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J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien, Brooks, and Really Bad Television

“Herein lies the heart and soul of the nations.
Their right to be free men,
Their desire to live in peace,
Their courage to seek out truth,
Herein lies the Sword of Shannara.”
― Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara

I first read “The Sword of Shannara” back in the 70’s. A true ‘Sword and Sorcery’ tale, complete with dragons and monsters, gnomes, elves, and all the rest, The Sword was high fantasy at its best. Flick and Shea Ohmsford, country boys, out to save the world. Then, of course, life happened, and though I read many of Terry Brook’s books, and listened to many more, the Shannara cycle fell to the back of my mind.

Recently, I came across The Shannara Chronicles, a 2016 television adaptation of the Shannara series, and gave it a try. With Austin Butler as Will Ohmsford, (and of course, you can’ have fantasy on television without John Rhys-Davies) the storyline is:

An Elvish tree, known as the Ellcrys, is dying. The bad news is that the tree has been the only piece of magic that protects the Four Lands from the Demon World. Amberle Elessedil is the only one who can save the tree. But she has to unlock magic that the Elves haven’t used in thousands of years. With the help of Wil Ohmsford, she travels to find the lost magic. But it won’t be an easy task. – Written by Chris Green

OK, the show was really bad. Dumbed down to reach the Twilight crowd, this group of hormonal teenagers really wasn’t pleasant to watch. True Shannara fans must have been throwing things at their television screens . . . I made it through the first one and then knocked it off my Netflix “watch” list. However, the show lead to me restarting the Shannara series itself. Though I have the paperbacks, (The top photo is of my edition, an oldie!) there was an audio copy at my local library, narrated by the incredible Scott Brick, so I picked it up to listen. What I found, after so many years, was a disappointment. Yes, the story is everything a Lord of the Rings (the photo at right is of a first edition set) fan could ask for. But that is exactly why I was disappointed. I simply couldn’t get over the parallels. It felt very much like ‘same song, different verse’.

“Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.” – Smile.Amazon.com blurb

Then, I sat back and laughed at myself. Snotty much? I first read LoTR many, many years ago, when I was still in elementary school, and it set my expectations for books for many years to follow. And while the overarching storyline is indeed very similar, what did I expect? This is sword and sorcery at its finest – a genre I have loved all my life. And as amazing as that Oxford Don proved to be, he single-handedly developed a genre that was the focus for all that were to come. And Mr. Brooks is, in my opinion, the greatest of those followed in the footsteps of the Giant of the genre, the father of them all.

7347Stricken ill after the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Tolkien first began writing The Book of Lost Tales to pass the time as he recovered. By 1925 he was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and the literary world would never be the same. Brooks’ story is much different. Growing up in the rural midwestern town of Sterling, Illinois, he gained a BA in English Literature, but like many of his generation, that Lit degree didn’t go far, and he moved on to gain a J.D. from Washington and Lee University, practicing law for many years before beginning 7346his writing career in earnest. As the Shannara Wikia puts it:

“One day, in his early college life, he was given a copy of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, which inspired him to write in one genre.”

And his writing really is inspired. Though drawing heavily from the tales of his beloved predecessor, Brooks developed a story beloved by millions, just as Tolkien did before him.Magic Kingdom For Sale.jpg

If you are a lover of all that is sword and sorcery, this series, and the other works of Brooks (I am partial to the Magic Kingdom of Landover series. Bumbling wizards, evil dragons, talking dogs and all. . .) are all wonderful. If you haven’t picked up any of his books, and I can’t imagine you haven’t if you are a reader of fantasy at all, you should. And if, like me, you haven’t visited this marvelous world in years, then you should. Enjoy!


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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances | [Neil Gaiman]

  • Audible.com New Release!
  • Written by: Neil Gaiman
  • Narrated by: Neil Gaiman
  • Length: 11 hrs and 1 min 
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Publisher’s Summary

Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things–which includes a never-before-published American Gods story, “Black Dog”, written exclusively for this volume.

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well as “Black Dog”, a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

©2015 Neil Gaiman (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers

About the Author

Neil Gaiman
Image courtesy of backstagerider.com

Biography

Beginnings

Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis.  As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton.  A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”

Early Writing Career

Gaiman began his writing career in England as a journalist.  His first book was a Duran Duran biography that took him three months to write, and his second was a biography of Douglas Adams, ‘Don’t Panic: The Official Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion.’  Gaiman describes his early writing:  “I was very, very good at taking a voice that already existed and parodying or pastiching it.”‘Violent Cases’ was the first of many collaborations with artist Dave McKean.  This early graphic novel led to their series ‘Black Orchid,’ published by DC Comics.

The groundbreaking series ‘Sandman’ followed, collecting a large number of US awards in its 75 issue run, including nine Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and three Harvey Awards.  In 1991, ‘Sandman’ became the first comic ever to receive a literary award, the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
Established Writer & Creator
Neil Gaiman is credited with being one of the creators of modern comics, as well as an author whose work crosses genres and reaches audiences of all ages.  He is listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as one of the top ten living post-modern writers and is a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics, and drama.

Gaiman has achieved cult status and attracted increased media attention, with recent profiles in The New Yorker magazine and by ‘CBS News Sunday Morning.’

Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Social Media

Audiences for science fiction and fantasy form a substantial part of Gaiman’s fan base, and he has continuously used social media to communicate with readers.  In 2001, Gaiman became one of the first writers to establish a blog, which now has over a million regular readers.

In 2008, Gaiman joined Twitter as @neilhimself and now has over 1.5 million followers and counting on the micro-blogging site.  He won the Twitter category in the inaugural Author Blog Awards, and his adult novel ‘American Gods’ was the first selection for the One Book, One Twitter (1b1t) book club.

Writing for Young Readers

Neil Gaiman writes books for readers of all ages, including the following collections and picture books for young readers: ‘M is for Magic’ (2007); ‘Interworld’ (2007), co-authored with Michael Reaves; ‘The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish’ (1997); ‘The Wolves in the Walls’ (2003); the Greenaway-shortlisted ‘Crazy Hair’ (2009), illustrated by Dave McKean; ‘The Dangerous Alphabet’ (2008), illustrated by Gris Grimly; ‘Blueberry Girl’ (2009); and ‘Instructions’ (2010), illustrated by Charles Vess.

Gaiman’s books are genre works that refuse to remain true to their genres. Gothic horror was out of fashion in the early 1990s when Gaiman started work on ‘Coraline’ (2002).  Originally considered too frightening for children, ‘Coraline’ went on to win the British Science Fiction Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, the Bram Stoker, and the American Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla award. ‘Odd and the Frost Giants’, originally written for 2009’s World Book Day, has gone on to receive worldwide critical acclaim.

‘The Wolves in the Walls’ was made into an opera by the Scottish National Theatre in 2006, and ‘Coraline’ was adapted as a musical by Stephin Merritt in 2009.

Writing for Adults

Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels ‘Neverwhere’ (1995), ‘Stardust’ (1999), the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning ‘American Gods’ (2001), ‘Anansi Boys’ (2005), and ‘Good Omens’ (with Terry Pratchett, 1990), as well as the short story collections ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ (1998) and ‘Fragile Things’ (2006).

His first collection of short fiction, ‘Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions,’ was nominated for the UK’s MacMillan Silver Pen Awards as the best short story collection of the year. Most recently, Gaiman was both a contributor to and co-editor with Al Sarrantonio of ‘Stories’ (2010), and his own story in the volume, ‘The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains,’ has been nominated for a number of awards.

‘American Gods’ has just been released in an expanded tenth anniversary edition, and there is an HBO series in the works.

Film and Television

Gaiman wrote the screenplay for the original BBC TV series of ‘Neverwhere’ (1996); Dave McKean’s first feature film, ‘Mirrormask’ (2005), for the Jim Henson Company; and cowrote the script to Robert Zemeckis’s ‘Beowulf.’ He produced ‘Stardust,’ Matthew Vaughn’s film based on Gaiman’s book by the same name.

He has written and directed two films: ‘A Short Film About John Bolton’ (2002) and Sky Television’s ‘Statuesque’ (2009) starring Bill Nighy and Amanda Palmer.

An animated feature film based on Gaiman’s ‘Coraline,’ directed by Henry Selick and released in early 2009, secured a BAFTA for Best Animated Film and was nominated for an Oscar in the same category.

Gaiman’s 2011 episode of Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife,” caused the Times to describe him as “a hero.”

‘The Graveyard Book’

First published in the UK at the end of 2008, ‘The Graveyard Book’ has won the UK’s Booktrust Prize for Teenage Fiction and the Newbery Medal, the highest honor given in US children’s literature, as well as the Locus Young Adult Award and the Hugo Best Novel Prize.  The awarding of the 2010 UK CILIP Carnegie Medal makes Gaiman the first author ever to win both the Newbery Medal and the Carnegie Medal with the same book.  ‘The Graveyard Book,’ with its illustrations by Chris Riddell, was also shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration – the first time a book has made both Medal shortlists in 30 years.

“Twenty-three years ago, we lived in a little Sussex town in a tall house across the lane from a graveyard. We didn’t have a garden, and our 18-month-old son loved riding a tricycle. If he tried riding in the house he would have died because there were stairs everywhere, so every day I would take him down our precipitous stairs, and he would ride his little tricycle round and round the gravestones. As I watched him happily toddling I would think about how incredibly at home he looked. I thought that I could do something like ‘The Jungle Book’ with that same equation of boy, orphaned, growing up somewhere else, but I could do it in a graveyard. I had that idea when I was 24 years old. I sat down and tried writing it and thought, ‘This is a really good idea, and this isn’t very good writing. I’m not good enough for this yet, and I will put it off until I’m better.”

The film adaptation of ‘The Graveyard Book’ is in production.

Biographical information courtesy of and copyright Neil Gaiman. All rights reserved.

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