First Loves: The Heritage of Shannara

Title: The Heritage of Shannara (series)

Author: Terry Brooks

Favorite Line: “The old man sat alone in the shadow of the Dragon’s Teeth and watched the coming darkness chase the daylight west.”

NOTE: I do try to avoid spoilers in my posts. However, this contains a couple of very minor ones.

This post is a bit longer than some of my previous ones. I set about to create a series of blog posts all about how I discovered the books I love, and how they’ve influenced me as a writer and as a person. This series is especially important to me in both of those aspects.

Terry Brooks has, of course, written many Shannara books, but of all his Shannara books, The Heritage series is my favorite. It was also my first.

I found this series at about the age of sixteen while perusing the shelves of my high school library. I liked fantasy books, but was also very particular about them. The back of The Scions of Shannara intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot. I don’t remember how quickly I made it through, but I’m pretty sure I made it a fast read. From the opening line (noted above as my “favorite”) to the very last one, it was everything my heart demanded in a fantasy.

Now, it’s also rather amusing, since at the time I had no idea that this series was part of a larger series. I also did not know that it takes place in an apocalyptic future, rather than a medieval past (though when I found that out later, the Creepers made so much more sense). Still, neither of those things deterred me from thoroughly enjoying the first book, and I immediately went back to the library to get the second.

To my disappointment, the primary character of the second book was Walker Boh, not Par Ohmsford. Part of what I’d loved in Scions was getting to know Par. He was young; his story was a coming-of-age. Walker was an old man, and really, how interesting was that to me, a sixteen-year-old girl? But the beauty of literature is that it presses us to understand those who are vastly different than we are. And while I decided to push through the second book for Par’s sake, by the end, I was wholly invested in Walker’s story, too. I empathized with his struggle, as he was both repulsed by the Druids, and impelled by them.

I sped through books three and four, as well. Then, when I was done, I went back to the library and re-read the entire series straight away. I was swept up in the characters and the world-building. By the end, I was wholly in love with Morgan Leah, and Damson Rhee was my best friend (I could do a whole article on why Brooks’ heroines are my favorites). Brooks writes supporting characters in such a way that you know they have as much of a story as the heroes. I suppose in that sense, every character really is the hero of the story. I checked that series out of the library so often, my librarian joked I should just go ahead and buy a set. So I did.

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(In 2008, those copies were lost in a move, so the picture you see above was the copy I got for Christmas that year, since I threw such a fit about losing the originals. But it’s still very well-worn, as you can see from the side.)

It wasn’t until college that I found out there were more Shannara books. Of course I read many of those, too. But The Heritage series is the one I’ve returned to over and over again. It’s an epic, so of course it’s a battle of “good vs. evil.” But it’s also so much more. It’s about heritage and how the past profoundly influences our lives, both for good and ill–as Par, Walker, and Wren must all struggle with decisions that were made years before they were even born. It’s about being aware of the presence of evil, and that it comes in many forms, as the Shadowen can take any image they like. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Steff must come to terms with the fact that Teel, the woman he loves, has been consumed by the Shadowen. (I cried real tears over that one) It’s about how expressions of love and beauty shine brightest in the darkness, as Quickening’s sacrifice in the second book is one of my very favorite scenes in literature. I don’t want to ruin it if you haven’t read it, but that passage at the end of The Druid of Shannara is stunning writing.

When I sent a story of mine to a few readers, one of them responded in her comments, “This reminds me of reading the Shannara Chronicles. Not the story so much, as the feeling I get when I read it.” Honestly, that is one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. Because I know exactly what feeling she means.

Which brings me back to why I chose this series for my first blog in June–It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Terry Brooks novel. Being in an MFA program (even one whose focus is “popular fiction”) and meeting with people in the world of publishing, you’re bombarded with suggestions for good books. You’re told you must keep up with the most recent works in order to stay relevant. Both of those things are true; I’m not denying that.

However, a few weeks ago, I found myself standing in a bookstore, wanting to buy a book just for me. Not for research, not to see the latest fantasy trends, not to find “comp” titles for my query letters. Just for me.

And I remembered I hadn’t read a Shannara book in awhile, and there were new ones. So I picked up the first book in The Defenders of Shannara and opened it.

“Paxon Leah paused in the midst of chopping wood to gaze out across the misty Highlands surrounding the city of Leah.”

And just like that, I was transported home.

 

Have you read any of the Shannara books? Which is your favorite? Seen the TV series, perhaps? Let me know in the comments!

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