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The Elfstones of Shannara
Terry Brooks
read by Charles Keating
Random House Audio, abridged edition

The Elfstones of Shannara
Terry Brooks
With the publication of Sword of Shannara in 1977, Terry Brooks became one of the most popular authors in the industry. He has published more than 14 consecutive bestselling novels since that first book.

Terry Brooks
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sometimes The Magic Works
SF Site Review: Morgawr
SF Site Review: Ilse Witch
SF Site Review: A Knight of the Word
SF Site Review: Running With The Demon
Del Rey's Terry Brooks Feature Site
Terry Brooks' Landover Tribute Site
Terry Brooks Tribute Site
Terry Brooks Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

I'm a fan of books on tape and books on CD. The technology provides a medium for those developing readers who can read along with the voice on tape, or for people who are otherwise preoccupied (e.g. driving). There's also a population of visually impaired people who must use the tape if they want to hear the story. I'm not sure of the replay value of these things, and the tape version is expensive ($26US, $28 CDN) when compared to paperback or used editions.

With that said, I'm also a fan of this most recent edition of The Elfstones of Shannara, which is read by Shakespearean veteran Charles Keating. (Keating has done lots of other stuff, including Another World and The Thomas Crown Affair.) Keating pours his dialectic skill and sober baritone into a complicated story. The result is a restrained and honest performance. One gets the impression that Keating has respect for this story, and his dedication brings to it a new life. In addition, Keating's vocal talents bring distinction to the various characters, and he often manages three or four characters at a time.

One does wonder if the use of a British actor is a prerequisite to making a fantasy book on tape. It's true that Terry Brooks shamelessly follows the example of Tolkien, but whereas Tolkien pushed his plot to the background while focusing on the relationships of the characters to their world, Brooks highlights static but lively characters. That's not British, in my opinion (Brooks is a native of Illinois, by the way). It might be time to find a new 'standard' way to tell audio fantasy stories.

Elfstones is not a simple text, and that complexity adds to the challenge of listening to this story for the first time. Those of us who read the story 20 years ago and who have subsequently kept tabs on the Shannara series will have less difficulty understanding the doings of the Druid Allanon, the healer Wil Ohmsford, and the elf Amberle. With knowledge of the characters as well as the "rules" of this world, the experienced Shannara traveler will enjoy the drama as this audio edition unfolds.

Those people who are less familiar with the Shannara world will find following the story more difficult. Fantasy worlds are complex places in which to travel. Shannara has its own history and cultures, and Elfstones contains its own internal logic that pits Wil and Amberle against raging hordes of demons who wish to destroy the world. A series of events must destroy the Ellcrys tree that holds that alternative world of demons at bay. Multiple plot points must move to put Wil on the path to using the legendary Elfstones, which change his being with every usage. Such is the world of fantasy.

The easy thing to do in these instances is to simplify the text. That's not cool in my book. Novels are entities; an author hands a complete package to a reader. Abridged copies tend -- from my reading -- to focus on plot points and less on imagery and tone (among a laundry list of other issues). Happily, this edition balances that need of simplicity and clarity with a preservation of the story's core. I am not surprised that Brooks approved this abridgement as Karen DiMattia, who created the abridged text, does a good job to streamline descriptions and events, while still keeping the stories emotional content.

DiMattia cuts the story to its roots, and the new version might have more vitality than the original. Brooks, in my opinion, has a robust style, one that sometimes interferes with the content. I don't argue with his deserved success, and I have enjoyed his books. I do wish, however, that he would sometimes use one word instead of ten. In this taped version, the thinner text reveals new levels of depth to the characters. For example, the listener gets a better sense of Allanon's mechanizations, of the heavy burden he carries, and of the responsibilities he gives to Amberle and Wil. Those things were present in the original text, but now they are highlighted and bring new depth to that particular character.

Perhaps the best part of this new release is that the story and Brooks's world of Shannara is now available to a new audience, one who might not have previously pursued his work in print. Brooks -- at his core -- is a born storyteller. Those stories come alive either in print or through vocal interpretation. The result is a different, but still satisfying product.

Copyright © 2004 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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