Archives for January 2007

1977: Lord of the Rinky-dink

Review: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks


As I have said before, I have a high opinion of Tom Shippey as a literary critic, but that does not exempt him from criticism in turn. At one point in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, he makes what may be the single most fatuous remark I have ever had the misfortune to read on the subject of Tolkien’s imitators. He is discussing The Sword of Shannara, and after giving a long list of the obvious borrowings or plagiarisms of Tolkien in that work, he adds:

The similarity is so close that in a way it is hard to tell how good or bad the result is.

And yet in the very same paragraph he recovers his usual perspicacity, and puts his finger on the secret of Terry Brooks’s commercial success:

What The Sword of Shannara seems to show is that many readers had developed the taste (the addiction) for heroic fantasy so strongly that if they could not get the real thing they would take any substitute, no matter how diluted. [Read more…]

1977: From Zeus’s brow

This is the first in a five-part series on the ‘Fantasy Big Bang’ of 1977. You can find the other parts of the series here:

2. Lord of the Rinky-dink
3. Hero and fool
4. All roads to nowhere
5. Lost tales, unattained vistas


Somewhere or other, I suppose, there are people who would claim that some fundamental change or progress has overtaken the field of ‘high’ or ‘epic’ fantasy in the last thirty years. I suppose they must exist, because nowadays there is no claim so foolish that somebody cannot be found who will make it. In the same way, a century ago, there were those who claimed that England was not ruled by an oligarchy, and it was to these that G. K. Chesterton made his inimitable answer:

It is quite enough for me to know that a man might have gone to sleep some thirty years ago over the day’s newspaper and woke up last week over the later newspaper, and fancied he was reading about the same people. In one paper he would have found a Lord Robert Cecil, a Mr. Gladstone, a Mr. Lyttleton, a Churchill, a Chamberlain, a Trevelyan, an Acland. In the other paper he would find a Lord Robert Cecil, a Mr. Gladstone, a Mr. Lyttleton, a Churchill, a Chamberlain, a Trevelyan, an Acland. If this is not being governed by families I cannot imagine what it is. I suppose it is being governed by extraordinary democratic coincidences. —What’s Wrong with the World [Read more…]