Monday, August 22, 2011
Tomorrow The Measure of the Magic, the second volume in Terry Brooks' Legends of Shannara duology, hits the shelves. I pre-ordered it from Amazon, so theoretically mine will arrive in tomorrow's mail. This will presumably bring to a close the pre-history of Brooks' long running fantasy world, the setting for The Sword of Shannara and its sequels. Along with the three volume Genesis of Shannara, the Legends of Shannara fills the gap between the destruction of our world and the birth of the world of the Shannara novels. I really enjoyed the Genesis books, with their mix of post apocalyptic fiction and high fantasy, and I was good with last year's Bearers of the Black staff, though as the links to our world grew more tenuous, so did my interest. I find Brooks' pure fantasy novels to be uneven. Some I like. Some I don't.
Which brings us to Brooks' short story, Indomitable, which I reread last night to get my brain into proper epic fantasy mode before reading the new novel. Indomitable is something of an anomaly for Brooks. It's the only short story he's published and according to recent interviews it will probably remain so. He's smart enough to realize that there are major differences between the long and short forms and he says he's definitely a long form guy. Indomitable, in fact, reads very much like a synopsis for a longer work. It is a Shannara novel in miniature.
I've noted before that Brooks tends to use a formula to write his novels. Basically it's what Michael Moorcock calls 'six days to save the world.' The formula is simple. An object to be obtained. Limited time to obtain it. Disastrous outcome if you fail. Yeah, I know. Pretty much every post-Tolkien fantasy you've read, eh? But I have come to understand that this is what a large portion of the reading world wants from their fantasy novels. They want a quest and companions and wise men and monsters. There's a reason that The Lord of the Rings remains the most imitated work of fantasy in the history of the genre. You'd have to get Joseph Campbell to stop by and explain why, but people love that basic story. The hero and the quest.
Anyway, Indomitable is a sequel to Brooks' 1985 novel, The Wishsong of Shannara. It picks up two years after Wishsong, when young Jair Ohmsford learns that something yet remains of the sentient, evil grimoire the Ildatch. Jair thought that his sister Brin had destroyed the deadly book, but it turns out that one page remains and even that could be enough to threaten the world. Not to mention that the page has already fallen into the hands of the Mwellrets, evil lizardish creatures, who seek the ancient powers of the Ildatch. (It also appears that the book is feeding on the life-forces of the Mwellrets and may be regenerating itself, which is kind of creepy.)
With his companions Kimber Boh (the spunky girl) and Cogline ( the slightly crazy wizard) Jair sets off for the prison/fortress of Maelmord to try and destroy the page. Brooks does a nice job of using leftover plot threads from Wishsong. Jair had been held prisoner in Maelmord in the novel and if there's one place in the world that he doesn't want to return to, it's the fortress. Kimber, who was just a young girl in Wishsong, has grown into a lovely young woman and Jair finds he's very attracted to her.
The most interesting thing is probably the way that Jair's inherent magic has grown and changed. In the original novel, Jair's sister Brin could use the titular Wishsong to alter reality. Jair on the other hand, could only appear to make such changes. His power was one of illusion. But Brooks always says that using magic has a cost, and in Jair's case the magic has grown more powerful over time. He can actually cause physical changes in reality now but he could end up losing himself in the magic, which serves as a nice underlying threat during the more obvious conflict with the Mwellrets.
If this sounds like a lot to cram into a short story, it is. As I said, this almost reads like a synopsis and I'm sure Brooks could have gotten a novel out of it if he'd wanted. In fact he does revisit these characters and this setting again in his only foray into the graphic novel so far, The Dark Wraith of Shannara, plotted by Brooks and written by Robert Place Napton with manga-ish artwork by Edwin David. I enjoyed Dark Wraith a lot and recommend it to those who enjoy epic fantasy. I recommend Indomitable as well, but be aware that it feels a bit truncated.
Indomitable originally appeared in Robert Silverberg's anthology, Legends II, along with novellas by George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Raymond Feist, and others. It has recently been printed as a limited edition illustrated book from Subterranean Press.