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Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 16-20

The Sword of ShannaraJen Miller and Phil Ilten have been reading The Sword of Shannara together and sharing their thoughts by writing back and forth.  If you're just joining us, get your own copy of the book, and read our discussions of chapters 1-5 here, chapters 6-10 here, and chapters 11-15 here.  Then join our conversation and let us know what you think!

Dear Jen--

I’m not entirely certain why, but I enjoyed these chapters more than the previous chapters. Many of the issues that we have been discussing in these letters were still present, but for some reason I felt the story just flowed better. Maybe it’s because I totally called that the Sword of Shannara was in the gnome’s sack of loot, which made me feel good about myself. But I think this was the first set of chapters where I felt the book was significantly different from LotR, and creative in its own right.


Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 11-15

The Sword of ShannaraJen Miller and Phil Ilten have been reading The Sword of Shannara together and sharing their thoughts by writing back and forth.  If you're just joining us, get your own copy of the book, read the first two installments here and here, and join our conversation!

Dear Phil--

So, the plot thickens....One thing that struck me as I was reading this section was the difference in the “bad guys” between this and LotR. While you have Orcs and Uruk-Hai in Tolkien’s work, the only group of “bad guys” we’ve seen so far is the Gnomes, who are really just misguided--not truly evil. Certainly both texts have a solitary evil figure with a group of hunters, but it seems that Brooks is much more hesitant to label an entire race as evil.


Genre Doesn't Exist -- Or Does It?

Last Friday, Jen Miller posted her thoughts about The Time Traveler's Wife and how it relates to the fantasy genre.  Here, Ken Schneyer responds to that post with his own thoughts about the validity of genre.

Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare showed us the fluidity of genre boundaries by writing plays that deliberately messed with Aristotle's definitions of tragedy and comedy. Compare Othello to Much Ado About Nothing, or take different scenes from Measure for Measure out of context, and you'll see what I mean.

The Time Traveler's WifeNonetheless, people persist in believing in genres, and in assigning different characteristics to them as if they were natural and even immutable. Sometimes it's something as silly as blanket attributions of quality (e.g., the ones we've seen over and over again, "It can't be science fiction; it's too good", or "Nobody ever wrote a romance as serious literature except Jane Austen", etc.). Sometimes it's an attempt to define different subgenres (e.g., Are time travel stories science fiction because they involve the logical consequences of a particular theory, or are they fantasy because they're impossible?). Sometimes it's a fight over which shelf the book will occupy in the bookstore (hence Margaret Atwood's insistence that her novels aren't SF, and people's perplexity as to whether The Time Traveler's Wife belongs with romance, literature or SF).


Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 6-10

The Sword of ShannaraTwo weeks ago, we posted the first installment of Jen Miller and Phil Ilten's conversation about The Sword of Shannara as they read it together.  If you're just joining us, we invite you to find your own copy of the book and read along with us!

Dear Jen--

As I started to write this letter, I realized that last week both our letters were somewhat negative (maybe you disagree with me on this), and so this week I am going to try to conclude with a slightly more positive tone. That being said, there are some issues that I would like to get out of the way. The first issue, of course, is Lord of the Rings related. As I started Chapter 6, and finished up with Chapter 7, my impression of Shannara as a pale imitation of LotR only became worse.


Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 1-5

Jen Miller and her brother, Philip Ilten, grew up with their parents reading lots of science fiction and fantasy to them as bedtime stories.  With this feature, they resume this family tradition of reading fantasy together with Terry Brooks' The Sword of ShannaraThey invite you to get a copy of your own and read along, too!

Dear Phil--The Sword of Shannara

Hooray!  We’re reading The Sword of Shannara together!  I’m going to be honest--I’m more excited about the idea of reading a book with you than the actual book that we’re reading.  I’ve been putting off starting the novel because I’ve gotten this impression of it as this overdone, tired cliche.  I realize that this isn’t fair, especially since I’m thinking of the novel through the lens of everything that has been written since then instead of thinking of it as the groundbreaking work that it was (helped to make fantasy commercially successful, first paperback fantasy on the NYT bestseller list, etc.).  Things are what they are, however, and it seems that it’s a) good to be upfront about my prejudices and b) interesting to see if you’re coming from a place that is at all the same.  So, what about you?  What are your thoughts going into this book?



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