Maybe it isn’t the wisest of decisions, but I’ve decided to finish the original Shannara trilogy. As I explained to all of you, I really wasn’t sure whether I read The Elfstones of Shannara as a teen. I am, by way of contrast, absolutely sure that I never did read The Wishsong of Shannara. Having knocked of the first two, I might as well finish the third. If nothing else, the book is available at my local library, so it is a low-commitment endeavor.
I seem to be competing with another reader (or three) out there. With each of these books, there is a wait list to get them. At least there was when I wanted to read them! Now that I am completely finished with Sword and Elfstones, I can see they are available. For Wishsong, I am waiting in line behind another reader. Oh well… being cheap has its downsides.
While I was waiting, I thought I might be able to find some other, similar tales to enjoy. First, I thought to search for other 80s era, “classic” fantasy series (e.g. Donaldson, Zelanzy, Anthony, etc.), but they are still not available there. I then decided to approach it from the other end. I asked the library’s computer to tell me what Fantasy Fiction WAS available. I then combed through their generated list, trying to winnow out the bodice-rippers and the too-new-agey-by-half; which based on title plus one-line summary seemed like most of them. At the end of it all, I settled on a 15-year-old book (also the start of a trilogy) by Patrick Rothfuss called The Name of the Wind.
As with Wishsong, The Name of the Wind is in demand. I’ve barely made it in a few chapters and now I have to get to the end of the line before I can resume. I can’t tell you much about the book beyond what you could find for yourself (the book garnered several writing awards and was in production as a TV series by Showtime, although they’ve apparently dropped the ball).
My first impression came not from the actual reading of the story, though. It occurred when I went to the entry on library website and it contained various reading-level ratings. Moreover, the reading-levels seemed rather low; it looked like The Name of the Wind was written at the reading level of a 4th or 5th grader. Having my own kid at that reading level, I know he likes to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. What might I have gotten myself into?
I checked on The Wishsong of Shannara and found it ranks about* a point higher. I then went back to a couple of the books I read before I started down this Shannara/Fantasy path and checked them. Turns out neither Rainbow Six nor Cryptonomicon have a rating. The library only rates books that they expect to appeal to “young adults” and kids. Did I accidentally pick out a kids’ book?
From what I’ve read of The Name of the Wind so far, it is pretty standard mass-market fiction. Nothing about it screams “for teens” although neither is it particularly adult-themed. Among its awards, one of them is something called “Alex.” This is an award specifically for books written for adults, but that also appeal to the YA audience. For what it’s worth, Name of the Wind also won a Quill Award in Quill’s inaugural year. It was recognized as the best “science fiction/fantasy/horror” work in the year that saw The Road take best fiction.
My next take came when I was finalizing my post about having watched Snatch and listening to some of the Shelta explanations on YouTube. I realized, as I read about the Irish Travellers, much of that terminology has been woven into The Name of the Wind‘s back story. Like the Edema Ruh, the fictional traveling artists from whom our main character descends, The Travellers are often called tinkers, gypsies, and the like. Another slang term for the Irish is “knackers,” and in The Name of the Wind I read about a “traveller” who has “the knack.” Coincidence?
A fantasy author draws his fantasy world from aspects of reality. Sometimes is very directly so. More often, it is a mixing and matching of different cultures and historical events that is used to create a new-but-familiar-sounding fiction. The Celtic world can provide for much color; both foreign and familiar at the same time. I am amused that I would happen to stumble on all this simultaneously.
Post Script: I note that just as my DVD rental was returned to the Netflix processing center, The Gentlemen was added to the Netflix streaming list. I feel cheated that I couldn’t have squeezed out just own more DVD rental but, intellectually, I know it couldn’t have possibly made a difference.
*My wishy-washy language here is that I think something changed between when I first saw this and when I decided to write about it. This doesn’t seem logical for a book that has been out for 15 years so I’m willing to concede that the problem stemming from my own confusion rather than changing data. I am using, as my metric, something called ATOS, an algorithm that is meant to glean an approximate reading level. I am sure I first saw The Name of the Wind at something like 4.6 (more than half-way through 4th grade). Today, it reads 5.1. I’m trying to explain myself in a way that accounts for all of this.