The general story line starts that Shea Olmsford is a half elf from the ancient line of Shannara (former royal family of the elves) who is adopted by the innkeeper of Shady Vale. Its worth pointing out that he doesn't know he is from the line of Shannara at the start of the book just that he's half elf.
The thing that is important about the Shannara's is that one of the ancestors was chosen by the then last Druid Breman to wield the sword of Shannara against the evil ex-druid Brona who has succumbed to the dark side as it were and is trying to take over the Four Lands. This particular Shannara wins (or so you think) and life goes back to normal a foe a couple of hundred years.
However we find out that Brona is not actually dead when the now last of the Druids, Allannon, turns up in Shady Vale to take Shea and his brother Flick on a journey of dire import to locate the sword of Shannara, unlock its secret and go off and kill Brona again!
That really only covers the first book as during the series the plot twists and turns and ancient magic that was lost returns to do disastrous things to the folk of the four lands and it gets very complicated.
I guess the lord of the rings idea comes from the fact that among other things the people of the Four Lands consist of Men, Elves, Trolls, Dwarfs and Gnomes; but really to me that’s where the comparison end.
The major difference between the two in my mind is that LOR is defiantly set in another world where as I have always had the impression that the Four Lands really come from a time a couple of thousand years in our own future and some of the elements of the story read as a bit of a cautionary tail.
In terms of reading the books they can at times be a bit heavy and slow but I defiantly think they are worth it just to see this different perspective.
Some of the other things people may consider derivative: the wise Druid Allanon (comparable to Gandalf), the nature of the quest with friends and members of other races along for the ride, the nature of the evil presence - Brona is a former Druid, the few remaining Druids left from the formerly formidable Druid Council, the King of the Silver River could be equable to Tom Bombadil...you see where it could be thought to be a shade of LOTR.
However, I find the actual flavor of this series to be different, with more characters that are interesting and unique. When I read it for the first time, I never even thought about LOTR and only considered the possibility that it was derivative after it had been mentioned to me and then I could see the connections.
It is definitely worth a read.
I read these books when I was twelve and thought that they ripped Tolkien off left right and centre. Perhaps I should review that opinion. There is a Shannara computer game fro the PC, I own it but have not played it.
He's wonderful! Yes, there are a heck of a lot of Tolkien things in there, but it dosen't bother me or stop me from thoroughly enjoying his books! Being a Christian, I especially enjoy his Christian themes.
Only very recently did I read Sword of Shannara and I found it to be, nothing new though I did finish it. I don't think I will be seeking any more from this author. Do they get better as the series goes along?
A few years ago I started reading the Sword of Shannara, and I couldnt stand it. Quit about 2/3s through out of boredom. I dont remember exactly what bothered me about it, but my dislike could have had something to to with the fact that I'd just finished the first three ASoIaF books and Brooks just paled in comparison. I think it was kind of reminiscent of Eddings, just that fluffy weak no-chance-the-main-character-will-die feel to it.
guess the lord of the rings idea comes from the fact that among other things the people of the Four Lands consist of Men, Elves, Trolls, Dwarfs and Gnomes; but really to me that’s where the comparison end.
Again I completely and respectfully disagree Brooks has admitted to reading LOTR a couple of years before writing the Sword of Shannara, and has said on numerous occasions it is his chief influence, which is no different from many other epic fantasy writers, but Brooks takes it to another level in derivativeness:
Here are just some of the similarities:
The Oshmfords, a family in the middle of no where, Shady Vale, who is intertwined with the fate of the world. (Hobbits)
-The Warlock Lord, is the closest thing to Sauron in fantasy.
-Isn't flick Sam?
-Allanon, basically a ageless the lone magic user who serves the land by uniting people , gifted with knowledge, whose amazing powers are limited. Gandalf.
-The Western elves.
-Mt. Doom/Skull Mountain
-The Kings Passage parts, are absolutely reminiscent of the Mines of Moria.
-The enigma, The King of the Silver River, Tom Bombadil anyone?
-The Skull Bearers, basicaly the Nazgul.
-Why does the Warlock Lord survive in the past? Because he was not destroyed utterly by Jerle Shannara....Isildur anyone?
-Doesn't Tyris(sp) = Helms Deep?
-Mist marshes/dead marshes
-Orthanc/Paranor, hell even the same thing happens
The first set of books are kind stand alone adventures though it would help to read them in order. The next four books are all one big tale that should be read in order. I read the books when I was a lot younger and I enjoyed them quite a bit, tried to read them a year or so ago and they didnt stand the test of time. I agree with whoever aid the whole you-know-the-characters-wont-die thing. What I mean is that they just wont surprise you at all. You can pretty much predict the outcome of any encounters.
I want to note that I enjoyed Brook'sWord/Void series, but concerning Shannara, I think Michael Moorcock says it best:
Terry Pratchett once remarked that all his readers were called Kevin. He is lucky in that he appears to be the only Terry in fantasy land who is able to write a decent complex sentence. That such writers also depend upon recycling the plots of their literary superiors and are rewarded for this bland repetition isn't surprising in a world of sensation movies and manufactured pop bands. That they are rewarded with the lavish lifestyles of the most successful whores is also unsurprising. To pretend that this addictive cabbage is anything more than the worst sort of pulp historical romance or western is, however, a depressing sign of our intellectual decline and our free-falling academic standards."
Honestly, I don't think anyone in the genre is reputable enough to tackle Moorcock presently, but it's part of his 'Epic Pooh' article he wrote. I have a link on my site, plus discussion Here .It's 4 pages of damn good reading imho