Often referred to as the "classic trilogy" or simply the "Shannara trilogy", these three loosely-linked Doorstopper High Fantasy
novels launched Terry Brooks' writing career. Set in Brooks' now famous Shannara
universe, the three novels deal with three different generations of the Ohmsford family, their ties to the Elven House of Shannara and its magic, and their relationship with the enigmatic Druid, Allanon.
In Sword Of Shannara
, Allanon arrives in the sleepy hamlet of Shady Vale with the news that The Warlock Lord
, an evil former Druid, has returned to life. Only the fabled (and titular) Sword of Shannara can rid the world of his threat for good, and only a member of the House of Shannara can wield the sword. As it turns out, Shea Ohmsford
is the last living heir of the house. Along with his brother Flick, their friend Menion Leah, and diverse others, Shea and Allanon set out to look for the Sword.
On their way to Paranor, home of the Druids, disaster strikes. Shea is separated from the group. Forced to team with thieves Panamon Creel
, Shea sets off to recover the sword on his own, while his friends attempt to avert Brona's conquest of the Four Lands. Many adventures, and one Hell of a twist ending, later, Shea recovers the Sword and puts Brona in his grave permanently.
Flashforward fifty years to Elfstones of Shannara
. The Ellcrys, the tree that keeps the Demons of legend sealed up within the Forbidding, is dying, and her Chosen are massacred by the escaping Demons. The sole Chosen remaining, Elven Princess Amberle, must travel to the mythical Bloodfire and resurrect the Ellcrys. Realising that he will be needed to help the Elves defend their home from the Demons, Allanon visits the Gnome town of Storlock, intent on strong-arming Shea's grandson Wil into serving as Amberle's bodyguard, since he inherited his grandfather's magic-destroying Elfstones.
Wil soon agrees. He and Amberle set off, with the Nightmare Fuel
in hot pursuit. In the meantime, Allanon, Elf King Eventine, and Eventine's son Ander gather what few allies they have and prepare to fight a delaying action against the armies of the Demon Lord known as The Dagda Mor
. In the end, a new Ellcrys is created, the Demons are banished, and all is well.
Twenty years after that, in The Wishsong of Shannara
, the Mord Wraiths appear. In possession of the Ildatch, the same Tome of Eldritch Lore
that corrupted Brona, they seem poised to destroy the Four Lands. Even Allanon cannot penetrate the defences they have raised around the book, and all seems hopeless. Falling back into his old habits, Allanon calls upon Brin Ohmsford, who, thanks to her father's use of the Elfstones, possesses the Reality Warping
Wishsong. Unlike Allanon, Brin will be able to use the Wishsong to enter the Maelmord
and destroy the Ildatch; she and her Love Interest
Rone Leah set off with Allanon in order to do so.
Meanwhile, her brother Jair, who possesses a lesser version of the Wishsong, is told by The King of The Silver River
that Brin will fail if he does not go to her aid. Alongside reluctant Gnome Tracker Slanter
, and uber-Bad Ass
Garet Jax, as well as numerous others, Jair goes after Brin. In the end, Brin is saved, and the Ildatch destroyed, albeit at tremendous cost. The Magic Goes Away
...at least until the next series.
While the first book has been criticised for being too similar to The Lord of the Rings
, the later books are generally regarded as better, and the trilogy as a whole was very successful. It's best described as good quality pop-fantasy. There are now a number of stories set within, just before, or just after the books in the trilogy. They include the short stories Allanon's Quest
, The Weapon Master's Choice
, and The Black Irix
(collectively known as Paladins of Shannara
), the novella Indomitable
, and the graphic novel Dark Wraith of Shannara
For those interested in the history of the fantasy genre, it should be noted that The Sword of Shannara
was the first high fantasy novel not written for children to be a commercial success in its own time (that's right; The Lord of the Rings
was not a commercial success until many years after it was published), and Elfstones
were numbers two and three, respectively; all three spent weeks on the New York Times
best-seller list. This was largely what convinced publishers that fantasy could be a commercially viable genre separate from sci-fi, causing an explosion in the publication of fantasy.
for the character sheet.
Tropes associated with the original trilogy (separated due to the loose nature of the series) include:
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The Sword of Shannara
- After the End: The book's universe is implied to be our world after a World War III that had destroyed human civilization and caused the creation of new races. The heroes even stumble upon metal ruins of an old city and fight an insectoid cyborg.
- The Alliance: The Border Legion, and the Elven and Dwarven armies form the bulk of the alliance against Brona.
- As You Know: To truly epic levels at the start, where the entire history of the world is monologued to the main character.
- Though not entirely played straight, while everyone knew the general gist of what was told, this is the first time anyone but Allanon had heard the whole story, unaltered by propaganda and bias.
- Attack of the Monster Appendage: The Swamp monster in the first book is a Type 1.
- Bad Ass: Allanon, Hendel, Balinor, and Panamon Creel are the standouts. Menion Leah especially.
- Badass Normal: Panamon Creel, Balinor and Hendel. Menion Leah above all.
- Big Bad: The Warlock Lord
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The giant bug monster they meet in the ruins of the old city.
- Cain and Abel: Balinor and Palance. It's largely because of the latter's raging inferiority complex.
- Citadel City: Tyrsis, being built into a mountain, walled with a thick gate, and Border Legion of Callahorn defending the place.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Only a Shannara heir can use the Sword, because the legends say only a Shannara heir can use the Sword.
- Cyborg: The insectoid monster they meet in the ruins is at least half machine. Might be a Creeper actually, going from the description.
- Dead All Along: Brona is revealed to be this, in one of the biggest twists in Fantasy Literature.
- Don't Go in the Woods: The Black Oaks are avoided by anyone with half a brain. Unfortunately, avoiding them sends Shea, Menion, and Flick into the Mist Marsh.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Allanon disguises Flick as a Gnome and sends him to infiltrate Brona's army and free the captured Elven king, Eventine. The results are both hysterically funny, and very awesome.
- Evil Chancellor: Stenmin, to Balinor's brother, Palance.
- Freudian Trio: Shea (Ego), Panamon Creel (Id), and Keltset (Superego)
- Good Wings, Evil Wings: The Skull Bearers have leathery, batlike wings.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Shea is part human, part Elf.
- Happy Ending: The only unambiguously happy ending in the whole blasted franchise.
- Honour Among Thieves: Panamon Creel's belief that he owes Shea for saving his life is the reason he agrees to assist him in finding the Sword. And given Creel's peculiar sense of honour that means he'll take him to the ends of the earth to do it.
- Human Mom, Non-Human Dad: Shea's biological parents
- Informed Ability: Stenmin, the Evil Chancellor, is said to be a mystic. He never shows any sign of magical powers, though it's possible he was some sort of astrologer/fortuneteller/alchemist, and consequently didn't have any (or at least, not that would have helped him against the heroes). To be fair, however, it is very possible to infer that Stenmin's influence over Palance might have some partly mystical cause. Also, the word "mystic" technically does not mean the same thing as "magician."
- Keystone Army: The Skull Bearers exist only through Brona's magic. When it goes, so do they.
- Killed Off for Real: Palance Buckhannah, Hendel, Stenmin (good riddance), Orl Fane, Brona, Keltset.
- Load-Bearing Boss: Brona.
- Load-Bearing Hero: Keltset.
- The Lost Woods: The Black Oaks.
- McGuffin: The titular Sword, which obsesses most of the characters for the duration of the book.
- Mordor: The Skull Kingdom is a wreck, with a skull-faced mountain at its core, and is surrounded by poisonous rivers, lethal deserts, and a mountain range filled with poisonous spiders.
- Never Accepted in His Hometown: The tiny village of Shady Vale apparently managed to miss the fact that a Third War of the Races was fought that summer. When Shea and Flick make it back home, their father shows absolutely no knowledge of the fact that his biological son saved the life of the Elven King or that his adoptive son killed the most evil wizard in recorded history. All he has to say is "You boys have been acting strange since you got back from that hunting trip in Leah."
- Odd Friendship: Hendel (gruff, taciturn Dwarf) and Menion Leah (irresponsible hothead).
- Off with His Head!: Stenmin's fate.
- Our Dragons Are Different: Valg, the giant, fire and poison breathing serpent that haunts the Hall of the Kings is essentially a wingless, water-dwelling Dragon, despite never being identified as such.
- Single Line of Descent: Shea is the sole living descendant of Jerle Shannara, a king who had three daughters and two adoptive sons who lived 500 years previously. Justified in that Brona had apparently spent quite some time removing all the others before the start of the book.
- Sorcerous Overlord: Brona
- Swamps Are Evil: The Mist Marsh. It's miserably damp, filled with pools of brackish water, and oh yeah, there's the Mist Wraith, a Kraken-esque spirit that would desperately like to eat you.
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Shea is understandably distressed when he learns that the Sword's power is to make any living being it touches accept the truth about itself. Of course since Brona is Dead All Along...
The Elfstones of Shannara
The Wishsong of Shannara
- Artifact of Doom: The Ildatch is very close to this.
- Bad Ass: Allanon (noticing a pattern here?), and of course Garet Jax.
- Badass Normal: Garet Jax may well have been Batman in another life. Helt is also a tank, briefly holding his own against a most of the Gnomes in Greymark.
- Big Bad: We're set up to believe that it's the Mord Wraiths, but it's really The Ildatch itself.
- The Big Guy: Helt.
- Bittersweet Ending: The heroes win. They really, really do. But pretty much everyone dies to make it happen.
- Bodyguard Crush: Inverted. Rone Leah volunteers to be Brin's bodyguard because of his crush on her.
- Cassandra Truth: None of the Dwarven Council of Culhaven believes Jair's story thanks to a bit of Arbitrary Skepticism (yes, Allanon hasn't been seen in twenty years but they know as a Druid and practitioner of magic he is long-lived, and legends of the King of the Silver River have been around for a very long time) and Allanon taking Rone and Brin a different route. It takes a demonstration of Jair's magic, revealing that he has seen Allanon's image, to prove he is telling the truth.
- Combat Sadomasochist: Both Jachyras are hardwired by the magic to be this. It makes them very, very dangerous.
- Cool Sword: This is the one where Allanon changes the Sword of Leah into the anti-magic weapon we all know and love.
- The Corrupter: The Ildatch of whoever uses it.
- The Wishsong has the potential to be this as well, if the user becomes too dependent on it or uses it for malicious ends. The "savior vs. destroyer" dichotomy is a huge part of the plot, and is only mirrored with Par in Heritage.
- Covers Always Spoil: The blurb on the soft cover gives away The Ildatch's identity as The Big Bad.
- Darkest Hour: Things look pretty bleak about mid-book. On the one hand, Allanon has been killed, the Sword of Leah has been lost, and Brin is left alone trying to nurse the poisoned and dying Rone back to health. On the other hand, Capaal falls to the Gnomes thanks to the Mord Wraiths calling a Kraken (which seems to kill Garet Jax); Foraker, Edain, and Helt all seem to die; Jair gets separated from Slanter, who seems to abandon him; and he's captured by Stythys and taken to the prisons at Dun Fee Aran. The latter is subverted, however, when all the party members turn up alive and rescue Jair, and even Brin is able to heal Rone, then get her quest back on track by finding Cogline and Kimber Boh.
- Death Seeker: Garet Jax accompanies Jair because a prophecy promises him that if he does so he will meet his ultimate opponent; namely someone who can kill him.
- Defector from Decadence: Slanter.
- Driven to Suicide: Helt, due to the poison of the winged creature in the cellars of Graymark, brings down the gate to cut the rest of the party off from the Mord Wraiths and their forces, a You Shall Not Pass brought on by incipient Body Horror.
- Dwindling Party: Jair's party is reduced to him and Slanter by the end. Played with at first, however—Brooks makes it look like each of the party members have died fighting the Kraken or the Gnomes at Capaal, thus leaving Jair alone as he ends up captured by Stythys and taken to Dun Fee Aran. Then all of them show up alive to break him out of prison. It isn't until the final assault on Graymark that the trope is Double Subverted.
- Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: The Mord Wraiths summon a Kraken to help them take Capaal. Garet Jax kills it. With a spear. Bad Ass!
- The Faceless: The Mord Wraiths, due to a combination of Black Cloak and In the Hood.
- Fighting Down Memory Lane: To restore Brin to herself.
- Five-Man Band: Jair's protectors form one:
- The Hero: Garet Jax. The Leader, and a Walking Armoury, Jax can handle most situations, makes the group's decisions, and saves them all time and again.
- The Lancer: Elb Foraker, an experienced Dwarf fighter, and one of the few people Garet Jax trusts fully.
- The Big Guy: Helt, a giant Borderman, armed with a long pike, who serves as the muscle and regularly holds the line against great odds.
- The Smart Guy: Slanter the Gnome Tracker, who knows the terrain, is fully aware of how screwed they are, and is the quickest thinker around.
- The Chick: Edain Elessedil, the least experienced member of the group, whose main role is to be Jair's friend.
- Protectorate: Jair Ohmsford.
- Brin's group also forms one on the journey to Heaven's Well.
- The Hero: Brin Ohmsford, who leads the group, and is the one who absolutely has to make it.
- The Lancer: Rone Leah, Brin's best friend, love interest, protector, and instinctive Number Two.
- The Big Guy: Whisper the moor cat.
- The Smart Guy: Cogline, whose knowledge of Old World science and the land around them makes him invaluable despite his insanity.
- The Chick: Kimber Boh, who is there to be Brin's friend and little else.
- Garden of Evil: The Maelmord is a sentient garden that protects the Ildatch.
- Green Aesop: The King of the Silver River sends Jair on a quest to stop the Mord Wraiths from polluting the Silver River.
- Hero Secret Service: Jair's party.
- Kill 'em All: Not quite, but the last half of the book makes a valiant effort. Stythyss, Helt, Edain Elessedil, Elb Foraker, Garet Jax, Allanon, and pretty much every other named character bite the dust.
- Killed Off for Real: See Kill 'em All.
- 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. Justified, since this is magic we're dealing with.
- The Lancer: Slanter slowly evolves into Jair's.
- Leave Him to Me: Allanon and Garet Jax both say this when confronted by the Jachyras.
- Lizard Folk: The Mwellrets are first introduced in this book, as a species of reptillian Troll that survived in the swamps instead of the mountains.
- The Magic Goes Away: The finale. The Ildatch is dust, Allanon is dead, Paranor is sealed away, and Brin and Jair are told to never use the Wishsong again.
- The Man Behind the Man: Turns out the the Warlock Lord, Big Bad of the first book was actually the puppet of his sentient Tome of Eldritch Lore cum Artifact of Doom, the Ildatch. Whether he was aware of this is unknown.
- More Than Mind Control: The Big Bad pulls this on Brin. It takes The Power of Love to fix things.
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous: The Kraken of course.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Seemingly the only explanation for Cogline's behavior in this book versus the Heritage trilogy (and actually stated in-universe by Kimber). Also makes for a huge number of Crowning Moments Of Funny, a rarity in this sort of High Fantasy. According to Word of God, however, he really was insane, courtesy of a screw-up with the Druid Sleep. By the time Heritage rolls around, he's back to normal and considers that time period his Old Shame/Never Live It Down moment. Makes it even funnier in a way.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The climactic duel between Garet Jax and the second Jachyra.
- Taking You with Me: It is believed that this was the end result of said duel. It can't be proven because the Jachyra, dead or alive, disappeared when the Ildatch was destroyed, but Jair and Slanter refuse to believe that Garet Jax could be killed without mortally wounding his enemy first.
- Panthera Awesome: Whisper, Cogline and Kimber Boh's moor cat, who attacks the Mord Wraiths and their monsters with only his teeth and claws. He may be more Bad Ass than any of the human characters.
- Playing with Fire: The Mord Wraiths' usual attack involves red flames.
- Plot Parallel: Jair's growing friendship with Edain Elessedil is mirrored by Brin's with Kimber Boh. Edain eventually gives his life to save Jair so he can get to Heaven's Well; Kimber would have done the same, and even tried to, only to be tricked by Brin into being separated and left behind in a hopeless fight with her grandfather and Rone against the Mord Wraiths. The choices the Ohmsford siblings make, and the different results, are telling.
- The Power of Love: How Jair brings his sister back to her senses after The Big Bad's More Than Mind Control leads to a bit of With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. Lampshaded by Allanon when his Shade visits Brin.
- Reality Warper: Brin's Wishsong allows her to force the world around her to comply with how she wants it to be. See the main page for more details.
- Refuge in Audacity: During the Culhaven company's encounter with the Gnome army at Capaal, Slanter and Helt accidentally tumble off a cliffside and land right in the middle of the enemy troops. What do they do? Dress Helt up in dark robes like a Mord Wraith, with Slanter as his Gnome attendant, then walk right through the camp until they can get to the fortress walls and reveal their identities to be let inside. And it works.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The first book to introduce the Mwellrets, in the form of the treacherous Stythys.
- Suicide Mission: Jair's quest is effectively this. Of the six men who leave Culhaven to go to Heaven's Well and halt the pollution of the Silver River, four of them die on the way.
- Take Up My Sword: Allanon does this to Brin after he dies, charging one of her descendents with becoming the next Druid and rebuilding the order.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Ildatch is an ancient book, surviving from the time of Faerie, and containing the secrets of many of their darker magics. Reading it subverted Brona, the Skull Bearers, and the Mord Wraiths; as such, Allanon has decided it must be destroyed.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Unlike Sword, which had one party that got split up by circumstances in a parallel to Tolkien, or Elfstones where the action switched between the adventuring heroes (Wil and Amberle) and the home front fighting Delaying Action, this book has two independent plotlines with Brin's quest to the Maelmord (diverted several times) and Jair's quest to Heaven's Well to save her (also diverted a few times).
- Unusual Euphemism: Rone Leah's "...for cat's sake!" which he says frequently enough for it to be considered his catchphrase.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jair and Slanter evolve into the Type II version.
- You Shall Not Pass: Jair's party do a number of these; the most notable is Helt's Last Stand against an entire Gnome army.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Allanon is informed in advance by Bremen that he will not live to see the outcome of the quest. Allanon's obviously not too thrilled with this news, but it doesn't deter him from continuing on the quest.