Interview: Terry Brooks

We talk to a master of fantasy fiction.

There are few names in modern fantasy that are as recognisable as Terry Brooks. Since 1977, with the publication of The Sword Of Shannara, the author has released novel after novel in the series and his other major line, The Magic Kingdom Of Landover. His books have been sold worldwide, consistently hit The New York Times bestseller list, and seem to be constantly optioned for films rights by various studios, although no adaptations have emerged yet.

His latest completed trilogy, The Genesis Of Shannara, bridges his dark urban fantasy Word & Void series and his Shannara proper line. Fans had speculated that the two may be linked during the release of the original books – Running With The Demon, A Knight Of The Word and Angel Fire East – and this of course was made canon. Brooks’s move to link them, however, was taken much earlier than many speculated, as he told us when we spoke to him by telephone at his Seattle home on a Friday evening. “Everyone seems to think that it was a decision that I took pretty late on,” he said. “Actually it was much earlier, more around the time of The High Druid Of Shannara.”

The Word & Void series proved particularly popular with fans of his work – perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given the strictly fantasy setting of his previous novels and the very modern, contemporaneous and political feel of these new ones. “I was thinking of doing more Word & Void books at the time,” he explained. “And that led on to me thinking about [post-apocalyptic event in the novels] the Great War. An idea came to me that it could lead on to what happens later, so I discussed it with my editor. I decided to go ahead with it, and see what happened, and here we are now.”

The Genesis Of Shannara was even more of a departure from The Sword Of Shannara, and even the Word & Void novels, being firmly post-apocalyptic science fiction with a fantasy bent. Comprised of three novels – Armageddon’s Children, The Elves Of Cintra and The Gypsy Morph – the series solidly shifts the setting from the world of Nest Freemark and John Ross toward that of Shea Ohmsford. Even though the novels were such a success, though, Brooks is hesitant to say that he’d ever write a straight science fiction novel. “I have considered it,” he answered slowly, “but it would probably have to be space opera. My science background isn’t strong enough to do the harder science fiction, and it’s not something I’d feel comfortable doing.” He paused for a minute, before adding, “So probably not, no.”

It wasn’t long before we came around to the perennial point of discussion in Terry Brooks interviews – the film adaptations. Several years ago, news emerged that The Elfstones Of Shannara and several books in his Landover series had been optioned by major studios. The blogs picked up the story, and interest was high for months afterwards, but long periods of time began to pass without any news, and the projects were generally considered to have entered development hell. Several months ago, Brooks posted on his website that the time period the studios had optioned the films for was about to run out, and eventually another statement was made saying that they had passed without renewing the opportunity to adapt the films. If you ask Brooks about it, though, his nonchalance about the process is striking, particularly as he laughs when you ask him about it. “I’ve been down this road so many times,” he said with a sigh. “It’s the same every time – everyone’s really excited in the beginning. They say things like ‘It’s going to be the next Lord Of The Rings’ and people are really involved. Then, as time goes on interest drifts.” Brooks said that most of his books have options on them, or have had at various times. Given the delays so far, however, it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing a celluloid Shannara any time soon.

As previously mentioned, Brooks’s website is the main conduit of information for the author, primarily through his monthly letters page where he answers enquiries from fans, named Ask Terry. “Some authors are far more engaged with their fans,” he said, when asked by SciFiNow about maintaining a presence every month. “You know, they go on chat rooms and write blogs, do panels and such. But I spend my time writing and with my family, those are the things that are important to me. I do as much as I can.” As anyone who attempts to do so will attest, maintaining a regular web presence is a difficult thing to do, particularly for the length of time that Brooks has. Despite taking time for his personal life, and moving house – which he was in the middle of as we spoke to him – the author is attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta next year as their literary guest of honour (“Whatever that means,” he remarked). Brooks has been to the event “four or five times now”, and although he doesn’t hold the infamous broken elevators and crush of people in high regard, he says that he does like the energy about such events, the costumes, and particularly with Dragon*Con that it feels like a family event.

As the interview wound up, we couldn’t resist asking him a question that has plagued fans of his work since 1977. How do you pronounce Shannara? “I pronounce it as Shann-a-ra,” he said. “But then, 95 per cent of people say Shann-ah-rah. So it’s really up to you.”

Bearers Of The Black Staff is out now through Orbit.