- This is about the fantasy novel. For the sword featured in the novel, see Sword of Shannara.
The Sword of Shannara is a fantasy novel by Terry Brooks. As the first book of The Original Shannara Trilogy, it was the first published novel in Brooks' Shannara series. The Sword of Shannara was the very first book published by Terry Brooks. The story chronicles the adventures of foster brothers Shea and Flick Ohmsford against the Warlock Lord, a dark and mysterious presence in a world that is a strange blend of sorcery and technology. Many sequels and prequels followed, expanding on the world of the Four Lands and following the exploits of the House of Shannara, from which Shea and his descendants trace their lineage. It was first published in New York by Random House in 1977. It was also the first fantasy novel to appear on, and subsequently top the New York Times bestseller list. In 2003, Del Rey released this book in three parts subtitled In the Shadow of the Warlock Lord (Part 1), The Druid's Keep (Part 2), and The Secret of the Sword (Part 3).
Brooks wrote the book as a way to fight what he called an "increasingly rapid descent into terminal boredom" brought on by his just entering law school:
"I had read The Lord of the Rings two years earlier. What if Tolkien's magic and fairy creatures were made part of the worlds of Walter Scott and Dumas? What if the story took place somewhere timeless and placeless, a somewhere that nevertheless hinted strongly of our own world in the future? What if our present knowledge had been lost, and science had been replaced by magic? But it couldn't be magic that was dependable or simply good or bad. And the right and wrong of things couldn't be clear-cut because life simply didn't work that way. And the central figure needed to be someone readers could identify with, a person very much like themselves, caught up in events not of his own making, a person simply trying to muddle through. That was how Sword began."
-Terry Brooks, 1991
Centuries later, the Ohmsford family of Shady Vale is surprised by a half-elven baby left on their doorstep. The baby is taken in and named Shea. He is raised like a brother to the Ohmsford's son, Flick. The brothers become inseparable, helping run the family inn, until nearly twenty years later, when a tall, dark, mysterious figure arrives in the Vale. His name is Allanon, last of the Druids, his face perpetually in shadow under the dark folds of his robe. Allanon comes with a warning: Shea's life is in danger. He claims the Warlock Lord, previously thought to be a myth, has returned, and is after Shea, the last descendant of Jerle Shannara and the only one now living who can wield the Sword of Shannara against him.
Giving Shea three blue 'Elf Stones' for protection, Allanon departs, bidding Shea to leave the Vale immediately. Reluctant to heed Allanon's advice, he stays in the Vale until a pack of Skull Bearers, powerful minions of the Warlock Lord, come to the Vale in search of the last descendant of Shannara. Shea and Flick flee with the Skull Bearers on their heels. They seek refuge in the nearby city of Leah, joining with Shea's friend Menion, the lazy son of the city's lord. Menion guides them to the Eastland, where they meet Allanon at the Dwarf capital of Culhaven.
The three blue Elfstones protect Shea and his companions from monsters, swamps, etc. through their adventures until they safely arrive at Culhaven. Once there, a council of the Races is summoned under Allanon to decide how to combat the Warlock Lord. It is decided to send a small party to Paranor, the final resting place of the Sword of Shannara. There they could take possession of the one weapon that could destroy the Warlock Lord, once and for all. Journeying through the Valley of Shale, where the spirit of Bremen resides, and under the Dragon's Teeth mountains, they finally arrive in Paranor, but Shea is lost along the way.
The remaining group finds Paranor overrun with Gnome soldiers in the service of the Warlock Lord, and the Sword missing; it has already been taken north to the Skull kingdom. The group splits up, some to find Shea, others to prepare for the inevitable battle that will ensue.
Flick sneaks into the enemy camp and rescues the captive Eventine Elessedil, King of the Elves, thus mobilizing the Elves to the aid of Callahorn, the Borderland country that would be struck first. Menion saves a beautiful redhead named Shirl Ravenlock, with whom he falls in love, and together they organize evacuation of the island city of Kern, which is later burned by the Northland army. Meanwhile, Shea's life is saved by a one-handed thief named Panamon Creel and his mute Troll companion, Keltset. Journeying to the Northland, Shea and his rescuers reach the Skull kingdom itself, where an insane Gnome deserter has carried the Sword of Shannara in his madness.
Just as the battle to the Borderlands is about to be lost to the northern army, Shea takes the sword, his birthright. Its enigmatic power is finally revealed to him, as he is confronted with the truth of his life the moment he touches the handle. The Warlock Lord materializes to destroy Shea. In a rage of determination to prevent Brona from hurting anyone else, Shea attacks Brona. Although immune to physical weapons, the Warlock Lord is forced to confront the truth of himself: Brona, the man, died in the First War of the Races, and the rest of his life was a lie. Forced to confront the truth of his death, the Warlock Lord vanishes.
The destruction of the Skull kingdom takes Keltset's life as he sacrifices himself to save his friends. In the south, the Troll army is easily dispatched once the Skull Bearers follow Brona to his fate. Allanon saves Shea's life, reveals that he is the centuries-old son of Bremen, and soon disappears, saying he needs to sleep. Peace returns, and the heroes go home. Shea and Flick are reunited, having found their confidence, and Menion has become a responsible young man, returning home with a Borderland girl.
- Shea Ohmsford
- Flick Ohmsford
- Menion Leah
- Balinor Buckhannah
- Durin Elessedil
- Dayel Elessedil
- Eventine Elessedil
- Palance Buckhannah
- Panamon Creel
- Keltset Mallicos
- Orl Fane
- Shirl Ravenlock
- Breen Elessedil
- Curzad Ohmsford
- Janus Senpre
- Jon Lin Sandor
- King of the Silver River
- Mist Wraith
- Ruhl Buckhannah
- Shade of Bremen
Literary significance & criticism
The plot of the 'Sword of Shannara' has drawn criticism for being overly derivative of the The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien's series, which predates the first Shannara novel by roughly thirty years, also revolves around an unlikely hero from a small, quiet community who is drawn into a quest by a tall, magic-bearing man in order to destroy a distant Dark Lord. Precious magical artifacts are entrusted to the young hero who must flee, accompanied by his oldest friend and cousins from a neighboring land (or, in the case of Shannara, his mundane brother and a friend who is nobility from a neighboring land), when terrifying, demonic, beastial minions of the Dark Lord begin to stalk him and can sense when he uses his talisman. Eventually, a council decides the young hero will have to penetrate the center of the Dark Lord's realm in order to stop his armies, aided by a multi-racial group of companions. In addition, some names sound similar, such as Elessedil, which sounds somewhat like a combination of the Tolkien names Elessar and Elendil. Beyond this, there are few other similarities and the work is largely unique.
Terry Brooks admits that Tolkien's works were a major influence, and his supporters point out that many of the similarities are broad concepts common in modern day fantasy literature. Additionally, the plot of Brooks' subsequent novels bear little resemblance to Tolkien's works (apart from elements shared by many novels in the genre).
Upon the release of The Sword of Shannara, the book was widely praised as being a worthy successor to Tolkien. Fans of high fiction at the time had scant few authors to which they could turn, none of whom were producing any work comparable to The Lord of the Rings. This set the stage for The Sword of Shannara to become the tremendous success it has been.
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