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Turn Left: What “Shannara” Means to Me

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you’d turned left instead of right?

Y2K. The paranoia building up to the turn of the century seemed virtually interminable. I was eleven when the clock struck midnight, that chapter in history ended, and nothing happened. January 1st, 2000 marked the beginning of a new age and, by the end of that year, my ascent in the nerdarchy would be complete. I would be a nerd at long last. Skip ahead almost sixteen years and very little has changed with this nerd. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? I’m building tension. Trying to hook you. Is it working? No, please, come back! I really think you should take a moment to read. I’m hoping to change your perspective here, but be warned: you’re in for a helluva trip.

Ahem… If you were a kid in the ‘90s, you watched some pretty amazing cartoons. Some of these came from the ‘80s, mind you, but they were still undeniably awesome. You might remember a couple of the ones here: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Thundarr the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons. All these have a common trope: fantasy to some degree. Magic. Myth. Legend. It was shows like these that first led me to pick up Terry Brooks’ second Shannara novel, “The Elfstones of Shannara.” I hadn’t yet delved into his first Shannara book, “The Sword of Shannara,” which laid the groundwork for everything to come, but I would later on.

the-elfstones-of-shannara“The Elfstones of Shannara” was my first fantasy novel. At that time, I think it’s safe to say it was my first novel. I loved fantasy the same way every little kid did. The swords and magic and saving the world from the minion hordes and their evil overlords was all the rage to a kid like me. I wanted to be those heroes. Fast forward to almost two years later, though, to the events of September 11th, 2001. I was twelve and I was scared. My dad, my one and only hero in this realm, did everything he could to shield me from the horrors of this world, but even hand-in-hand beside my dad, they found us. While it’s true that bad things happen all the time, that was the first truly harrowing event of my young life and I didn’t even fully understand what was going on. The unceasing conversations of war, of people who hated me simply because of where I lived, simply because of who my upbringing had taught me to pray to. It was scary and I escaped to the far-flung future of the Four Lands to hide away from those scary things.

Terry BrooksTerry Brooks helped me grow up. He helped me understand what a hero was even when I was too young to recognize the ones that emerged on 9/11. I remember reading about the quest to rebirth the Ellcrys assumed by Wil and Amberle during the War of the Forbidding. Their story was very much one of undertaking a quest they didn’t fully understand nor comprehend until they were well past the point of no return. I knew more about the quest than the characters did and Brooks did a superb job of making the characters both flawed yet genuine. In that world, I knew who the bad guys were. I knew what Wil and Amberle were up against and I felt like I was right there with them. In this world, I was being told not to trust anyone and I didn’t understand. My marvelous dad tried to help me understand, but I’m not sure he knew either.

imageAlong the way, Wil and Amberle struggle to find themselves, and at 12 years old, man, did I understand that struggle. It made for one magnificent page turner and still does to this day. The other plotline revolves around the War of Forbidding itself as Allanon, the Elves, and their allies fight back against the Dagda Mor and his demon army. This is massive and well written on Brooks part with casualties, various stratagems engaged by the defenders, and it hops around so much within the Four Lands. There are a lot of great takeaways from the book and I learned many a great lesson from it that I still employ to this day, but nothing I can really share with you without giving anything away.

imageI started reading other fantasy novels from Tolkien and Moorcock, eventually branching out to other genres like science-fiction with Orson Scott Card and the former Expanded Universe of the Star Wars novels. I began watching movies like Lord of the Rings. I went on to play D&D where my first character drew inspiration from characters like Wil, Allanon, and Eretria. When I first took up the mantle of Dungeon Master for my friends, I ran them through a scenario where the King of the Silver River himself asked for their help. From there, I delved into board games and other tabletop RPGs. I started writing. It’s safe to say that without Terry Brooks and the Shannara saga, I may not have cared a lick about Star Wars or Doctor Who (and that’s pretty significant to those who know me).

imageThe lessons I learned from Terry Brooks’ novels and everything that came after helped me cope with my grief when my dad finally passed away – when my world lost it’s one true hero. I wasn’t in the right mind back then and I contemplated dark things as I battled depression, but the hope those characters carried with them was also inside of me because of what I read and experienced. It still is to this day. That, among many other factors, saved me from hard times and gave me the resolve to fight as Allanon and the entirety of the Four Lands did – to fight back against the demons of my own Dagda Mor.

imageIn just three weeks, MTV is set to air “The Shannara Chronicles”, a series directly adapted from that novel that spoke to me so much as a kid and helped me grow into the man that I am today. I was recently blessed with the chance to screen the first few episodes. Knowing that Terry Brooks directly played a part in the making of the series played a huge role in my acceptance of this adaptation. After seeing so many other childhood memories battered by Hollywood, this is a welcome change. The first few episodes took me back. It was Wil, Amberle, their allies and me again. Thanks to MTV, Terry Brooks, Manu Bennett, Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero, and everyone involved, I remember who I am and where I came from.

You don’t know me, but I encourage you to see this. If for no other reason than to experience the type of spiritual awakening that I did.

After all, the Ellcrys is calling.

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