A Founder of Fantasy Fiction

February Fantasy Month Banner Hello there, fellow wanderers, fellow readers, fellow dreamers. Today’s post is going to be a little bit different. I got chatting about one of my all-time favorite authors over on facebook, and all the things I wanted to say started to pile up and I realized it was more of a blog post than a FB post. Some of you may remember the Realm Makers conference I went to last year? Well…

It all started when I found out who the Guest of Honor will be this year at Realm Makers.

Terry Brooks.

TERRY BROOKS!

Cue hyperventilation.

Of course they announce this in a year when I’d agreed with my husband that we weren’t going to try to get to Realm Makers this year. Sigh.

Anyway, as this announcement has made the rounds, there’s been much excitement. But there have also been a lot of people scratching their heads because either: they’ve never read any of his books OR they’ve never heard of this author. There’s also been a mad scramble of people asking, “who is this?” and “which of his books should I read before I go to Realm Makers?” because, like a lot of fantasy authors, his list of published works is rather lengthy and that can be a bit overwhelming/intimidating.

I’m going to try to answer both of these questions, as well as share with you a little bit about what this author means to me.

Some of you already know, I wrote my first book in college and titled it “The Dragon’s Eye.” This later got totally rewritten and retitled “King’s Warrior.” Anyway, during my sophomore year, my parents had gotten the book bound and printed (though not published) and one of my fantasy-loving friends begged me to let him read it. So I did, and when he returned it, he enthusiastically said that he enjoyed it and then followed up with, “You MUST have read Terry Brooks!”

I gave him a blank stare and he said, “The Sword of Shannara? Your style is so much like his, you HAVE to have read it!” I shook my head and said I’d never heard of Brooks OR Shannara. But you can bet it was the next book I grabbed when I went to the book store. (Our library at school was great but… well… its fiction section would easily fit under my bed in its entirety).

My own personal collection of Terry Brooks novels.

My own personal collection of Terry Brooks novels.

Thus began my journey through the world of Shannara. I was hooked. And as I delved deeper into his series, buying every book as it released, I grew more and more enthralled with this author, with his world, his characters, and his stories. While I had already discovered and enjoyed the worlds of Weis/Hickman and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time… I DEVOURED everything in the Shannara series while also being gratified at finding an adult fantasy series that never devolved into being about romance or bedroom scenes the way that most other fantasy authors eventually did at some point. To this day, Brooks remains one of the cleanest main-stream fantasy authors I’ve ever found from that era. I’ve gotten a little behind on his more recent releases, so I have some catching up to do, but I’ve read and own 24 of his books and he hasn’t disappointed me yet.

This was the first series I read that made excellent use of the sagas-within-a-series device. What I mean by that is that while all the Shannara books take place in the same WORLD, the series is broken up into trilogies and quadrilogies that follow a set of different characters. The characters you meet in the first trilogy are the grandparents (or great-great grandparents? It’s been a while) of the characters in the second trilogy, and so on and so forth. It’s not always a direct family connection, but there is always some kind of connection that helps the reader know how each new set of characters relates back to those who have come before.

And the AHA moment in the Genesis trilogy…. well… it’s epic!

You can find the Shannara Publication order at Goodreads HERE. Looking at this list, I’ve read Shannara Books 1-5, 7-9, 13-16, 18-21, 23-25.

Book 25 came out in 2011, which was about when I stopped buying so many books… having multiple children both decreased my ability to spend as much time reading books as I had been accustomed, and meant that money I had previously allocated to books had to go to buying mundane (but oh, so important) things like diapers.

So, which book would I recommend starting with?

Well, if you want truly Epic Fantasy, then you could start with Sword of Shannara. It doesn’t get any more classic fantasy than that.

However, I have come to realize that when I recommend these books, particularly to people who are already well-entrenched in the love of the fantasy genre, that I have to offer a caveat: this book was published in 1977.

That might not seem like a big deal, until you start to realize that very few other fantasy books were available at that time. In many ways, Brooks is one of the founders of the modern fantasy-fiction section (not the Father of Modern Fantasy Fiction, that honor belongs to Tolkien, of course). He published his first fantasy book (Sword of Shannara) in 1977. Why is that important? Well, because it predates most every other well-known fantasy author I can think of. He predates Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – the legendary Dragonlance authors, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan with his Wheel of Time, Stephen R. Lawhead, David Eddings, and Timothy Zahn just to name a few. The Sword of Shannara came out the same year as George R.R. Martin’s first fantasy novel, as well.

Brooks quite literally blazed the trail of fantasy fiction. Those of us who come after… we owe him a lot. So, if you do decide to start with The Sword of Shannara, you kind of have to keep that important datapoint in mind. There was no other fantasy fiction to read at that time. Besides Tolkien, Lewis, and MacDonald, fairy tales, and mythology, Brooks didn’t have the plethora of fantasy books to read and draw from the way that we do now. The Prydain Chronicles and Earthsea were out, but those (while also classics) still fall solidly into the YA reader-group. He was writing in this genre before anyone else was, before the genre was even a real genre! Most of the fantasy tropes and archetypes didn’t even EXIST yet. If you read this book and think, “Wow… so many tropes!” just remember, he wrote them FIRST. He helped invent them!

In many ways, Brooks is to the fantasy genre what Burroughs is to science fiction with his Princess of Mars series.

So, that’s where Shannara begins if you love reading in publication order.

Another option if you want to dive into the world of Shannara is to start with the Genesis of Shannara: Armageddon’s Children. This one, published in 2006 is the beginning of my favorite Shannara trilogy to-date and chronologically could come first in the series (technically Running with the Demon is the FIRST full-length novel chronologically, but I haven’t read that one, so I don’t know how good it is – which is why I’m recommending Armageddon’s Children instead).

However…. the big AHA moment of the Genesis trilogy is one I personally feel is more fun if you’ve read the books in published order, first. Just my opinion. It also showcases Brooks’ writing ability, honed as it was over 30 years! Now… if the size of Shannara in general just totally freaks you out and overwhelms you and fills you with dread…. then there is ANOTHER option.

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Magic Kingdom for Sale: SOLD! The Kingdom of Landover series is much shorter, only 6 books long. And if you only have time to read one, you can read the first one and it wraps up nicely without leaving you hanging off a cliff. This series is very different in tone and feel, being lighter and more humorous and fun. There is still a glimmer of epic, but it’s also very much a PORTAL fantasy, so if you love fantasy that starts in our world and following an everyday, ordinary person into a totally different realm of magic and mystery… this is the series for you!

Of course, now I’m really wishing I could figure out a way to go to Realm Makers… but if I don’t… then I need y’all to take a bunch of pictures for me. And… maybe I could send one of you my stack of Brooks-books and you could get them all signed for me?!?!? *grin*

~ jenelle

12 Comments

Sarah Pennington

Huh. I’d heard about Terry Brooks a bit (enough to know that he’s a significant figure in fantasy fiction), but I didn’t know he predated Jordan. I thought it was the other way around. I have occasionally thought of reading his books, but I never know where to start or how clean they are, so thanks for this guide. I’m still not sure when I’ll try his stuff (I really need to work more on Wheel of Time), but yeah.

Also, if it makes you feel any better, I’m not sure I’m going to Realm Makers either. I’m having second thoughts, mostly centered around “This costs more than I thought it would” and “I would have to actually fly to St. Louis BY MYSELF.”

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jenelle

Yeah, it’s crazy how many other authors hadn’t published anything when Brooks started. Jordan didn’t publish his Conan series until 1982, and Eye of the World came out in 1990.

Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Anne McCaffrey were pretty much the only well-known fantasy authors who published before him (in the 60s) but none of them were really in the same market… Alexander and LeGuin’s works were aimed at a younger audience, and McCaffrey calls her stuff “sci-fi” (though I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know if that’s correct).

Well… thanks for trying to cheer me up. I was truly eyeing that last kickstarter-guaranteed appointment deal… and Derek and I budgeted out what everything would cost to make it work, but between the money and the time off Derek would have to take from work… plus building our house and trying to do some other things this year, it just wasn’t in the cards.

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Sarah Pennington

It’s just super weird in general how young of a genre fantasy fiction is, at least in the mainstream sense. I mean, you’ve got Tolkien and Lewis in the 40s, and some bits and pieces of fantasy-ish stuff before that, but nothing like now. And yet, to someone like me, a book published in the 60s has been around long enough that I feel justified in calling it old. IDK. It’s just weird.

I’m sorry. :( Money and time are just frustrating in general sometimes.

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jenelle

It’s so true! I remember when “fantasy” was a genre most publishers wouldn’t take a chance on and finding new stuff to read that wasn’t also smutty was really difficult. And look at it now! (Okay, in many ways it’s still the red-headed stepchild of the trad. publishing industry, but it’s definitely exploded in breadth in the past 20-30 years).

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Kevin Robinson

Brooks got me started. Very early on after the two greats (Lewis and Tolkien) I started on The Sword of Shannara and then Dragonlance. I quit reading all of that stuff shortly after starting a family, but the first trilogy and the 2nd set of 4 were beloved epic fantasy books in my collection.

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jenelle

:) thanks for commenting! Fun to hear others’ reading journeys!

I still read a ton of fantasy… but I hear ya on how starting a family can eat into reading time. Thankfully my kids are getting old enough that I’ve been able to start reading some of my favorites out loud to them!! That’s the best!

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Christine Smith

This post was so helpful! I know Terry Brooks is a legend, but sadly I’ve never read any of his books. (As I mentioned in my last comment, those older fantasy series overwhelm me eheh.) What’s sad is I do actually own some of the Shannara books, I’ve just…never gotten around to reading them. But now you’re making me want to give them a try sooner rather than later! And it’s good to know where to start. The Sword of Shannara is one of the ones I own!

Thank you for this! When they announced he was coming to Realm Makers at first I was like, “Whoa, cool!” Then I was like, “Wait…I’ve never read his books and don’t even know where to begin.” LOL. So this was PERFECT!

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jenelle

Happy to help! I’m glad that people are finding this post useful! :) :)

heheh, well, my list of “books I own but haven’t read” has gotten really out of hand in the past couple of years (I used to ONLY buy books I had already read, because: library, but now that I read a lot more indie-authors, I can’t always hold to that principle anymore) so I totally understand the “I own this, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet” problem!

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Pam Halter

Elfstones is the reason I write fantasy!! I’m so excited he’s coming to RM!!!!! Wish you could be there, too!

And I always tell people to not judge the books by Sword (’cause he gets a lot better after that) and the TV show, which made me want to cry in frustration. I watched the first 3 episodes and couldn’t take anymore. What a travesty.

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