Reading The Sword of Shannara: Chapters 21-25

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.  Find earlier installments of our discussion here; we'd encourage you to add to our conversation in the comments!


Dear Phil--

Hey, we have a girl! Last time I was just complaining about the complete dearth of female characters, and now we have one. Sure, she’s a princess who needed to be rescued, but she has a name and says things, so we’re moving in the right direction, right? I am interested to learn how exactly Palance came to think that Balinor stole her from him, since that seems like it will do a lot to begin to bring some of the narrative threads developed in this section together into one glorious climax.

Speaking of multiple narrative threads: in our last set of letters, you had commented about how you got more interested in the story during those chapters--that happened for me during these chapters. One big reason was that I really enjoyed the multiple storylines that were developed here, and I agree that this has helped a lot to move the novel away from Tolkien’s influence and into a creative space of its own.

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Midweek Fiction: Nnedi Okorafor, "The Book of Phoenix: Excerpted From the Great Book"

Nnedi Okorafor was among the featured authors at the Fantasy Matters conference in 2007. Her fiction has won a number of major awards, including the Wole Soyinka Prize, the CBS Parallax Award, and the Macmillan Prize for Africa. Reading Okorafor's work always make me feel as if my imagination has been expanded.

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The Ever Fantastic Kafka

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other StoriesIn a letter to a friend, Kafka once wrote: “I believe that we should only read those books that bite and sting us. If a book we are reading does not rouse us with a blow to the head, then why read it? What we need are books that affect us like some really grievous misfortune, like the death of one whom we loved more than ourselves, as if we were banished to distant forests, away from everybody, like a suicide; a book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us” (qtd. in Koelb 72).

This quote is but one reason that I love teaching Kafka—no other author confounds, frustrates, and dazzles my students the way he does, whether it is with a tattoo machine that takes on a life of its own or a bucket that one can fly in desperate times, or a salesman that suddenly wakes up one day a “monstrous vermin.” And hidden within these fantastic tales are deeper issues about justice, faith, power dynamics, use value, and yes, even about writing itself. Take the tortuous machine in In the Penal Colony, which is rendered with such meticulous description while still defying reality. My students know the machine looks like, sort of. Same with the giant bug poor Gregor Samsa finds himself morphed into—my students have a hazy idea of what it looks like, but get them to draw it, and they find themselves at a loss (some just go for a standard cockroach to make it easy). This, to me, is the fantastic at its most powerful—it feels real on some level that we cannot rationalize.

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Who We Are and How We Read: Rethinking N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsSeveral of us here at Fantasy Matters have read N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and really enjoyed it, and after reading Matt Rasmusson's review of the novel last week, two of our editors were inspired to write down their own thoughts about the novel.  Reading these reviews in conversation with each other is particularly intriguing, as it highlights how a novel can speak to different people in vastly different ways.  If you have read Jemisin's work, we'd love for you to become part of the conversation as well--post your thoughts in the comments!


Adam Miller:

Well, I did it again: I read a novel, then afterwards learned that it was part of an unfinished trilogy. This is my personal hangup, and it’s the reason that I was unwilling to start reading the Harry Potter series until The Deathly Hallows was released and remain unwilling to start the Kingkiller Chronicles. For high-profile novels, it's a relatively easy thing to do, but for newer novels that I’m unfamiliar with it seems to happens from time to time. The issue is that my memory for plots and characters is not stellar, so I generally feel like I have to re-read any prior novels when new installments come out. In this particular situation, it was an especially painful realization because I loved this novel and don’t look forward to waiting for another novel to be released. The good news in this case is that book two (The Broken Kingdoms) has already been released, and I only have a few months to wait for the trilogy to be complete.

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The Last Unicorn Come to Life

The Last UnicornPeter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn is one of the great works of fantasy literature.  It is a beautiful, haunting story of loneliness, and love, and finding one's place in the world.  Like Neil Gaiman's Stardust, it is a fairy tale for both children and adults, and it is a story that is as magical today as when it was first publishd over 40 years ago.

So when I learned that it had been adapted as a graphic novel, I immediately found a copy and read it.

It was beautiful.  Astonishingly beautiful.

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