Thursday, August 4, 2011

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.

One thing in particular that I liked about the narrative threads that were developed in these chapters (and this was something that you mentioned briefly at the end of your last letter) is that each one seemed like it could be a possible way to save the world. In LotR, the only way to save Middle-earth is by destroying the One Ring, but here, even though the Sword of Shannara is stated to be the only way to defeat the Warlock Lord, that’s not the impression that the narrative gives. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we didn’t hear about Shea and the search for the Sword of Shannara at all during these five chapters, which diminishes its importance in the narrative, especially since the other threads developed in these chapters seem like viable possibilities for victory. Balinor and the Border Legion seem like they could defeat the Warlock Lord, and Flick’s mission to discover what is in the tent that the Skull Bearer guards also seems like it could be key to victory. This does a lot to make each narrative thread equally interesting, rather than having me flipping through sections that don’t have to do with the plot lines or characters that I like.

Right now, there are a few questions that I’m particularly interested in--what is in the tent that the Skull Bearer is guarding? Will Palance end up on the side of good or evil? And of course, now that Hendel is stuck in the dungeons too, how will Balinor and the Elves get out? Since you so accurately predicted the Sword of Shannara being in Orl Fane’s sack, do you care to make an predictions about these questions?

Finally, on a more specific note, I really liked the ending of chapter 23, and, in particular, the very last line: “Balinor had come home.” The imagery leading up to that was pretty great, too, with its focus on sound and the description of several sounds fading away into the distance, leaving Balinor and his companions in silence. Sure, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but like the music in blockbuster movies like Avatar, it’s effective and definitely made me feel the poignant sense of loss that this scene describes. The irony in the final line is the perfect closing to this feeling of hopelessness.

Alright, I think that’s it for this section--looking forward to hearing what you think!


Dear Jen--

I always love a chance to make an utter fool of myself, so I accept your challenge to make some predictions. I’m looking forward to being completely incorrect and being ridiculed forever more. I think first I will tackle what is being guarded so closely in the tent by the Skull Bearer.

As far as I can tell, the Warlock Lord is only interested in one thing, and that is the Sword of Shannara. While I’m certain that Stenmin has been planted by the Warlock Lord (which happens to be very similar to the situation with Theodin and Rohan) I feel that this is only a minor diversion; the sword is still the Warlock Lord’s main focus. Consequently, whatever is in that tent must be Sword related. It can’t be Shea, as we know that he is with Panamon and Keltset. We know that Orl Fane has the Sword and can’t have delivered it already, so we know that it can’t be the Sword itself. The one loose end for the Sword then is Eventine. I’m not entirely what role Eventine has to play with the Sword, but I’m relatively certain he is important. My guess is that Eventine was captured in the battle on the Streleheim plains by the gnomes and is being held captive in the tent. Remember that his personal standard was found on the battle field, and his body was not found.

As for Palance, I’m at a loss. My guess at this point is that somehow Palance will come around to the side of good, but in doing so will end up killing both Stenmin and himself in the process. On the other hand Stenmin seems to be shaping Palance’s mind by exploiting his love for Shirl. I also see a possibility where Menion challenges Palance over Shirl (or more probable Palance challenges Menion) and Palance dies in the ensuing conflict. I guess my final prognosis for Palance is that he will die relatively soon; I’m not entirely sure why I have this feeling.

The escape of Hendel, Balinor, and the elven brothers also is an interesting problem. However, I don’t think that the situation is so hopeless. One possibility is that Menion manages to find and rescue them, although I find this rather unlikely. I think perhaps that while Palance is distracted with Menion stealing Shirl from him, Balinor and his compatriots will manage to find an alternative exit to the dungeon that will lead them to the secret lair of Stenmin. Again, I have no supporting evidence, but alternative secret exits are always fun.

What I’m very interested in at this point is what role does Menion have to play in the upcoming events? He has already proven himself rather spectacularly both with his quick thinking and fast shooting at the Jade Pass and now with his rescue of Shirl and the entire populace of Kern. I think a romance between Shirl and Menion has already begun to happen, but how will this intertwine with Palance and Balinor?

Menion’s exploits tie in nicely with your point about how Shea and the Sword have not been mentioned in these past five chapters and this leads to more enjoyable reading. We no longer are being lectured with history dumps about the past, but are now being able to see actual development of the characters. I’m excited to see how Menion develops, how Balinor and company manage to escape, how Flick manages to escape the gnome camp undetected, and what Allanon’s next step will be. I’m also very intrigued by Keltset and Panamon. I do agree that Panamon will swing for good, but I’m not so sure about the Han/Chewie relationship. In any case I’m excited to keep on reading!