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?
10 thoughts on “Is Sword of Shannara a Lord of the Rings ripoff?”
Assuming at this point you’ve watched the show, but the show is based off of the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara, so reading The Sword probably won’t/didn’t help with avoiding spoiling the story/books.
By the time I watched the show I have read the whole trilogy (first three books in the Shannara series). If anything, watching the show might actually have made the books so much better as the show was a major disappointment to me in itself – not a great show unfortunately.
thank you for this post. I also read Brooks recently and while it does borrow heavily from Tolkien there is not a rock band out there that doesn’t rip off Led Zeppelin every time they write a riff or The Beatles, etc. Tolkien himself borrowed heavily from Norse mythology
I am watching the Shanara movie as I type this. I’ve googled Shanara rip off and arrived here because it’s clear this is a complete and utter very poor copy of LOTR. Oh sure a few things have been changed like the first to last three notes of the song, possibly to avoid plagiarism charges. I wonder that the Tolkien estate doesn’t actually Bring suit against Brooks. While it is true Tolkien himself based LOTR in well known ancient cultures of our earth he was sufficiently original to create his own world populated by archetypes familiar to his readers making his work relatable. Brooks just walked in his shoes step for step not only copying these archetypes but the very plot lines Tolkien used in his hero adventure tale. And he did so badly. This is a moral outrage.
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Ken, the Tolkien estate doesn’t and won’t sue anyone because you can’t copyright ideas. Anyone can write about elves, dwarves, evil immortal spirits and rangers-turned-kings. If the text itself hasn’t been plagiarized, it’s fair game even if it doesn’t seem so.
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When I read the first book I thought, ok this is a lot like LOTR, but I guess much fantasy is these days. So it didn’t bother me much, BUT, when I read the second book I thought “wait, that was exactly the same story with names changed”. Finally when I was about half way through book three I realized it was going to be the same book again, I put it down half way through and never bothered finishing.
So copying some ideas from other works of Fantasy doesn’t bother me, after all we’ve all been so heavily influenced by Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Goblins etc… that it is difficult to imagine fantasy without them. But it is the monotony and exact copying of pivot points in the story that is bothersome in the Shanarra series.
I very much object to this entire line of “Tolkien Lite”. Unlike Tolkien the Shannara series is more based off of Celtic version of myths than Germanic(hence Allanon is a Druid). The tropes themselves that both Tolkien and Brooks used are based off the old Romantic myths and stories of Gods and Heroes a long time before either of them wrote anything. The Old wizard/Mystical Mentor is clearly a Merlin type, the Vagabond Hero who becomes King has been around for hundreds of years. The story of the Quest against an Evil power has been around for as long as Humans have had literature. Also unlike Tolkien the Shannara series is a post apocalyptic story representing the rebirth of Humans and magic many centuries after the fall of the Modern world, where Trolls, Dwarves, Gnomes and Humans all descended from Modern Humans mutated from the fallout of the Great War.
If you really stop and look at both stories The Lord of The Rings is set in the PAST where the World of Shannara is set in the days after WWIII! You need to read the Word series by Terry to get the “big” picture.
Thanks for your analysis. I agree with your point of view that many are missing. The fact that one fantasy story can seem exactly like another even if there is no connection.
I had the LOTR trilogy sitting on my shelf for a long time back in the 80’s but I never read them. I also had the Sword of Shannara sitting on the same bookshelf before I decided to read it. It was quite good, now I admit I still have never read LOTR, however my brother did and he was quite the avid reader. He read both Shannara and LOTR, his summary was basically LOTR was such a drag that went on and on with nothing happening while in Shannara so much action comparably. Yes the TV series completely destroyed Shannara making it more “kid-teen-like” than like the LOTR movies. If Shannara was made like the LOTR movies, now that would be quite epic and even more so than LOTR movies, however the tv series ruined Shannara’s future, I think, for any kind of movie.
Because some people try to make connections between Shannara and LOTR they make them connect, you have to have elves, dwarves, gnomes, trolls etc.. you need magic, you need a quest, a travelling party. Like you said all fantasy stories, you can’t deviate much without sounding like some other story. In my opinion, Shannara will always be better than LOTR. I’ve seen the movies so I will never have to bore myself with the books. I’ve read the sword 3 times, read the first 14 Shannara books, the earlier ones a couple of more times, but using the Sword as a bedtime story to get the kids to bed, the kids really enjoy it. LOTR wouldn’t hold their interest.