One of the first second-generation fantasy series, and among the longest running, Terry Brooks' Shannara began in 1977 with a doorstopper called The Sword of Shannara, but is now a nineteen-volume series which includes a trilogy of urban fantasies. It should be noted that The Sword of Shannara was the first high fantasy novel to become a mainstream bestseller, demonstrating to the publishing industry that there was a market for fantasy; the genre, at least as we know it, might not exist otherwise.The setting is fairly standard for a fantasy series, but the backstory is different from most High Fantasy. Rather than being set in the distant past, it is set in the far future, long after a nuclear war destroyed modern civilization. Gnomes, Dwarves, and Trolls are all mutated humans, Elves make an appearance and there are still insane killer robots in remote places.Long before the first book, an order of druids was established to rediscover the lost secrets of science, but instead discovered the even longer lost secrets of magic, from before the history we know. Corrupted by dark magic, one of the druids became the Warlock Lord, and spent the next thousand years trying to Take Over the World from his lair in Skull Mountain, in the center of the Skull Kingdom. This brings us to...
These three loosely connected books dealing with the Druid Allanon and his relationship with three generations of the Ohmsford family, the Heirs to the House of Shannara.By the time Sword of Shannara kicks off, Allanon is the only surviving good Druid. He arrived in a small village, told the hero, Shea Ohmsford, that he was actually the last of the bloodline of the famous Elf King, Jerle Shannara, and the only person able to use the titular McGuffin to kill the Warlock Lord. He refused to explain how to use it, though. After a long journey many mishaps, a lot of Character Development, and one hell of a surprise ending, Shea manages to put the Warlock Lord back in his grave.A few decades later, in The Elfstones of Shannara, Allanon returns, having spent the intervening years in magical sleep, and conscripts Shea's grandson Wil and elven princess Amberle to save the world. It seems that long before human history, the elves (revealed to be the real thing, not mutant humans) and other good faeries locked all the evil faeries, known as Demons, inside the Forbidding, using a magic tree called the Ellcrys. Now the Ellcrys is dying, and the Demons are beginning to escape. Amberle, as the last of the Ellcrys Chosen, must make the journey to the Bloodfire, to fertilise one of the trees seeds. Since Allanon will be busy helping the Elves defend their homes from the Demons, he convinces Wil, who has inherited the anti-dark magic Elfstones that the Druid gave to Shea, that he must protect Amberle on her dangerous trek.A generation later,in the third book, The Wishsong of Shannara, we discover that using the Elfstone's gave Wil's children Brin and Jair the inherent magic of the Reality Warping Wishsong. Unable to penetrate the Garden of Evil known as the Maelmord to destroy the Ildatch, the Tome of Eldritch Lore that corrupted the Warlock Lord, Allanon recruits Brin, believing that she may be able to succeed where he has failed. Easily the darkest of the three, it explores the idea of the inherent unpredictability of magic, and the addiction to it in far greater detail than Sword or Elfstones.
This was a single story in four volumes, taking place three hundred years after the first trilogy, when the elves have vanished, and an authoritarian Federation rules both men and dwarves. It begins with the ghost of Allanon summoning the Ohmsfords descendants. He tells them about the Shadowen infesting the Four Lands, and gives them three missions: restore the lost Druids, return the vanished elves, recover the Sword of Shannara.In Druid, The King of the Silver River sends Walker on a quest to stop an independent Big Bad and retrieve the Black Elfstone, a magical object that he needs to fullfill his mission.In Elf Queen, Wren goes looking for the missing Elves, discovering along the way that she's really the heir to their throne. She also learns the origin of the Shadowen.In the final volume, The Talismans of Shannara, the heirs manage to reunite, despite the Shadowens' best efforts to kill or subvert them, barely manage to avert the Big Bad's plan to pull a Grand Theft Me on The Hero and gain unlimited power, but eventually triumph.
This trilogy, set in the modern day, was only later retconned into the series. The Knights of the Word walk the earth performing missions for the Lady, and each night they dream of what will happen if they fail. They are locked in a secret conflict with the demons of the void, once-human shape shifters dedicated to the destruction of all things, distinct from the demons locked behind the Forbidding. The trilogy tells the story of a Knight named John Ross and a girl named Nest Freemark with special powers, who is important to the coming apocalypse.
The Elves send a recently invented airship, named after the Ohmsfords' illustrious ancestor, in pursuit of an ancient library from our near future. Unfortunately they aren't the only ones looking for it, the psychotic Ilse Witch is after the same treasure. Upon finally reaching the site indicated on the map they have to get through the library's guardian.
Grianne has become the High Druid, but one of her subordinates stages a coup by trapping her in the Forbidding with all the faerie demons, releasing a single shapeshifting demon in exchange. The coup was actually instigated by a demon-lord in the Forbidding, as part of a plot to release all the demons. Grianne's nephew Pen manages to rescues her, but his girlfriend is turning into a spirit. Grianne volunteers to take her place, which for frees her from all guilt due to the Loss of Identity.
This trilogy links 'The Word and The Void' with the main series. Sometime in the near future, the once-human demons are winning their war. Civilization is collapsing with scattered havens of order surrounded by wastelands full of dangerous mutants, paranoid survivors, and lawless scoundrels, but there are a handful of heroes standing against the tide. Only two Knights of the Word remain: Logan Tom and Angel Perez. While Logan searches for Nest Freemark's son Hawk to help him fulfill his destined savior role, Angel's quest is to find the last remaining Elves and ensure their survival into the new world.
A duology which starts 500 years after Hawk led humans, Elves, and mutants to safety. The cocoon of magic that has protected their valley is coming undone. One Knight of the Word is left and must find a successor.
500 years after High Druid, new information leads Khyber Elessedil, the new Ard Rhys, to launch a dangerous search for the lost Elfstones of Faerie.
The franchise as a whole provides examples of:
Action Girl: Angel Perez, Simralin Belloruus, Wren Ohmsford, Matty Roh, Rue Meridian, Tamis. Brooks likes this one. Taken up a notch in the "Dark Legacy" books with Seersha; a battle-hardened Dwarf warrior woman who had extensive Druid training prior to the books' outset. She had an eye patch and several tattoos to boot.
After the End: The whole series takes place thousands of years in our future, after humankind was devastated by nuclear war and plague, mutated into several new races, and rediscovered magic as well as the remnants of The Fair Folk. The "Genesis" trilogy takes place in the late 2100s, about half a century after the Great Wars, with civilization in its last moments.
All Deaths Final: You can be brought back from the brink of death. You can be healed from gaping chest wounds, lethal poisons, you name it. But once you're dead in the Shannara universe, once you're all the way gone? You stay gone. Your shade can come back and talk to people, but the real physical you? That's all folks.
All Trolls Are Different: These ones are big, strong creatures descended from mutant humans, with no hair and tough hide, and a warrior culture.
Always a Bigger Fish: A recurring theme. No matter how big and scary the official villains are (say, a pursuing Shadowen monster), there's always something bigger and scarier than they are, but that sticks to its own territory (the hidden, tentacled horrors said Shadowen wanders too close to). Every so often (notably in Druid and Talismans), the protagonists take advantage of this.
Always Chaotic Evil: Demons (of both kinds) are evil by nature, and no good Mwellrets ever appear in the stories. Averted with the Gnomes (who are mostly evil but have at least one good-aligned settlement) and Trolls (who are actually very noble).
Even most Gnomes in general aren't evil, coming closer to a very primitive Chaotic Neutral, they just tend to serve the evil side becuase they are extremely superstitious and will follow anyone with enough magical power to make them do so. And the Stors (the above mentioned "good" settlement) is closer to Lawful Neutral, as they are a community of healers that will treat any injured person that comes to them, no matter what, and refuse to take sides in any conflict.
Angry Black Man: Panther in "Genesis", though his race is incidental to his attitude.
Anyone Can Die: Driven home in Wishsong with the death of Allanon. Even if you survive your original series, chances are you won't make it through the sequel.
Artifact Title: Many of the books' titles are only "of Shannara" because one or more of Jerle Shannara's Ohmsford descendants is involved, and in the prequels that's not even the case. The constant use of "of Shannara" is the main reason for people mistakenly thinking that Shannara is the name of the world.
Badass Family: The Ohmsfords, the Leahs, and the Elessedils have saved the world how many times now?
Big Good: Allanon in the classic series has many aspects of this.
Captain Ersatz: A lot of the characters from the first book bear some resemblance to those from The Lord of the Rings. Brooks gets much better about not doing that in subsequent volumes, however.
Changeling Fantasy: At least three times, although Shea and Bek are both on good terms with their adoptive families and Shea actually keeps the Ohmsford (adoptive) family name, which is passed on to his descendants. Contrariwise, his multigreat-grandson Bek changes his name from Roh to Ohmsford when he learns the truth of his adoption.
Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Sword of Shannara was not originally made to be used only by Jerle Shannara and his bloodline, but the people didn't know that and now it only works for them because nobody else believes it could work for a non-Shannara. The sword being powered by the collective will and belief of the people seems to make this mandatory, though grabbing someone who was orphaned as a baby (of which there should be no shortage, due to the setting) and telling everyone they're a Shannara never seems to occur to anyone.
Probably because it's a supernatural sword of truth. Such a ruse would dissolve in contact with the sword.
Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Elfstones. The Seeking-stones are a brilliant blue, and the Black Elfstone negates all other forms of magic. In Witch Wraith, however, we are introduced to the crimson, emerald, saffron, and white Elfstones. Due to the events of the book, we only learn what the crimson Elfstones can do.
Creator Provincialism: Most of the series, except for two of the books in the "Word/Void" trilogy, take place mostly in Brooks's home of the Pacific Northwest, and the locale of the two aforementioned books of The Word and the Void trilogy are modeled after Brooks's hometown of Sterling, Illinois.
Dark Is Evil: Constantly used, and Justified, as overuse of the dark magic, can and does warp a person's mind and physique in equal measures.
Demon Lords and Archdevils: Findo Gask in the "Genesis" trilogy, the Dagda Mor in Elfstones, Tael Riverine in the "High Druid" trilogy. Some powerful, ancient, and malevolent Faerie creatures that weren't sealed in the Forbidding, such as Uhl Belk (The Stone King) and the Grimpond, edge on this trope.
The closest thing to a Satan behind them seems to be the Void, introduced in the "Word/Void" books but only personified once, when it manifests to Gask at the beginning of Angel Fire East.
Derivative Differentiation: It series started off as fairly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, with the largest distinction being the After the End setting. It even took its general plot structure straight from The Lord Of The Rings. As the series went on, however, the books developed more original plots, including an urban fantasy trilogy.
The Dragon: Several. Psycho for Hire Pe Ell is probably the most archetypical, working as Rimmer Dall's favourite killer in the Heritage series.
End of an Age: The Genesis books take place at the very tail end of civilization as we know it. The recent Dark Legacy trilogy meanwhile is poised to evoke this trope for the existing Shannara order.
Eternal English: Averted, although it's implied that many of the languages in the later Shannara stories are descended from English.
Evil Smells Bad: Most of the villains in the main Shannara series leave a foul reek or some other unnatural miasma in places they have lived, passed through, or corrupted. The fortress of the Chew Magna, the Skull Mountain in the Northland, the lake where Valg lived beneath the Hall of Kings, the cellars and rooms of Graymark, the poisoned grotto of Heaven's Well, the Maelmord, the home of the woodswoman Shadowen, the Pit (and the cellars of the Buckhannah Palace), the lair of the Wisteron, the bowels of Southwatch (and most of the rest of it too), and the Morgawr itself all have this property.
Evil Sorcerer: The demon Findo Gask; the Warlock Lord, Brona; the Morgawr and his sisters; most of the Mwellrets; and arguably the Shadowen. Even the Dagda Mor had shades of this. Given that one of the main themes of the series is the responsible use of magic, and the dire results of abusing it, it's understandable why Brooks likes this one so much.
Fantasy Gun Control: By the time the Legends of Shannara books take place, this had long come into effect due to people in general having long forgotten the existence of firearms, let alone how to make them or produce ammunition. Though it's also mentioned that the few functioning ones that do remain, such as flechettes are highly prized weapons. Further down the line, however, guns become completely absent.
Although initially played straight as the Federation WAS originally The Federation, with a group of large city-states coming together for mutual defense, it's only later they decided the best way to stay safe, was make sure all Humans were part of them, and all non-humans enslaved or eradicated.
Functional Magic: Notably averted. The books go out of their way to point out how magic resists being treated scientifically, and how it evolves in unpredictable ways.
Full-Contact Magic: Most Druids and other magic users are also physical fighters. Allanon and Walker Boh are the standouts.
Garden of Evil: The ruins in First King, most of the island in Elf Queen, the Melmord from Wishsong, and one of the islands in Voyage of the Jerle Shannara.
Genius Loci: The ancient city of Castledown is controlled by a sentient artificial intelligence, Antrax. And then there's the ghost in the castle at Mephitic, and the living island of Shatterstone, the evil garden of the Maelmord, and the one protecting the Black Elfstone in First King. Finally, Southwatch is a living building used by the Shadowen to siphon off and store the earth's magic.
Grim Up North: The Northland is originally the home of the evil Warlock Lord. Even after his defeat, the Northland may no longer radiate evil, but it's still exceptionally dangerous. With only the Trolls, outlawed Men, and a few Gnome tribes (as well as the half-Troll, half-Gnome Urdas) making their home there, it's not a place you'd like to live.
Half-Human Hybrid: Very common. Most of the Races are descended from humans, or are otherwise indistinguishable from them, so it's not atypical for intermarriage to occur. The Ohmsfords are all Men with some Elf in them, there's an entire tribe (the Urdas) of Gnome/Troll halfbreeds, and other combinations are often mentioned, without there seeming to be any real taboo about it. It's only when you get into things like Truls Rohk (half-Man, half-Shape Shifter) that you run into trouble.
The Heartless: Feeders in the "Genesis" era; the Shadowen in "Heritage".
Actually the age of Faerie just kind of, faded out, there was no big apocalypse, sure there was that big war between the Good and Evil aligned Faerie creatures, but that was long before the age ended. The age just slowly faded as man emerged and started supplementing all the others as the dominant race.
Heroic Sacrifice: Amberle in Elfstones, Quickening in Druid, Cogline in Talismans, Walker in Antrax. Many throughout the "Dark Legacy" series, with Cymrian's in Witch Wraith perhaps the most devastating.
Hollywood Cyborg: The Creepers are what happen when this trope and giant insect get together and have children. Antrax builds several out of people in Voyage.
Human Mom, Non-human Dad: Shea's biological parents. A lot of the Ohmsfords are like this, with Elves and Men marrying and remarrying.
Inverted with Truhls Rohk, whose father was human and whose mother was a shapeshifter.
Humans Are White: Everyone in the Four Lands era is either white or Ambiguously Brown. Given that it was only America that (barely) survived the apocalypse, it sort of makes sense that after millenia of interbreeding there would be no one very dark. In the pre-Shannara books, the ethnic demographics are what you'd expect (i.e. majority Caucasian, recognizable African-American and Latino minorities).
In the End, You Are on Your Own: At first played straight—Shea is left facing the Warlock Lord completely alone, with all of his friends and heroes left elsewhere, Allanon unable to reach him in time, and Panamon and Keltset paralyzed, while Wil must fight the Reaper with the Elfstones as Amberle remains in the Bloodfire and Eretria ineffectually tries to help. In Wishsong there is an early subversion—it seems like all the other members of Jair's company have died or vanished, leaving him imprisoned at Dun Fee Aran with only himself to rely on to escape. But then, thanks to the King of the Silver River's bequest of strength to his friends, they all show up alive to rescue him. It is then played straight when each of them gives up their lives to get Jair to Heaven's Well and he has to go to Brin entirely alone. Heritage averts it completely, with the Final Battle taking place in Southwatch with all the Shannara heirs (save Wren) and their allies fighting Rimmer Dall and the Shadowen. And even Wren isn't on her own, since the Free-born show up to help the Elves.
Knife Nut: Many. Brooks doesn't seem to have the usual stigmas about knives, and doesn't view them as particularly good, particularly bad, or even particularly Bad Ass. As such, knives in his books are simply a lightweight, reliable weapon, carried by both sides, good and bad.
Lamarck Was Right: Using magic created by another race, when you've only got maybe one-quarter blood of the creator race in the first place, can cause some problems. Wil Ohmsford was actually damaged by use of the Elfstones, along with passing on some of the magic to his children in the form of the Wishsong.
Legendary Weapon: The Sword of Shannara is the legendary sword which the Elven King Jerle Shannara used to defeat the Warlock Lord and end the Second War of the Races. Five hundred years later, the entire plot of The Sword of Shannara is a quest for said sword.
Lightning Bruiser: Generally speaking, if something in one of Brooks' books is described as large it's also going to be very fast.
Locked Out of the Loop: The Druids have a tendency towards doing this, including Walker Boh, who initially despised the Druids for it.
Loners Are Freaks: Truls Rohk, Pe Ell, Walker Boh, and many other characters deal with this trope. Some are straight examples (with Pe Ell diving right into being a psychotic loner), others, like Walker are only percieved as freaks by those around them.
McGuffin: Loads of 'em. Expect each book/series to have a couple.
Medieval Stasis: From Legends of Shannara onwards, civilization is presented as for the most part having the trappings of a Medieval European Fantasy. On the other hand, stories set chronologically later show Magitek as well as attempts to rediscover Old World technology.
The Mole: Several, mostly shapeshifters posing as harmless servants. Notably the Changeling in Elfstones, Teel and Pe Ell in Heritage.
Mordor: The Skull Kingdom, Eldwist in Druid of Shannara. The Shadowen tried to turn the entire Four Lands into this.
Mutants: Ubiquitous in "Gensis of Shannara", though technically they'd be "mutates"—we learn that the first "Freaks" were born human but mutated into their new forms due to exposure to radiation, their changes getting passed on to their offspring. By the time of the "Four Lands" era, the Freaks have developed into the races of Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls.
Our Demons Are Different: Two main groups of them. Those locked in the Forbidding (the capital D Demons) are evil fairies; those in the present day (the little d demons) are humans corrupted by the dark side. Both are implied to have been created or corrupted by the embodiment of pure evil, the Void. There's also the "demons" on Morrowindl, which are revealed to be another form of Shadowen.
The Demons it should be noted come in a wide variety of types as well, encompassing Goblins, Imps, Furies, Ogres and Dragons, as well as more generic Demons, and apparent singularities like The Dagda Mor, The Changeling, The Reaper, Tael Riverine, and The Moric.
Our Dragons Are Different: Well, there's Valg, the giant, firebreathing, venemous serpent waiting under the pool in the Hall of the Kings. And then there's the Demonic Dragons, which are a type of evil fairy with six-legs, one eye, no wings, and no fire.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Brooks distinguishes his Dwarves from those of other fantasy series by having them deeply unsettled by underground spaces (because their ancestors were forced there by the Great Wars). They're also largely predisposed to woodsmanship, and their most famous landmark is the Meade Gardens. Outwardly, though, they look mostly like other Dwarves, beards and all.
Our Elves Are Better: Relics from the time of The Fair Folk who are a lot more mortal than they used to be. In fact, the only thing that sets Elves apart from humans is their appearance and a natural propensity toward magic. And as The Heritage of Shannara establishes, they are every bit as capable of monumentally screwing up as Men are.
Our Gnomes Are Weirder: They actually fill the same role as goblins and orcs—primitive tribesfolk who often serve the forces of darkness. They're not Always Chaotic Evil, though, as at least one heroic Gnome (Slanter) has appeared, and a tribe of them help one of the heroes in Armageddon's Children. There's also the Stors, a society of Lawful Neutral healers who mostly keep to themselves, but occasionally aid the good guys.
The Gnomes are basically a very primitive Chaotic Neutral who due to intense superstition tend to blindly follow anything that seems at all magical.
Playing with Fire: The Crimson Elfstones tend to engulf their targets in a terrible, flaming pillar of energy which absorbs their life and turns them to ash.
Reality Warper: What the magic of the Wishsong basically is. "Wish for it. Sing for it. And you shall have it." There are two version's: Jair's, which is the weaker one and only able to create incredibly detailed and realistic illusions; and Brin's which is the more powerful and able to alter and control anything she wants. Jair's is passed on to his descendants in full force, although skipping generations every now and then. While none of Brin's ever get the full ability until Voyage (probably just as well).
To an extent anyway, she can't completely alter reality to her whim, as physical laws can only be bent so far, but not broken by it I.E. while trying to make a very twisted tree trunk straighten itself, the stress of trying to straighten vs it's inflexibility causes it to explode.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Redden's blue to Railing's red in Dark Legacy, though they can swap roles at times.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Many of the monsters, demons, and other beasts in series are described as "scaled" or "reptillian." And then there's the Mwellrets or "lizards" a shapechanging Troll species that has yet to have a single "good" representative, and their master, the utterly vile Morgawr.
Sealed Evil in a Can: The elder Demons are sealed in a parallel dimension called the Forbidding by the Elcrys tree. The weakening and subsequent recreation of the seal forms the plot of Elfstones. High Druid revolves around an attempt by one of them to break out.
Single Line of Descent: The Ohmsford family. Sure, we've seen it branch out a few times, but you'd think it would happen a lot more. Also the Leahs, the Elessedils, the Creels... Brooks likes this trope.
On the other hand, most of these family trees get pruned on a regular basis.
Sociopathic Soldier: The once-men in the "Genesis" trilogy—humans who have surrendered their souls to the Void and its demons.
Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Averted. The Warlock Lord, the series first Big Bad, is also the most individually dangerous. Some of the other villains come close to being the same level of threat, but not one of them manages to eclipse him. As late as "High Druid", Grianne calls him the greatest evil the Four Lands had ever known.
Squishy Wizard: Thoroughly averted by the Druids, and most villainous magic users, who tend to be tougher than normal people, with Bad Ass, Kung-Fu Wizard, Determinator and (for the villains) Large and in Charge being common traits. The Wishsong's users are much closer to the ideal, although before you can hit them you have to go through their magic, which is not an easy proposition.
Tangled Family Tree: The Leah, Ohmsford, Elessedil, and Boh family trees have all crossed and crisscrossed a time or two at this point, creating a situation where, distantly or otherwise, Everyone Is Related.
Take Up My Sword: Druids are prone to this. Bremen does it to Allanon, Allanon to Brin, and Walker to Grianne.
The Theme Park Version: The Four Lands start out as a dumbed-down version of Middle-earth, but the series gets better after the first trilogy. It now has its own mythology, a very different backstory, several places that weren't mentioned in the first series, and generally doesn't resemble Middle-Earth all that much at all.
Title Confusion: Shannara is not the name of the world the books are set in; it is the name of an Elven royal family.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: Limited primarily to creatures with the innate ability; usually a villainous power. Jair got this in the short story "Indomitable" and the graphic novel "Dark Wraith of Shannara", but see below.
The Changeling, one of the Demons of the Forbidding, has this as his main power.
The Moric, a Demonic relative of the Changeling, has an even more complete version of this, though he generally has to eat his victim first.
The Mwellrets, a race of reptilian mutants, can stretch and mold their bodies (if not their faces) to disguise themselves as other races if they keep under wraps. The Morgawr, their master, can fully shapeshift.
Finally, there are a class of spirits simply called shape-shifters which display this ability to Reality Warper levels. Though they have undertones of The Fair Folk, they're generally content to leave others alone and their primary appearance in Morgawr had them willingly aiding the protagonists.
Truls Rohk, a half-shapeshifter and a protagonist, has a downgraded version; he can distort his shape but only imperfectly. It has...severe drawbacks.
To elaborate: The Sword's power is to force anyone who touches it (including the wielder) to see and accept the complete and total truth about themselves. The Big Bad of the first book is undead and unaware of it. Put two and two together. This same power is used in Heritage and Voyage to help Rimmer Dall and the Morgawr's victims see through the web of lies the two have created.
Also used with the main Ohmsford of the High Druid series, his family line contains people that can project completely realistic illusions, and even some (like his father and aunt) with near Reality Warper level, and what does he inherit? He gets to be a second rate Dr. Doolittle that can empathicly feel what other living things are feeling, not communicate directly or control, just trade vague feelings with them. Much angsting ensues.
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Most of the enemies were people who used the magic irresponsibly and were overcome and corrupted by it. Protagonists use the magic sparingly for this reason.