Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Terry Brooks and the Haters of Shannara

There's an interesting thread in the Fantasybookspot forum under the heading Overreaction? in which FBS member amberdrake wonders why some genre fans when they

find something that they don't like about an author (be it poor writing, copying others trends, or mass sales) will automatically HATE that person and everything they say, do, think, wear, eat, etc. How do we go from 'I don't like his books.' to 'he's such an idiot.' These do not necessarily follow logically. What is it, jealousy?

Most of the responses seemed to veer away from the original question into a discussion of different authors' unpopular religious or political views and how the things they've written on those or other controversial topics cause a lot of fans to hate on them. As is often the case in these discussions, Terry Goodkind and Orson Scott Card were set up as exhibits A and B. No arguments here. Both authors have written/said some stuff that is out there, although Goodkind may be in a class all his own. Regardless, I think the point of the original point was lost, or at least misplaced. Here is the response I posted:

I don't know that I've ever read any type of review/blog/rant where dislike
of the work is expressed as outright hatred for the author, but I have been
amazed at the amount of scorn that is regularly heaped on Terry Brooks in these types of forums, as well as blogs, etc. I even caught a derogatory reference in one of the panels at Readercon.

Now I'm not a huge Brooks fan, but the The Sword of Shannara was one of the first fantasy novels I read after The Hobbit and LOTR and I absolutely loved it. Granted, I was ten years old at the time, but it remains one of the few books that I will go back and reread. Sure its derivative of Tolkien, but what epic/high fantasy isn't? As a boy I loved the story and the characters and maybe I'm biased by sentimentality, but the last time I read it(probably 8-10 years ago)it stood the test of time for me.

To borrow Amber's original thought, I'm curious what all the Brooks-haters
out there really hate about the guy. He's a perennial best-seller, so I can't be
the only one here who has something good to say about him. Is it the writing? Some perception that he is undeserving of his success? I'd really like to know.

After further consideration, I've decided that the hate has to stem from his popularity. After all, there are plenty of awful fantasy novels out there (I've never been able to get through even one of those Weis and Hickman books!) that languish in obscurity and quickly fall out-of-print with little to no comment from the fan base. I guess it just galls some people that Brooks is more popular than most of the critically acclaimed genre authors--e.g., Gene Wolfe and China Mieville. I can understand that. But the popularity of certain books has always amazed me. Have you read The Da Vinci Code? Its awful! But millions love it. Go figure. The difference, in my opinion, between Dan Brown's mess of a novel and SoS is that SoS is actually a good book, and I never see that acknowledged anywhere, which is a real shame. The original Shannara books are at least as good as the first Riftwar series, and I never see Raymond Feist's name or books slammed in the same manner.

I think another part of it is that, at least among the most vocal genre critics/reviewers/gatekeepers, the epic fantasy subgenre has lost much of its allure. I get that too, because I'm the same way. I'd rather read a good urban fantasy now than another farmboy-on-a-quest series. But that doesn't mean I need to disregard the books that got me into the genre in the first place. Despite the fact that I gave up on Brooks after the fourth or fifth book (Brooks could never match the magic of the first two books) in the series, SoS and even The Elfstones of Shannara will always hold a special place in the heart of my inner child.

1 comment:

Shawn C. Speakman said...

I have discovered over the years that Brooks-Bashers tend to only have read the SWORD. And in a way, they have a right to grip about it: the first 1/3 of SWORD is a plot point by plot point alignment to that of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

But rather than look at SWORD and following books objectively and really discern them, people bash. Why? Because people love to be negative -- particularly online where there are no consequences usually -- and people love to jump on a bandwagon. Most of those Brook-Bashers haven't even read SWORD; instead, they jump all over Brooks because it is "the proper thing to do, I've heard it so often it must be true."

I believe quite strongly Brooks-Bashers come about because they are jealous of someone who took Tolkien's work, became angry because Brooks became an established writer and fulfilled his dream where these Bashers have not. They won't even read beyond SWORD, afraid of what they might find.

So it is part jealousy, part snobbery, part loving to lash out at anything and everything if it is not literary.

Graeme at said it best recently. He was one of these Brooks-Bashers. He even tells you he was! Then he read ARMAGEDDON'S CHILDREN and realized there is more to Brooks than just SWORD. Now he is he a fan.

So sad. Brooks touches on many facets of humanity in every book he writes that allows him to reach a broad audience. They are accessible like Dan Brown's work but better written. Authors like Wolfe and Mieville are not accessible -- their high-language throws the common reader off. Although I wish those authors were read more, it's just not in the cards -- not until more people want to read a more challenging book.

And I think that's really what Brooks-Bashers are pissed off about. They are actually pissed off at society, a society they don't fit in with and have less in common with than these bestselling authors.

Oh well... here's to hoping people start realizing it takes all kinds of writers to make up the business.