writers like Alexandre Dumas, which may account for the ease with which he translated the complex Christian Fantasy of LOTR, and the Secondary World in which it takes place, into a series of morally transparent Genre Fantasy adventures set in an apparent Fantasyland.
The Sword of Shannara is the first volume in the Shannara sequence, which continues with The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) and The Wishsong of Shannara (1985). The Heritage of Shannara – The Scions of Shannara (1990), The Druid of Shannara (1991), The Elf Queen of Shannara (1992) and The Talismans of Shannara (1993) – is set 300 years after the Shannara books; and The First King of Shannara (1996) is a prequel to the other seven novels. The initial tale is simple, but told with happy clarity. A young Hobbit-like Ugly Duckling is told by a Gandalf-like Wizard that he is a Hidden Monarch, last of the Shannara line; and must now undertake an arduous Quest, with suitable Companions, for the eponymous Sword. This Magic sword had been crafted centuries earlier by an associate of the current Dark Lord, a Revenant who threatens to effect a terminal Thinning of the world – which is, in fact, post-Apocalypse Earth, a venue whose potential for change substantially undercuts the fantasyland surface of the tales. The second and third instalments of Shannara present similar quests, though starring different members of the central Ohmsford clan; at points, the dependence upon a familiar cast and standardized Motifs becomes mechanical. The Heritage of Shannara, which comprises one sustained tale, carries later Ohmsfords through a quest to restore Magic to the now-thinned world.
TB's second sequence – the Kingdom of Landover series comprising Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! (1986), The Black Unicorn (1987), Wizard at Large (1988), The Tangle Box (1994), a title which refers to a form of magical Bondage, and Witches' Brew: A Magic Kingdom of Landover Novel (1995) – has been less popular than the best-selling Shannara books; but although TB is clearly an uneasy humorist, the underlying premise of the sequence has some interest. A man of this world – a deeply depressed, stale lawyer – responds to an ad offering for sale the throne of Landover, laying down a million dollars for the privilege of running a magic kingdom. Not unexpectedly, Read the Small Print complications ensue, more or less endlessly, and there is an ongoing rumination on the costs of wish fulfilment. The series continues, and may darken.
Terence Dean Brooks
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Lester del Rey.