There is a short and long answer to this question, but I guess if I wanted to give the short answer I probably won’t go through the effort of writing a blog post about it :)
Yes, I too have now read the infamous Sword of Shannara. Before I even knew what the Shannara world was about, I found opinions all over the internet of people who bad-mouthed it and said it’s just a Lord of the Rings ripoff. So why did I read it then?
Well, I read it for a couple of reasons, among them:
- For one, I am trying to work my way through the best-selling fantasy series and books of the last century, and Terry Brooks with the Shannara world is right up there, so if I am going to honestly work my way through them, I will have to read it at some point.
- Secondly, I also read that they are making a television series about the Shannara world, called the Chronicles of Shannara. Now I decided a while ago that I will not again watch a movie based on a book I want to read, without having read the book first – lest the experience be spoiled. The books for Lord of the Rings and Eragon were kind of spoiled to me because of me watching the movies. So I decided I have to at least read the first book in the series before I can watch the TV series… which I definitely want to watch.
So there we go. Now that I have worked my way through both the Lord of the Rings books and the sword of Shannara, I can now add my 5 cents to the conversation. Was Sword a ripoff of LOTR?
In a way, it probably was. The similarities between the two are really staggering. Not only does Brooks also use the tropes of the humans/elves/dwarves world, but even characters and plot are very much the same. To name a few:
- The main evil, Brona, is a bodiless spirit who is pretty much immortal, kind of like Sauron
- A ranger/fighter, who is also an heir to a throne, finds two main characters in an inn, and later travels with them on their quest – kind of like Aragorn and the hobbits.
- There is a larger than life old-and-wise-dude-with-a-staff, cut from the same cloth as the main evil, who is helping the good guys – kind of like Gandalf.
- On their quest they are kind of forced to go through the Dragon’s teeth, under the mountain – kind of like the mines of Moria.
- The old mystic fights an immortal demon and falls into a deep pit of fire, but he later kind of comes back to life – kind of like Gandalf fighting the balrog.
- Finally, the party of travelers: humans, elves and dwarves, break up and go their separate ways, on separate quests, only to meet up again in the end – kind of like the fellowship did in LOTR.
- Masses of armies of evil things attack an ancient city, the last hope for mankind – kind of like Minas Tirith.
- There is a mystic, Stenmin, who poisons a ruler through his words – kind of like Wormtongue.
- There is a king who fails to protect a city, because he has gone mad – kind of like lord Denethor.
- The ranger/fighter becomes king in the end – kind of like Aragorn
And the list actually continues, but I decided to limit my list to ten items. So yes, the Sword of Shannara is very much like Lord of the Rings, extremely much alike, painfully…
But now that I stated that, I am going to throw my curve ball.
Last year, I read another book: Magician by Raymond E Feist, good book, really enjoyable, also quite high on that best selling fantasy list. And you know what I read in that book?
- Elves, dwarves, dragons and humans – kind of like LOTR
- A quest and shortcut through ancient dwarvish caves – kind of like LOTR
- A mad ruler who did not prepare his kingdom for war because he is mad – kind of like LOTR
- Elves who live in trees, kind of have a magic that protects their forest boundaries – kind of like LOTR
- An age old mystic, larger than life, showing up at random times and guides and shapes the destiny of the characters – kind of like Sword of Shannara, or Lord of the Rings… or… wait… what?
You get the point. I was not so upset about Brooks writing a book that is very similar to that of Tolkien, because I already read other books who pretty much did the same thing, maybe only in less obvious ways – but the similarities are still there. There are so many more books you could give the same criticism if you want. Like Eragon for example, very tropish!
Now I am not trying to bad-mouth any of these books or writers. I actually ended up finding enjoyment in all their works. Did the latter guys rip off old JRR Tolkien? Yes, they did, definitely. But then you have to say that all western/cowboy genre books ripped off the original creator of those worlds. And all romance writers ripped off Romeo and Juliette, and all Vampire writers rip off Dracula etc. etc.
I guess what I am trying to say is, maybe it’s not such a big deal after all. If people want to judge Sword, then they just have to be honest with themselves and also judge ninety percent of all the other books they read, and movies they watch. It’s called a Genre – it has tropes, people do it, they always have, they always will. So I don’t think it’s necessary to give poor old Brooks such a hard time. He did what he did, probably only to get published anyway. The rest of his books, I am told, are very original and quite cool, so let’s judge the writer on those.
You know what, I like westerns. The hero is unknown, but he also ends up being the fastest gun in the west. He wins the ranch, gets the girl, and kills all the bad guys. Should I spoil my enjoyment by judging the book I read in that genre as a ripoff for having those tropes?