Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Review: “Shannara” Trilogy and “The Heritage of Shannara” by Terry Brooks

Shannara Trilogy:
“The Sword of Shannara”
“The Elfstones of Shannara”
“The Wishsong of Shannara”

The Heritage of Shannara:
“The Scions of Shannara”
“The Druid of Shannara”
“The Elf Queen of Shannara”
“The Talismans of Shannara”

Finally, I have finished reading the original Sword of Shannara Trilogy and the followup quadrilogy, “The Heritage of Shannara”. There is a story behind how I was introduced to these novels by Terry Brooks. When I was in 4th grade or so, I was really into the Goosebumps books. I would read really fast, often reading a whole book in a single night. My aunt noticed I read really fast and recommended I read the Shannara books, of which she had the first 7 volumes. At this time, these were the largest books I had ever tried to read, with the first book “The Sword of Shannara” being over 700 pages. It took me a long time to read the first book, and I found that I often would read 20 pages and not remember anything that had happened in them, and have to backtrack to concentrate on them. My reading comprehension skills were very poor for a long time. But these books challenged me, excited, and inspired me. I read the first three books, doing a book report on the second one, and my favorite of the series, “The Elfstones of Shannara” for an 8th grade English paper. Years later, about a few years ago, I decided to read them again and try to break into the followup four book series “The Heritage of Shannara”. I got into the second volume of this series “The Druid of Shannara” and put it down, having lots of other reading to do. Once again, a year or so later, I picked them back up, rereading from the beginning and finally tonight, finishing the last book of those I am reviewing here.

The Shannara series is a fantasy series, being something like Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings”, including elves, dwarves, magic, demons, and swordfighting. While I enjoy Terry Brooks fantasy world, I find that Tolkien is far better. But Brooks is very good to read, in my view. I know some people who do not like his writing, but I enjoy it. The plot is essentially about the powers of magic, and the use or misuse of magic. That is the theme that runs throughout the series. Essentially, an order of Druids who practice and develop magical powers, is split, where one druid seeks to much power and is corrupted with the power they use and try to destroy the world and rule it. It is somewhat like the Darth Vader and Sith storyline from Star Wars, but this is not an interstellar galactic empire, but a world-bound army where there is no advanced technology, mostly medieval level society and there is magic.

But the series follows the adventures of members of a certain family, the Ohmsfords, who are partially descended from the race of Elves which has power of magic. Each volume find the Four Lands of Shannara threatened by some kind of evil, demonic, destructive force or character, and the druid Allanon charges a certain descendent of the Ohmsford, to go on a quest to stop this danger. Often the characters bounce all over the world, of which there is a map at the beginning of each novel, kind of like Lord of the Rings, but totally new, seeking out magical items and weapons and recruiting help along the way as the ever doubtful protaganists seek to bring peace and harmony back into the threatened land of Shannara.

Terry Brooks is someone whom I find to be very eloquent in his descriptions of setting, characters, and action. Especially in “The Elfstones of Shannara”, his portrayal and descriptions of battle scenes are very exciting, fast paced and visually imaginative. Whenever he described the setting or scenery or action sequences, I have a very vivid idea in my mind of what the scene looks like, what the characters are doing, and the psychological state of the characters are. The characters are all believable. There is a great variety of characters, and they are easily recongizeable and distinguishable. Many of the characters are very likeable, and there were feelings of devastation in my soul when certain very important characters are suddenly slain or die, sacrificing themselves to save others and keep the quest going until it is finished. There are some interesting plot twist, and the lore and background story behind the state of the world and the battle between the good magic and lust for power through destructive magic is intriguing.

One thing I would like to gladly note is that there is a “Shannara” TV series in production, which will be aired on MTV. The first season is going to cover the second book “The Elfstones of Shannara”, which I mentioned before, is my favorite in the series. I expect this will be very good, and I hope you obtain copies of these books, and enjoy them very much. I liked it, I hope you like it. You might not, but at least give the first book a try, and you'll get a good idea soon of whether you like the book or the author or not. The list at the beginning of this review is the order in which the books should be read, just so you know.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain

I finished reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain for the first time in my 30 years of life. Twain called this novel his “hymn to boyhood” and it is refreshing to read about the carefree, adventuresome antics of the mischievous Tom Sawyer and his friends. This novel reminds one of the days before computers, and Nintendos, iPods and Playstations, when all we as kids needed was an imagination and a story to play out, whether it was pirates, or treasure hunters, or whatever fantasy would be fun to us. These were the days when treasure hunts were real, and going out to the woods and living off the land was a grand adventure. I think just the ability to look back to the way our childhoods were without all the electronics and gadgets and noises and beeps and whistles, makes this novel worth reading just in itself. I could describe the plot and the adventures in this book, but my main goal is to recommend you get a copy and read this and enjoy it heartily and bask in the nostalgia to when you didn't need advanced technology and remote controls and hi-speed Internet to enjoy yourself with friends.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of Tolkien” by Peter Kreeft

Recently I finished reading a nonfiction book called “The Philosophy of Tolkien” by Dr. Peter Kreeft. I highly recommend reading this book for anyone who is interested in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and other Middle-Earth novels and stories. Kreeft digs through the writings and letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and correspondence between him and his good friend C.S. Lewis of “Chronicles of Narnia” fame to demonstrate the very rich worldview and philosophy that fueled the creation of Middle-Earth and his fantasy stories. Kreeft discusses such questions as to God's existence, the existence and nature of angels, what is beauty, the meaning of death, romance and love, knowledge, history, language, politics, ethics. I started reading this book over a year ago and got bored for some reason. I picked it back up a couple of weeks ago and couldn't put it down. Perhaps this is because I left off on the parts where Kreeft discussed two of my favorite idea: Predestination and Providence. I recommend especially the chapter in which Kreeft discusses Tolkien's take on ethics, especially the battle between good and evil which Tolkien dramatized in his novels. I want to highly recommend this book, though I feel inadequate to the task of doing the book justice in this review, but I want to insert here a quote about the battle between good and evil which I thought highly uplifting and inspiring:

“Good and evil are not equally powerful, because they are not equally real—even though evil appears not only equal to good but even stronger than good (“I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still”). But appearance and reality do not coincide here, and in the end evil will always reveal its inevitable self-destruction (although often after a terrible price is paid: e.g. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin). The self-destruction of evil is not just something to believe in and hope for, but to be certain of. It is metaphysically necessary, necessary because the very kind of being evil has by its unchangeable essence. For evil can only be a parasite on good. It depends on a good host for it to pervert. “Nothing is evil in the beginning” or by nature. Morgoth was one of the Ainur, Sauron was a Maia, Saruman was the head of Gandalf's order of Wizards, the Orcs were Elves, the Ringwraiths were great Men, and Gollum was a Hobbit. And whenever a parasite succeeds in killing its host, it also kills itself. So if evil succeeds, it fails; it commits suicide.”

I recommend this book highly. There are so many gems in the form of quotes from Tolkien's letters and correspondence with others such as C.S. Lewis, and I hope you will find more enjoyment in Tolkien's epic saga the Lord of the Rings after reading this book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

I just finished reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, which was a gift from my brother for Christmas. Most of all, I enjoyed reading it. It is about a shepherd boy, seeking out his destiny, or his “Personal Legend”, trying to find what he is meant to do in life. The book is about trusting one's instincts and paying attention to the omens that life provides us to guide us towards our calling. It is a very simple story, and very short and quick to read, but very insightful, demonstrating in a story form the idea that when we are meant to do something, and when we want something with all our hearts, the universe and God conspire to lead us to the realization of our deepest and most true longings. This is an excellent, readable, and inspiring story, which is well loved and read by millions since it first was published. Go out and get a copy and enjoy reading this novel at your earliest convenience. You won't regret reading it.

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho can be purchased here:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (translation by Simon Armitage)

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a fairly short story of Sir Gawain of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In it, the Knights are having a party or banquet, and in barges a large green knight with his all green horse. The Green Knight is gigantic, and all his skin and hair is green. He makes a challenge to anyone in the hall to strike him a blow to his neck and then that whoever does so will seek him out in his Green Chapel to have the Green Knight strike at his neck also. Sir Gawain takes the challenge, and cuts the Green Knight's head clean off. Strangely the Green Knight leaves, with the agreement that Gawain will seek him out and take a blow from the Green Knight's axe next New Year. On the way to find him that next year, he meets a king and queen and is tempted. He faces temptations to his chastity and continues on his journey to meet the Green Knight. I will not give any spoilers, but hopefully you will take time to read this story someday. One impressive thing to note is that there is a lot of alliteration in the verse. I am impressed with the translator's ability to retain the amount of alliteration from the original Old/Middle English.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: “Beowulf” (translation: Seamus Heaney)

I cannot recommend enough the reading of the Old English heroic epic tale of “Beowulf”. When I was very young, my Uncle Nathaniel told a paraphrased version to myself and my brother of this epic poem. Sometimes, I think he gave me the best version, even though later in high school, and again a few weeks ago, I read the superb Seamus Heaney verse translation. “Beowulf” is possibly the oldest surviving English story that we have today. It fills the need we have as human beings to long for virtuous and strong heroes who put their own safety and survival on the line to save and protect the innocent and vulnerable. The epic poem is really in three parts, where the hero Beowulf fights against three monsters who prey on the people in the party hall called the Hall of Hearts. Beowulf fights grotesque monsters and is rewarded greatly. I cannot do very much justice to the quality of the writing, but I recommend everyone at least read this once, if not for enjoyment than at least for historical literacy, as this is a very crucial piece of literature and has a very heroic and exciting tale to tell.

Victory for Literacy (Poem)

Taking aim at a full time victory
In the name of full rhyme literacy
Storing coffers of words wonderful
Like diet vegetables alphabetical

Quirks grammatical and parenthetical
Purely suitable, sublime and beautiful
Education fruitful to beyond what's usable

Vocalizing vibrations and sweet salutations
More than mere information squeezed through dense inebriation
Delightful and dialectical
Tested, tried, and true subliminal
Intentional, conscious and un-criminal
Maximum value of the minimal

Vocabulary strained and flexing
As some Wiccan form of hexing
Green, and red and yellow directing
Like the parallel intersecting
Bite the apple to the core
Crush the juice into  some more
Dancing flavors back in store
Let it discover what it's for

Copyright (c) Joshua Packard 2015

Book Review: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

I just finished reading Charles Dickens' famous work “Great Expectations” and am going to make an attempt to write a decent review of it. Being new to writing reviews, I am going to try to write whether, and for what reasons I would recommend or discourage yourself from reading this novel. As for whether I think this book was worth the read, I affirm the case in the positive. I enjoyed the novel and consider the time spent reading it well worth it. I am going to try to explain why without giving away any spoilers.

This book I consider to be a book of persons, a book about persons, and their characters and relationships and the fruit of their virtues and vices. This being the first novel by Dickens I have read, since reading “A Christmas Carol” in the 6th grade, I was most struck by the characters. Dickens goes to great lengths to share with you the nature of his characters. And I found that he did so, more by the actions of characters, than by their words or dialogue. There is a lot of good dialogue, but characters are known by their actions in this book than by their words. This book demonstrates the fallacies we can have in trying to judge the true nature of persons. Some characters are misjudged as being bad persons, when in actuality, they are better natured and charitable than those with clean reputations.

I am not really going to reveal anything here, because I want you to take the opportunity to read the novel yourself, but I will just say that Dickens does a good job of describing his characters and putting them in promising or perilous situations. Some fulfill their “great expectations”, while others find themselves in ruin at the end. Some people are not as they seem, some being the opposite of what popular opinion would have of them.

But in the end, I recommend reading this novel, and would like to hear what you think of this novel.