Terry Brooks (2007)


One of the large ‘Death Ray Interview‘ pieces we ran in, naturally, Death Ray, this one from Death Ray 4 (sorry, I was having a bet with myself as to how many times I could write Death Ray in one sentence). As is often the case with the interviews one has to conduct in a professional journalistic environment, I had to become something of a Brooks expert  over the course of a day before we communicated. I’d read Sometimes the Magic Works and a couple of the Knight and The Word books (which I enjoyed), but the original Shannara, never. They were loaned to me by my mother’s friend about twenty-three years ago, but at that time I was just coming out of my ‘epic fantasy’ stage, and never got past the first few pages. Specifically, if we’re being honest, because of its similarity to Tolkien, something which Brooks himself discusses in the interview below. (Er, if you’re reading this Anne, I think I might still have them…)

In my experience some US fantasy writers  (it’s rarely the SF guys) get higher on their own success than  their British counterparts (although there are bigheads here too). If I was pushed I’d say the more epic the tale the more epic the ego, but Brooks is modest and disarming with a gentle sense of humour and an open and involving manner. I went out for dinner with him not long after this piece was originally published, which was a very pleasant experience. He’s a generous and genuine human being, which I hope this piece conveys.

The Death Ray Interview: Terry Brooks

Fact File

Born: January 1944

Where is he to be found? Near Seattle, Washington, when not embarking on one of his extensive tours.

What does he write? Brooks has written 27 books, nearly all of which relate to his two fantasy series – the Shannara and Landover sequences. Shannara is set in a post-apocalyptic world where Earth has been transformed into a magical, fantasy planet. There are 18 Shannara books currently, with a nineteenth due out in September.

His Landover series is a humorous fantasy that details the misadventures of a miserable Chicago lawyer who buys a magical kingdom only to be confronted by innumerable problems after taking ownership.

He has also penned a couple of movie spin-offs – for Hook and The Phantom Menace – and a book on writing titled Sometimes the Magic Works.

Who was he influenced by? Brooks’ main influence is undoubtedly Tolkien, as is readily apparent from his first book, The Sword of Shannara (see main interview for his comments on this). However, he originally took up writing because of his love of 19th century adventure stories, and he names Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander Dumas, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as of being great importance in forming his ideas of what an adventure story should be.

An ex-lawyer, Terry Brooks is one of the world’s most successful fantasists. His Sword of Shannara ushered in a new era of fantastical writings, and he can be credited with popularising the multi-part fantasy epic. His work is not what it appears at face value, beneath its elves, dwarves and trolls lie the cracked ruins of very our own Earth. Here Brooks speaks to Death Ray about weaving new worlds of words.

The year of 1977 was a magical one for SF and fantasy, and Star Wars was only one of the children of those intense 12 months. Another was The Sword of Shannara, a book that was as influential on fantasy publishing as Star Wars was on cinema.

Penned by a frustrated lawyer over seven years, the story of the publication of The Sword of Shannara is almost the exact opposite of the usual writer’s travail. Shannara was rejected only once, by DAW Books, who recommended Brooks try Ballantine. There the book was picked up by famed editor and author Lester Del Rey, who had been searching for a marketable successor to Tolkien to launch his Del Rey imprint. It was a massive success.

Brooks had been writing for many years before embarking on the writing of The Sword of Shannara, but it was his reading of J.R.R. Tolkien that led him to choose fantasy as the medium his adventure stories would inhabit. He is totally unabashed in admitting the huge debt this first work owes to Tolkien, and he has, as he puts it himself “been raked over the coals” many times for its similarities. But as time has gone on the world of Shannara has increasingly become a distinct creation, drawing in elements of technology, and eventually being revealed as our own world after a magical apocalypse.

Though Tolkien created the modern fantasy genre, setting much of the tone, subject matter and even presentation of material (in the shape of the trilogy), Terry Brooks opened the floodgates. He remains among the most popular of all authors of fantasy, with over 20 million copies of his books in print. Here’s what he had to say for himself.

You spent a long time in your birthplace of Sterling, Illinois – 42 years. But you now travel about a lot. How has this affected your work?

I think it has broadened considerably. I had really run out my string by the time I left my hometown and moved to Seattle. I was ready for a change.  Also, for the first time in my life I began to travel regularly to other countries. Travel helps free the imagination. It helps generate fresh ideas and frequently, in my case, provides ideas for new settings that become the foundations for new stories.

You talk in some of your blogs on your website about your magical childhood. It sometimes seems from reading your interviews and works that you feel touched by magic yourself. Do you believe in magic as a metaphor or as an actuality?

Well, there are all sorts of magic. Love is magic. A small child is magic. Do I believe in the kind where fire erupts from a staff and destroys an enemy? Only as a metaphor. But I think all good fantasy, aside from being good storytelling, is metaphorical. It provides insights into ourselves and our world. It holds up a mirror to who we are and how we live.

What would the alternate world version of Terry Brooks, the one with the law practise, be like?

That’s very long ago and far away. I’m not like that anymore, as Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven. I barely remember anything of what I knew back then. What I can tell you is that much of that alternate world was spent balancing the practice of law with the efforts of a young writer.

Do you feel lucky, or blessed?

Both. All writers should feel that way. It is a gift to be able to do what we do. I love it to death.

Does being the first paperback fiction author to get onto the New York Times bestseller list carry any special benefits or responsibilities?

It gets mentioned in every article on and with every introduction of me. I don’t think much about it anymore. At the time, it was a big deal to everyone because no one at that point in the industry was doing much with fiction in trade paperback. Now it’s a staple.

Which of your characters is most like you?

All of them, to some degree. Writers draw on their own thinking and beliefs in creating their worlds and their character, no matter what they might try to tell you. Ben Holiday, in the Magic Kingdom books, is most like me – a dissatisfied lawyer seeking a new life. Except that I don’t box. Actually, the entire Magic Kingdom series is very autobiographical. Metaphorically (there’s that word again) the stories are based on things that were happening to me when I wrote them.  For instance, Magic Kingdom is really about my transition from being a lawyer to being a writer, with an eye towards the old saying “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  Which, we know, it isn’t.

The Four Lands from Shannara a futuristic post-apocalyptic world rather than a Tolkien-esque land from the distant past. How does this impact on the story, and on the world? Does this make it science fiction as far as you’re concerned, rather than fantasy?

I never think of myself as writing science fiction. But I use elements of all forms of category fiction in framing my stories. Fantasy does that better than any other form of fiction because its writers often paint on such a broad canvas.  But magic is at the heart of all of my stories, not science, so in my mind that makes what I do fantasy. Listen closely, you can hear a sigh of relief from members of the science fiction community, who don’t need any additional pretenders to the craft.

Is it stretching credulity to think that the far future will be filled with elves, etc? What was your thinking when you first came up with a futuristic world that has all or many of the qualities of traditional High Fantasy, and how do you get these two seemingly discordant genres to work together so well?

How much time and space do I have here? Stretching credulity is what I do, what all of us writing fantasy do. The trick is not to stretch it too far and to remember that the reader has to feel, given the parameters you have created, that what you are writing about is possible. Most of the creatures and all of the races save the Elves have evolved from what exists in this world. Are mutations possible? I would say we all believe they are. Are there Elves out there? Every week I read about something phenomenal that has been discovered right under our noses. So, why not Elves?

The original Shannara trilogy featured different generations of the same family in each novel. Does this make it a very different thing from, say, The Lord of the Rings or the Thomas Covenant series, where the trilogy was really one big story broken down into three parts. Was there a danger that you could lose focus this way?

I made a decision early on that I was in the writing game for the long run. For that to happen, I had to write books that readers would want to pick up years down the road. For that to happen, I had to stay interested in what I was doing. I knew that writing about the same characters for more than one book was not the way I wanted to go. I decided early on I would be writing historical sagas, if I lasted long enough to do so. So until very recently, my books shifted from main character to main character with each new book. That way, I wasn’t as apt to grow bored. That’s just me. I’m not J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen Donaldson. I have to do what works for me.

For the next series of books, Heritage of Shannara, it was all one long story broken down into chunks. Why the change?

Heritage was four books with a single story, but each of the first three books followed a different member of the same family and the fourth book brought them all together. At that point, I had a rather large story to tell about the consequences of environmental destruction, and I was ready to stretch a bit.

Other books, like the First King or Voyage of Jerle Shannara, are set in yet other time periods of the Four Lands. You’re exploring the world, its future and its history – how did it change and mutate as you explored it? Did these stories have to be Shannara related, or could they have easily been stand-alone books? And why choose to feature the same family again?

How many questions is that? I’m not as young as I was, you know! Okay, last two first. Once the first several Shannara books were out and doing so well, there was a lot of pressure to write more; from my publisher, from the fans and from myself. You know how it is. Anyway, I had a lot to say about the Four Lands, so it wasn’t a tough decision to continue. Epic fantasy sprawls, and the readers are hungry to learn more about the worlds you create. I think you have to take that into account. Sure, I could have written other, stand-alone books.  But it wasn’t the right choice for these stories. I use the same families because I think that’s what makes historical sagas work – readers get attached to the families and want to see what happens to them down the road. Now, was there another question in there?

The Word and The Void trilogy was largely set in modern-day America, and initially seemed to have no connection to the Shannara stories, but later it was revealed to as the ultimate prequel. Was this always the plan, or did you later decide to connect it to Shannara?

This calls for revisionist history. Hard to say. I wrote those books as a stand-alone trilogy that was meant to create a dark, modern-day fantasy story in three parts that was essentially a cyclical work. Right after I finished the last, I knew that the next ones, if I wrote them, would take place in the world of the future after the Knights of the Word had failed to change the direction of things in the present. Then I put it aside. Somewhere after that, when I began to think about the new stories, it occurred to me that there were remarkable similarities between that world and the world of the Great Wars that formed the pre-history of Shannara. Because readers had been asking me for years if the Shannara world was our world – and I had been dodging the question – I started thinking about the possibility. Once I started doing that, the challenge that presented itself was too wonderful to ignore. So I accepted it.

The Genesis of Shannara trilogy is now connecting the Word/Void series with the first Shannara trilogy. Is this the end of this complex web of stories, or will it continue?

It will continue, somewhere from six to nine books, at least. I intend to take it forward to the formation of the First Council of Druids in the time of Galaphile.

Your other major work is the Magic Kingdom of Landover series – your first non-Shannara books, and seemingly a more light-hearted, comic read. How different is it writing these books from Shannara? Do you get a different sort of reader for these?

Light-hearted, huh?  Whatever you say. I will tell you that my editor at that time, Lester del Rey, envisioned a series similar to Piers Anthony’s Xanth world [Xanth is a multi-part fantasy comedy series full of puns and playful nonsense – Guy]. Needless to say, I disappointed him on that front. The readers for the two series have some crossover, but there are those wedded to one or the other, too.  Same with Word and Void. There are enough differences in style and tone and thematic structure to draw different groups of readers. But that’s the point, I think.

Many people comment on your charming, disarming writing style, something that is also in evidence in Sometime the Magic Works. Is this, do you think, one of the main reasons why the books have been successful?

That, and my charming, disarming personality. Kidding. In my house, I am regularly referred to by my family – jokingly, I am sure – as a crab ass. I don’t know what draws readers to my work  I just try to be myself and to write stories that I would like to read. I think that works best.

The first Shannara books seemed very close to Tolkien, but as you’ve moved through the series the world has become more and more individual. How would you describe the way it has developed?

Oh, you noticed! In the beginning, when writing Sword, I was heavily under the Tolkien influence without having the Tolkien background or style. But I loved his storytelling. Sword was my first book. A first book has flaws. I like to think I have gotten better and pretty much developed into my own writer. What is astonishing to me is how deeply readers are attached to Sword after all these years. Many of those readers have either read Tolkien or go on to read him after reading me, and it doesn’t seem to bother them a bit that there are similarities. Maybe it is evidence of why we all like to read the same things over and over in different forms. I often think of mysteries that way. Hard to come up with anything entirely new, but reading a new version of the old is still pretty satisfying.

The Legacy of Shannara

Terry brooks no rival. We look at how one man’s work kindled a publishing revolution, opening the way for a thousand trilogies, and how he remains king of the heap…

Terry Brooks is the proverbial publishing phenomenon, one of the few men alive today of whom it can be said helped usher in a new genre of fiction – Epic Fantasy. And this is not just any old sub-classification of fantasy, but one of the best-selling of all genre fictions, including crime and romance.

Epic Fantasy, like Heroic Fantasy, takes place in a secondary world. Where it differs from Heroic Fantasy (AKA sword and sorcery) like Conan or the Lankhmar stories, is that in Epic Fantasy a quest is undertaken that will have an impact on the future of its world. Its detractors will also point out that it comes in seemingly endless sets of trilogies, that create ‘cycles’. Perhaps its most notable characteristic is its scale, you can’t really do Epic Fantasy as a short story.

Though it is true that Tolkien effectively created this genre, for a long time The Lord of the Rings stood alone, an exemplar of a genre that didn’t really exist. Terry Brooks changed all that. Back in the late seventies Lester Del Rey, famed author and Brooks’ original editor, was looking for someone to take up Tolkien’s baton to launch his new book imprint at Ballantine, and Terry Brooks looked right to hold it. If The Lord of the Rings primed the keg with gunpowder, The Sword of Shannara exploded it. Brooks’ book was the first work of fiction – not just fantasy, but fiction of any kind – to get into the New York Times bestseller list, and eventually topped it. After Shannara epic fantasy grew rapidly, and not only in book form, Shannara fuelled the creation and success of games and films in a way that the earlier sword and sorcery, heroic fantasy genre could never match. There was a boom in fantasy during the late 1970s that lasted until the beginning of the 1990s. Shannara is mostly responsible for that.

But just how exactly did an ex-lawyer become an overnight best-seller? Especially with a book that was criticised for being a little on the clunky side and a bit too close to its inspiration, The Lord of the Rings?

One man who has direct experience of just how overwhelmingly popular Brooks became is John Jarrold. Jarrold has been a major force behind the scenes of science fiction and fantasy in the UK for nearly 20 years, having been senior editor on Orbit, Legend and Earthlight. He first published Brooks in 1988 at Orbit, and subsequently did so on all the imprints he worked for.

“I saw his impact, over a long period,” Jarrold told Death Ray. “When I joined Orbit in 1988, Terry was published as a paperback author,” he explains.  “His first publication in the UK was a library hardback sale of around 1500 copies, simultaneous with a large format paperback, then a mass-market paperback a year later. I felt that we could sell a great many hardbacks, so with The Scions of Shannara in 1990 we moved to a full-sized hardback. My sales director was cautious, so we only printed 4,000 copies at first. Then another 1,000…then another 1,000, then… We ended up selling over 10,000 hardbacks. By the end of that four-book series – The Talismans of Shannara, which I published in 1993 – we were selling over 20,000 hardbacks, and Terry hit the Top 5 of The Sunday Times bestseller list.”

This, by the way, is orders of magnitude better than what most fantasy books achieve. A fantasy release from a new author will be lucky to sell 20,000 copies in paperback.

“There is no doubt that the commercial success of The Sword of Shannara over thirty years ago began the huge market for post-Tolkien fantasy. I think Epic Fantasy is so popular as it’s our form of myth and legend,” explains Jarrold. “Tolkien hit a deep wish in the reading public and the resonances in The Lord of the Rings retain their power and inform the entire genre, so a good, well-written story that has an epic scope and a sense of right will always be popular. Brooks filled that wish. With David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson following on quickly, the Epic Fantasy genre was solidly in place, and it’s been the most important area of SF and Fantasy publishing worldwide ever since, until the coming of Harry Potter.”

But though Brooks could be seen as being in they right place at the right time, there’s more to it than that, as his enduring appeal attests.

“Yes, Terry was first on the block with post-Tolkienesque epic fantasy, and that counts for a lot. And there is no doubt that he’s a better writer now than he was in 1977, but many of his fans have written to me over the years I published him, saying he remains their favourite, and popularity can’t be argued with.”

Whether it’s his affable style, his prodigious capacity to feed his fans with new books, or the simple fact that he can spin a fine yarn is unimportant, the fact is that Terry Brooks remains one of the most successful fantasy writers ever, and probably will remain so for some time to come.

John Jarrold was a senior SF and Fantasy editor for 15 years, working with Iain Banks, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, David Gemmell, Robert Jordan, Maggie Furey, Ken MacLeod, Greg Bear, Robert Holdstock, Jon Courtenay Grimwood and many others. He now edits novels for new writers and runs a literary agency with forty clients. Check out his website at: www.johnjarrold.co.uk

Discovering Shannara

The reading order Terry Brooks himself suggests if you wish to explore the Four Lands of Shannara …

The Sword of Shannara Trilogy

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

Half-Elf foundling Shea Ohmsford discovers he is the last scion of the house of Shannara, and the only man capable of defeating the evil Warlock Lord.

The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

Grandson of Shea, Wil Ohmsford gets caught up in a desperate quest to save Ellcrys, the magic tree that holds dark powers at bay.

The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

The Druid Allanon seeks aid from the latest generation of the Ohmsford Clan, sending Brin Ohmsford off to destroy the Ildatch, The sentient grimoire that created the Warlock Lord.

A Shannara Short Story

Indomitable (2003)

Continuing on from Wishsong, Indomitable tells of the later adventures of Brin, her husband Rone and Jair as they discover and destroy the last page of the Ildatch.

The Heritage of Shannara

The Scions of Shannara (1990)

300 years after the death of Allanon, the descendants of Shea are given three impossible tasks by the dead druid’s ghost to save the Four Lands from the threat of the Shadowmen.

The Druid of Shannara (1991)

Walker Boh is joined by the descendant of Menion Leah and Quickening, the daughter of the supernatural King of the Silver River, as they hunt for the Black Elfstone.

The Elf Queen of Shannara (1992)

Wren must consult the Addershag to find the lost Elf-Folk of the four lands, and journeys deep into a Demon Haunted Jungle.

The Talismans of Shannara (1993)

With the Sword of Shannara recovered, the lost Druid’s Keep of Paranor restored, and the Elves returned, Par (wielder of the sword) Walker Boh (now a Druid) and Wren (the new Queen of the Elves) must battle the Shadowmen

A Prequel of Shannara

First King of Shannara (1996)

Shea’s ancestor, the Elf-King Jerle Shannara, takes up a magic sword created by the renegade Druid Bremen and fails to destroy the Warlock Lord.

The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara

Ilse Witch (2000)

Walker Boh, last of the Druids, sets sail with the young Bek Rowe, another Ohmsford family member, aboard a flying ship to stop the titular witch uncovering an ancient source of magic.

Antrax (2001)

Walker Boh confronts an ancient evil that wields the powers of lost technology, while Bek, bearer of the Sword of Shannara, must face his long-lost sister, the Ilse Witch.

Morgawr (2002)

The evil sorcerer master of the Ilse Witch scours the skies with his fleet of airships in search of the Jerle Shannara, while Bek must save his sister from heself.

High Druid of Shannara

Jarka Ruus (2003)

Grianne Ohmsford, lately the Ilse Witch, has turned to the path of good and created the Third Druid Council to protect the Four Lands. But not everyone is happy about it. Luckily, her brave nephew Penderrin Ohmsford is on her side.

Tanequil (2004)

Deposed by Shadea a’Ru, Grianne languishes in a world known as the Forbidding. Pen seeks the Talisman of Tanequil to free her, but its winning has a price.

Straken (2005)

Poor little Pen Ohmsford has great responsibility thrust upon him as he tries to free his aunt Grianne, a quest made harder by war and the imperilment of his parents, Bek and Rue.

8 OF THE BEST

Like most fantasy authors, Brooks rarely strays outside the boundaries of his original creations. Even so, within the Landover and Shannara sequences can be found a surprising diversity of subject matter, ranging from contemporary fantasy to work that touches on horror, as well as the epic fantasy he is best known for. Here are eight of his best works.

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

A half-elf foundling named Shea Ohmsford is approached by a Gandalf-like figure, Allanon, last of the druids, and informed that he is in terrible danger. The Warlock Lord, that world’s major villain, is trying to find him as he is the last of the line of kings. He is the only living man who can wield the Sword of Shannara, which could destroy the Warlock Lord.

The parallels between Brooks’ first book and The Lord of the Rings are numerous – a protagonist from a quiet rural community, a dark lord whose minions ruthlessly hunt the hero, a mysterious wizard, the accompaniment of the hero by his oldest friend, a council that sends a multi-racial party deep into the enemy’s territory, that party being split up by unforeseen circumstances… But there is also enough originality in the story to make it more than a copy. Of particular note is the finale, suggested by editor Lester Del Rey, where Shea Ohmsford confronts the Warlock. Shea’s magic sword reveals the truth of all things, and the revelations it presents to the Warlock destroy him.

Even if the novel does seem very derivative, and less polished than Brooks’ later work it is still an engaging adventure. Taking this aside, especially in terms of its sheer influence, The Sword of Shannara deserves to be read.

The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

Upon finishing his revisions for The Sword of Shannara in 1975, Brooks decided to start work upon a new story. This book is not that story.

Flushed with confidence brought on by his first novel’s success, he set to work, declining to send in an outline to Del Rey. Two and a half years later he was two thirds of the way in, and didn’t know how to finish it. He asked Del Rey for help. Needless to say, Brooks was distraught when Del Rey told him to scrap it, sending back the manuscript with detailed, damning notes on each page as to why it wouldn’t work.

Brooks started again, this time planning it tightly and sending in an outline. This a habit of writing he adheres to this day.

Detailing the history of the Elves, The Elfstones of Shannara gave us our first inkling that Shannara might be our own world. Its story again shows some influence of Tolkien, with the Elfstones and the magical tree Ellcrys perhaps being equivalent to the Silmarils and the trees of Valinor. But here we have the mention of Faerie and other elements that mark Brooks beginning to break away from Middle-earth’s awesome gravity.

Brooks’ books follow successive generations of the same family, in and this one we are introduced to Will Ohmsford, grandson of Shea, the hero of The Sword of Shannara. The abandoned novel was to have featured the son of Aragorn-alike Menion Leah. Brooks could not face his story again after it had been so firmly demolished, and so he jumped a generation.

The Elfstones remains one of Brook’s favourite books because of the sheer amount of work that went into it. With Elfstones, he says, he learned his craft as a professional writer under the stern tuition of Lester Del Rey.

Magic Kingdom For Sale – SOLD! (1986)

After the publication of The Wishsong of Shannara, which concluded the first Shannara trilogy, Brooks became a full-time writer. He also decided to write about something other than Shannara for a while.

The first of the Landover books was the result. The story is that of a depressed lawyer named Ben Holiday who, sick of the law and grieving over the deaths of his wife and child, responds to an advert in the paper advertising the sale of a magical kingdom. This place, a fully-fledged secondary world called Landover, has had many prospective kings from Earth foisted upon it by the entrenpreneur Meeks. The inhabitants believe Holiday to be the latest in this long line of pretenders, and at first he is only accepted by his servants (chief among them Abernathy, a talking dog). In Landover he has to contend with rebellious barons, a dragon and a witch. Naturally, he wins through.

Despite its more comedic tone than the Shannara books, Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD! was an autobiographical piece and an act of catharsis for Brooks, as the lawyer finally became the writer. Although not as popular as the Shannara books, the Landover series has its own dedicated following, and now numbers five books in total. With Landover, Brooks had his professional skills in place and all his time available for writing, so began to produce books more rapidly, habitually releasing one book a year until a particular series had been finished. He keeps this work rate up to this day.

The First King of Shannara (1996)

Set during the time of the Second War of the Races, The First King of Shannara describes how the magical sword of Shannara was forged by the renegade Druid Bremen and how Jerle Shannara, Elf king and ancestor of Shea Ohmsford, failed to use its power to destroy the Warlock Lord.

Shannara’s interesting mix of sorcery and science is brought to the fore in this prequel. The Druids have abandoned magic after the horrors of the First War of the Races, and turned back to the science of the Old World. Bremen is a renegade because he still pursues the study of magic, a forbidden practice at the time. However, only magic can defeat magic, a fact Bremen knows. The power of the truth of existence is the only thing that will defeat the Warlock Lord Brona. An ex-druid himself, he was slain in the first war of the races and is in fact dead. Being confronted by this truth will destroy him. However, in the end Jerle Shannara cannot face the truth in himself, that he was responsible for the death of his best friend. Unable to use the full power of the sword, Jerle only succeeds in driving the Warlock Lord away, leaving the story to continue in The Sword of Shannara.

Running with the Demon (1997)

Brooks introduced magic to the contemporary world with this first of a new trilogy of dark fantasy tales. It is heavily influenced by his own upbringing in Sterling, Illinois, and Brooks revisits the mysteries of his childhood – the untamed park where he played, the extinct tribe of Sinnissipi Indians whose name adorned everything, and the strange things children sometimes see.

In the story young Nest Freemark discovers that she is the latest in a long line of magically aware people, who can see the struggle between light and dark powers that takes place just under the surface of our mundane world. Nest is recruited to guard against the Feeders, intangible beasts that subsist on human emotion, a practice that can cause the death of a human being. The local park is a centre of activity for these creatures, and has been watched over by generations of her family, a task Nest is aided in by faerie helpers. But something much more powerful than feeders is coming to the town of Hopewell…

Central to the tale are the magic-using humans who hide within our society. Demons have absorbed a vast amount of magic, are no longer human and serve evil. They are opposed by Knights of the Word, who serve good, but whose use of magic does not leave them unmarked. The struggle between the Knights and Demons is of central importance to Brooks’ work. Some of his most original concepts are introduced in this books. Most intriguing of these is the Knights being doomed to dream of the dark future that will come about if they are not successful in defeating evil. The Knight experiences these dreams as if they are real, and if the knight uses his powers during the day, he is powerless during his dreams to protect himself.

Sometimes The Magic Works (2003)

One of the most notable things about Terry Brooks is his open and affable manner with his fans. Much of the time he spends on the road, meeting people who love his books. Many authors obviously enjoy their fans’ appreciation of their work, and quite a few engage with directly with their readership, especially on their websites. However, Brooks’ takes this further. He is genuinely eager to help out new writers, perhaps remembering his long struggle to write and his desperate wish to escape the practise of the law, and there’s an extensive section on his website devoted to this subject. In 2003 he decided to collect together a lot of his learning on becoming a writer and share it with the world. As with most writing books written by authors, Sometimes the Magic Works is full of his personal history and writing style (there really are as many ways of writing a books as there are writers). It’s not surprising then that the book is most notable for Brooks’ gentle, encouraging tone. His open, accessible style has been cited as one of the reasons for his success, and nowhere is this more evident than in Sometimes the Magic Works. Though it does stray a little too close to the realms of homily in places, it’s the perfect tonic for depressed, struggling would-be writers, and reading it is like being given an uplifting pep-talk by a favourite uncle.

Armageddon’s Children (2006)

Just out last year (the book is re-released in paperback this month), Armageddon’s Children is the first of Terry Brook’s new series: Genesis of Shannara. In it he begins to tie the world of the Word and the Void to that of Shannara, explaining how modern day, hi-tech society becomes a magic-saturated fantasyland.

It follows the adventures of Logan Tom, one of the Knights of the Word whose mysterious order was introduced in Running with the Demon. Haunted by the death of his entire family, Logan Tom roams a post-apocalyptic America, doing the bidding of the Word. He is alone in his task, until his wanderings take him across the path of Angel Perez, who has also been called to a higher purpose…

Armageddon’s Children is Brooks’ at the height of his powers, a crackling story told well, an expert blend of magic and technology.  It’s also the best exploration of a contemporary Earth blasted by magic, a theme which has only been tackled a few times in the genre. Logan Tom roams a depopulated outback in a solar-powered assault vehicle, like a cross between the Punisher, Mad Max and Gandalf, meting out destruction to the servants of Demons.

A dark tale with some imagery bordering on Stephen King-style horror, Armageddon’s Children paints a vivid picture of a wasted America.

A second book in this series, the Elves of Cintra, is out next month.

The Phantom Menace Official Movie Novelisation (1999)

George Lucas personally requested that Brooks be asked to write the novelisation of his first Star Wars prequel movie. It was the second such book Brooks had written, the first being Hook.

“Now you are treading on dangerous ground,” says Brooks when we ask him about his experience of writing spin off novels. “Let me just say that my involvement with Hook was something akin to the removal of wisdom teeth without painkillers, but that working on The Phantom Menace was a joy. I took each job for a different reason, one of which turned out to be a good one. Sure, you always prefer to work with your own creations. But working with a legend like George Lucas ain’t all that bad. The Lucas Books people were very good to me, and George gave me tremendous freedom to change and redevelop his original screenplay for adaptation into a book. The book really is companion piece to the movie, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Material in the book but not the film includes more time with the young Anakin, including another pod race, and a conversation with a pilot about angels. It also contains extensive information on the Sith and their war against the Jedi.

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