It’s all a matter of perspective – and emphasis

By Elizabeth Engstrom

I’m currently reading a masterful book written by literature’s head elf himself, Terry Brooks.  It’s the The Elfstones of Shannara, and I am enjoying it immensely.

Early on in the book, there is an elf massacre.

Okay, snicker if you must, but it is a dark and meaningful event in the plot when our point of view character enters a chamber and finds all his friends slaughtered.

Being a fantasy writer, Brooks gives this scene its emotional gravitas, but doesn’t dwell on the blood and gore. I began to realize that this scene, in addition to being a pivotal plot point, could actually be the defining moment of genre.

Had he gotten very graphic, this could be a horror novel. Had the character’s love interest beckoned him with her last dying breath, it could have been a love story. Had there been a different tone to it (I mean really, an elf massacre?) it could have been a farce, or a comedy.

As I read it, I was a little disappointed at this scene, and couldn’t help but think that so much more could have been done with it. But that’s me. I dwell in the dark. Mr. Brooks also dwells in the dark, but a different aspect of it. This novel has plenty of dark moments and dark themes, and he relies on the emotional impact and meaning of the dark forces that committed this elven atrocity to affect the reader.

And it works.

So after analyzing it and realizing what he was trying to accomplish, and the genre in which he was working, I came to appreciate his deft touch with the material, and came to appreciate its genius. There is nothing heavy-handed here, it is story telling at its finest in a genre with which I am not entirely familiar.

As always, I learn a lot while reading outside of my normal parameters (Read everything! All the time!), and this short scene taught me a crucial lesson about defining genre.

It’s all in how we handle key scenes.

When Terry inscribed the book to me, he wrote that it is his best work, and I believe it is this book that is the genesis of the new Shannara television series. Good for him. Good for us. There’s a reason he is at the top of his game, as he has countless hours of entertainment for us, and much to teach every writer who reads him.

3 thoughts on “It’s all a matter of perspective – and emphasis

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Liz. I need to read this book! Personally, I’m grateful for writers like Terry who go against the tide of ever increasing brutality and misery (ala Game of Thrones) now popular in the fantasy genre.

  2. I’m reading Terry Brooks right now too, Ilse Witch, and loving it. It’s hits a sweet spot between light hearted adventure and deeper, darker themes, and its just so darn well done!

  3. And it takes a good writer to recognize all that sublety, the emphasis an perspective and to appreciate it. Thanks for bringing it to light. I am reading the Sword of Shannara now,,,,

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