April 1977 saw publication of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.
It was an important book in the fantasy genre, maybe one of the most important. Before The Sword of Shannara, epic/high fantasy did not exist beyond Lord of the Rings. Publishers did not think readers wanted more of what J.R.R. Tolkien offered in his opus. The quest. The dark lord bent on conquering the world. The everyman going up against the gravest of evils. The hero’s journey. The magic. The talismans. The races. All of it.
Those publishers were wrong, of course. But in the mid-1970s, Lester del Rey and his wife Judy-Lynn were willing to take a chance. They knew readers wanted more epic/high fantasy. They looked for a great debut novel to launch a new imprint at Random House called Del Rey Books. It didn’t take long. They found The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.
Thirty-five years have passed since Sword’s publication. Thirty-five years is an important anniversary. Don’t tell Terry. He’s in denial about the passage of time. Ha! But seriously, this is a significant moment because Sword—whether for good or bad—influenced the genre for decades to come and gave dozens of writers the platform to break into the industry.
In November 2011, Del Rey Books asked me if I’d be interested in contributing annotations to a 35th anniversary hardcover edition of The Sword of Shannara. Terry is in the middle of arguably the busiest writing year of his career and adding one more project—no matter its significance—would put him over the edge for deadlines. Therefore, he suggested I help annotate Sword. I’ve been Terry’s webmaster and continuity editor for almost thirteen years and know his first book better than most. And over the years, I’ve heard him talk about Sword more times than I can remember, and each time I absorb a little tidbit that the fans don’t know.
As of last week, I finished my initial draft of annotations I’ll be contributing. I’ve also asked Terry dozens of written questions in relation to those annotations which should lead to at least 100 additional comments from Terry that the fans will be interested in knowing.
Here is the first, unedited annotation:
Here begins The Sword of Shannara, which took Terry more than seven years to write. Terry drew on inspiration from the European adventure storytellers Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alexander Dumas, but it was only after reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien that Terry realized the fantasy genre held the grand tapestry he needed to tell the tale of The Sword of Shannara.
More on this throughout the year. I’ll be writing several posts like this one, highlighting the various steps we are taking to publish this book. Next up? Terry and I sit down to edit the first draft and he gives me his annotations.
Needless to say, it has been a fun project to tackle. The Sword of Shannara is the reason I am able to do what I do for a living. Without Terry and the Del Reys, I would likely be a bio-chemist or a doctor.