BrooksBlog: End of an Era
Most of you know The Sword of Shannara was published in March 1977. I often refer to this seminal moment in my life as the most important event of that year. The second most important event was the release of a much talked about movie called Star Wars. So when the last of the series of nine came out, The Rise of Skywalker, off I went with various members of the family this afternoon. We all wore our Lisa buttons in honor of the girl who was such a deeply devoted fan of the Star Wars universe. I liked the movie and I loved the experience, and it all conjured so many thoughts about how closely the Shannara and the Star Wars series paralleled each other over the past 42 years, I decided to write something about it.
First of all, I am overwhelmed when thinking back to how much has changed in my personal life in these past four decades. The Sword of Shannara was my first book and I have written 40 novels and numerous short stories and essays and blogs and countless other things since. I am far enough removed from the beginning not to be able to remember all the specifics of those books I was so closely connected with back when. Everyone I started out with at Ballantine/Del Rey is gone save for one person. Many of the authors I started out with and almost all of the generation or two before me are now gone – died or retired. I could tell you the names of everyone in the business back then in those first two decades and now there are dozens of writers I don’t even know about. I have had four editors in those four decades, all of whom were friends and much admired instructors.
The entire business of publishing has changed dramatically. Without going into specifics, I cannot tell a new writer how best to seek an agent or publisher because the path forward and the venues available are all different. Traditional publishing is alive and well, yet there are so many other choices crowding their way to the forefront. Marketing when I started out consisted of writing a book and staying out of the way. I thought I ought to be going on book tour. Lester del Rey said my time would be better spent writing another book and we would discuss it down the road. Now I tour every single year for weeks. My publisher handled all the publicity for the books back when. Now I have my own website, Facebook page, Twitter, blogging platform and media manager and work twice as hard promoting anyway.
All this applies to movies, as well. Everything is different for film, just as it is for books, just as it is for almost all art forms.
But one thing doesn’t change. A good story is a good story. An audience that liked what you did one time is certain to want to like it a second and third and so on. The trick is in not disappointing them. How do we do that, in film and books? How do we keep our fans happy with what we are doing?
In commercial fiction, whether in books of film or most other forms, we try to be consistent. One way of achieving that end is to stay true to what brought your audience to you in the first place and not implement drastic changes without reason or purpose. If you look at both Shannara and Star Wars, this is where they have both succeeded. In staying pretty much the same from beginning to end, they had given readers and viewers a welcome stability.
When so much changes all the time, some form of recognizable stability is much sought after. The world in which we live is no longer recognizable in many ways from the world where we grew up. But Star Wars and Shannara remain dependably unaltered. Here are two different art forms working in similar worlds with tropes and plotlines that have stayed true to their roots and to their original mission statements. Grounded in beliefs about the importance of committing to a moral code and embracing a sense of responsibility while pushing back against the flaws that mark us all, both Shannara and Star Wars are touchstones that present a recognizable set of life lessons.
I am celebrating my perception of stability, dependability and constancy in Shannara and Star Wars because I wish there were more of it in writing and film making. The impact of each has been different over the years, but the tracks are easy to trace. It feels bittersweet to me, following the viewing of today’s last Star Wars movie and the completion four weeks earlier of the last Shannara book, to realize both are coming to a close.
It really is the end of an era.
The realization is sad, but memories are sweet. The satisfaction I feel in having had a part in both is immense. I think maybe that is as much as you can hope for at the end of anything.