Books, fantasy, heroes, influences, world-building

Influences: Terry Brooks

I’ve always liked the name Will. William seems stodgy to me, and Bill boring (or, as one William I know once put it, “a bill is a duck’s mouth, NOT a person’s name”), but I do like Will.

I put the responsibility for that squarely on the shoulders of two authors: Susan Cooper, for her fantastic Will Stanton; and Terry Brooks, for Wil Ohmsford of The Elfstones of Shannara.

I still vividly remember finding this book for the first time. It was at our old library, the one we’d been going to since before I was born. I had looked through the entire children’s section and realized that I had read, if not all the books, almost all of them, and certainly all the ones that interested me (the Goosebumps books were completely safe from ever being borrowed by me). So, for the first time ever, I crossed the middle of the library into the adult section. I have no idea how old I was.

The above cover was the first thing I saw in the adult section. The very word “elfstones” caught my interest, followed very quickly by the Robin Hood-esque characters pictured. I added it to my pile, brought it home, started reading, and was instantly immersed.

The second Brooks book I read was The Druid of Shannara, which confused me horribly until I realized we were talking two separate Ohmsford generations, here. I didn’t care so much about Walker, but I loved all the tidbits about Wren, and, not having Wikipedia at my fingertips back in those days, went back to the library and found all the Shannara books they had and began skimming them, trying to find the one that would tell me more about Wren. I finally found The Elf Queen of Shannara, and as you might have guessed, loved every word. I think I named a character “Wren” in every story I wrote for ages after that. She was awesome.

Over time, I’ve read all of the Shannara books except the short stories and graphic novels (and finally got them all in the right order), and most of the Landover series, too. I also read Sometimes the Magic Works, which is still probably my favorite book on writing, from a writer, ever (I also really love Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, but that’s more of a book on life, from a writer, than just a book on writing).
As I’ve grown and broadened my fantasy horizons, I can see a lot more of the flaws in Brooks’ writing than before. He certainly has no shame in utilizing tropes, or in using the same ideas and themes over and over (and over and over). His best books are, I think, his Word & Void books, which are gritty and dark, magic mixing with modern reality in a completely believable (and terrifying) way. The fantasy ones get repetitive after a bit, and I think the ones set in the more “modern” fantasy times (The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara books, and the High Druid books) are his weakest. My personal favorite is still Elfstones, both because it is the first I ever read, and for its characters – Wil, Amberle, Eretria, and Prince Ander.
Brooks is one of those rare writers who combines brilliant world-building with unique and dimensional characters (for the most part. Like I said, the later books get repetitive). And while someone today might dismiss him as following too many tropes, you have to remember that he is directly responsible for some of those things becoming tropes – other writers have copied off of him, turning his originality into tropes.
Sacrifice on a personal level for a greater, impersonal good is a continuing theme woven throughout his works. So is familial love, stronger than any spell. So is the seductive lies of evil contrasted with the harsh reality of good. So is the idea of one person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, refusing to give in to hatred and darkness, and turning the tide of the battle.
Cliches? Maybe. Truths that are important for people to be reminded of, even in fantasy version? Absolutely.
Not all evils can be fought with a sword (or elfstones). But evil can and must be fought every day, in all its various forms, by those who love peace, love goodness, love love itself. And I for one always appreciate the reminder of that I always get in Brooks’ works, and try to incorporate some of those truths in all my own works, whether it be the obvious point of the story or simply the truth hidden behind my writing.
Heroes don’t always look heroic, but the world needs them just the same.

4 thoughts on “Influences: Terry Brooks”

  1. *AHEM* (Here's me commenting)I can't say much because I haven't read Terry Brooks, and nowadays I've gone off the Traditional Long High Fantasy Epics thing (though I'm reading Dark Lord of Derkholm, but that twists it more). But I have the most to say about the name Will, which I've never been a particular fan of, but I outright hate the name Bill, BUT my favorite character I've ever created is named Billy, and he goes by William Henry in certain company, so I'm fonder of those combinations! (Not so much "William" by itself, which does sound… pretentious or something, but I like the "William Henry" together because that just sounds like– it's somebody's traditional family name he's been saddled with. It's got character. And I know this is exactly an example of one of those things I tweeted where people pick a total throwaway bit of your post to comment on, and not what you WANTED to discuss, but that's the best I can do.

  2. Hey, throwaway-bit-comments are good, too. Plus this reminds me of a conversation Carl and I had when I was pregnant with Joy, we were discussing possible family names. Our absolute favorite name combination was Frederick Charles, both because we loved how the two names sounded together, and because we both had a Frederick AND a Charles in our lineage (along with half the rest of the English-descended population in the world, but whatever). Our only problem was that we didn't like Fred, Freddie, Rick, Chuck, or even Frederick or Charles on its own. I like Charlie for a kid, but not so much for an adult, so we decided we couldn't use the name after all (curiously enough, Charles was the potential middle name for every single boy's name we came up with after that, for both pregnancies – just NOT paired with Frederick).Names are fun. Even though we're done having kids, I have one more girl's name and one boy's name tucked away in the back of my brain, names I'll never use for characters, just in case we end up with a miracle baby someday.How's THAT for a completely off-track direction for this post!

  3. Oh wow! Terry Brooks was a huge influence on me. Read the books when I was a kid and it spurred my love of fantasy. And prompted me to start writing. I got to meet Mr. Brooks many years ago and got his autograph.

  4. That is awesome that you got his autograph. I almost had a chance to go to a book signing of his last year – first time in ages he came to the northeast – but a family emergency happened at the same time, so I missed him. He is SUCH a tremendous writer.

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