This book suffers from Sequelitis

The Elfstones of Shannara (Shannara, #2) - Terry Brooks

I have noticed that a lot of people have rated this book higher than the first simply on the basis that unlike the first book it is not a carbon copy of Lord of the Rings. This I will admit is true, it is not a carbon copy, but as far as I am concerned, it is still Lord of the Rings, and moreso, it suffers from what I call sequelitis. First, consider that the book has as its main character a young man (Wil, who is related to Flick, the hero of the first book), who has barely reached the age of majority, going off on a great adventure to save the world. This time the story is about an elven woman who is carrying the seed of a tree that has died and this seed needs to be replanted so that the tree can be reborn and the great evil banished from the world. Secondly, much of the book involves a huge battle between the armies of this great evil while Wil and his burden (the elf girl) go off and do their own thing, much in the same way that Frodo and Sam go off and do their own thing while the others fight against the forces of Mordor.

The reason that I say that this book suffers from sequelitis is because, like most sequels, it is set after the original book (and in this case, it is fifty years) and it turns out the great evil that was defeated in the original book wasn't actually all that great because there is an even greater evil out there that must be defeated so that everybody may once again live in peace. Also, despite the fact that this is listed as the second book in a trilogy, it appears that a trilogy was never actually planned but came about due to the success of the first book, so a sequel is written so as to capitalise upon that success (something that we see all too often come out of Hollywood).

What is interesting is that I have been forced to think about the idea of 'what is fantasy' recently because somebody actually asked me that question. I had to think about it, and have come to realise that modern fantasy is much different to what the original fantasy stories were. These days they are just a form of escapism and entertainment and do not come very close to what we would consider to be literature.

When considering the origins of fantasy I generally look back centuries before Lord of the Rings was written: basically to the Ancient Greeks. Here we have what could be considered two foundations, first of all that of the myth, and secondly that of the allegory. The best example of the myth would be the Odyssey and with this story the original hearers would actually look up at Odysseus as a character after which they could model their lives. He was a hero in the true sense of the word because he was in fact a role model. These days with modern fantasy, such as this book, we would not be reading it to consider the protagonist as a shining example of humanity for which we can follow. This is certainly the case here, and in Lord of the Rings.

The second form is what I would call allegory, and Plato's description of Atlantis is an example of this. Here Plato is creating an imaginary nation as an example of what he believes a good and just nation looks like. Allegory also takes a different form in that it is also satire. Lucian of Samotosa and Aristosphanes are examples of ancient writers using fantasy in that way, but then there are also modern writers, such as Jonathon Swift and C.S. Lewis. However I hesitate to consider Tolkien to be a form of allegory since he hated the idea.

Tolkien, however, is not necessarily the father of modern fantasy either, because prior to him (and Lewis) we have stories such as Barsoom and Conan which, while not morality tales or allegory, they were fantasy, but more in the sense that they were adventure stories that would appear in boys magazines. The development of fantasy here was in essence the adventure, but in a sense it was taking the unknown to a new level. As the world became smaller, and the unknown (such as darkest Africa) became known writers would expand their horizons: Conan going to the mists of history, before the waters covered Atlantis, and John Carter leaving the confines of this world to explore the countless other worlds beyond our atmosphere.

That, in the end, is what modern fantasy probably is, namely adventure stories set in the unknown, targeted at a specific set of interests. Gone are the morality tales and the allegories – they are not needed anymore in our postmodern world where everything is right, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights and health of other people – morality is no longer objective but subjective, and we see that shift as we move from the 80s fantasy of Eddings and Brooks, to the fantasy of the naughties with the likes of George R.R. Martin.