Focus: Interview & Review
A Conversation with Terry Brooks / Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace / Running With The Demon / A Knight of the Word
Mass Market Paperback Reissue
edition (May 1995)
A Conversation with Terry Brooks
I discovered Terry Brooks when Running With The Demon came out in 1997, starting his current "real" world fantasy series. When Knight Of The Word, the second book in the series, came out I put him on the list of authors I wanted to interview for SFRevu. Now he's written the novelization of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and Lucasfilm has him bound and gagged in a secret location somewhere far, far, away.
Thanks to our contacts at Del Rey, however, I was able to get enough together bring you this conversation with the author. Not an actual interview perhaps, but an amazing simulation.
Our review of Phantom Menace follows that, and I've tried not to give too much of the story away. For those of you who missed them, I've included our reviews of Running With The Demon and A Knight of the Word as well.
- Ernest Lilley, SFRevu Editor.
Q: How much time did you actually spend with Lucas himself during the writing of Phantom Menace? Can you describe the process you went through with him?
A: We spent roughly six hours together in face-to-face meetings followed by a lengthy conversation over the phone during which we discussed deep background. George gave me what I needed to craft the movie adaptation in a way that satisfied both his vision and my own.
Q: Your first book, the massively successful Sword of Shannara, and Lucas's signature movie Star Wars, were both released in 1977. You also shared the same book editor. Did you ever think you and he would be collaborating the way you are now?
A: I never thought I'd be collaborating with George. When I first got the phone call from my publisher I thought I was probably a strange choice to write this movie adaptation. It was only after I started to consider carefully what George does that I realized we were a perfect match and that our approach to story telling is very much the same.
Q: What do you have in common with Lucas?
A: We both write adventure stories. What George is doing with the Star Wars series is very similar to what I did with my Shannara books. When creating a lengthy, historically based, imaginary tale you have to do a lot of thinking about beginnings, endings, and the links between different generations of characters. After we had spoken several times it was clear to me that George had done that and that his prep work was very good. He didn't just throw something together with the hope that it would turn out okay. I'm a compulsive organizer about my own work and I could see that George was the same.
Q: What makes this book more than a novelization of the movie?
A: There were certain things George couldn't put in the movie that were crucial to understanding the story. He originally wanted more of a focus on Anakin Skywalker but he couldn't see how to do deep background on Anakin without changing the fast-paced nature of his film. In movies you have to develop your characters either through conversation or action. There's no aside to let you know what's going on in the character's head. The leisurely pace of a book, on the other hand, allows more time to focus on background and on what makes characters tick. Thus when George and I talked about how to make this work we decided to open the book in an entirely different place than the movie. We devoted a number of chapters to Anakin's character and background both preceding the period of time in which the movie opens and also during times in the movie where there was a reason to take a deeper look at this boy. The book also allowed us to focus on other characters such as the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Readers will learn why he is such a rebel and what drives him.
Q: You are well known for creating fascinating worlds from scratch. But with The Phantom Menace the basic attributes of the various characters - Jedi, droid, Hutt, Sith Lord and so on-as well as the worlds in which they live had already been established. What was it like working within pre-arranged parameters?
A: Fortunately I had written my own prequel to the Shannara series several years ago - a book called First King of Shannara. In writing that book I had to take a whole set of established characters and events and fit them into a fixed historical pattern. The story needed to be interesting, exciting, and not just a retelling of what was already known. That was good training for this project. In the case of Phantom Menace and the Star Wars saga we already know that Anakin Skywalker will eventually become Darth Vader. So the interesting story is how does this wonderful little nine-year-old boy turn into such a dark villain. What happens to him? What kind of character is he that allows it to happen? And, more to the point, what is going on inside his head.
Q: Where there any points at which you wanted to take the characters in one direction and Lucas in another?
A: No. I asked a lot of questions early on about what I could and couldn't do. There were things George told me about the motivation for why characters were doing certain things or why the story was going in a certain direction that he didn't want to get into until movies two and three. He said I could hint at them but I could not give them away.
Q: What challenged you most in working on this project?
A: With a project like this you have to fight the tendency to treat it as something less than your own work. Because it's an adaptation of someone else's screenplay, you sometimes tell yourself you can slough off. My challenge was not to do that and to find a way to make the movie's adaptation into a novel that could stand on its own two feet. What both George and I wanted from the beginning was to make the reading experience independent from the movie experience.
Q: Do the worlds of Star Wars and Shannara have anything in common?
A: They have much in common. They are both generational sagas involving families, friends of families, their descendants, and their ancestors. They also each contain an element of power which impacts the families and various characters in much the same way. There's not a lot of difference between Shea Ohnisford - from my Shannara series - and Luke Skywalker. Both are characters who come from a somewhat sheltered background. They both get thrown into a situation not of their own making and find out they are heirs to a great deal of power. And they each exercise enormous responsibility for their people. I think the way George and I talk about the uses of power, coming to grips with power, and the way power infects people who are privy to its use are very much the same. The greatest difference between us is that George's stories take place in a setting of advanced technology. My Shannara stories take place in a world where technology has been virtually obliterated and where magic is the driving force of any advancement.
Q: How do you keep a sense of mystery and suspense in a prequel-a story in which everyone already knows the end result?
A: It's not easy. You have to find ways to make the action unfold. You do that through good storytelling. You can take any story that you already know and make it exciting if you tell it the right way. Even though we know the outcome of the mythologies, epic adventures, and stories we tell about our families and ourselves again and again, we can still find in them certain elements that are scary, funny, or surprising if we tell those stories correctly.
Q: What do you want readers to get out of this book?
A: From the beginning George and I wanted readers to see this book as a valuable companion piece to the movie. My job is not to re-work what he's done. What I have tried to do instead is to give readers another picture of his story. I want the bookreading experience to be another occasion in which fans will say "wow that's wonderful." If people are paying attention I do think there's going to be a tremendous amount of discussion about where George is going with all this. In some ways this is a more controversial story than the first three movies.
Q: Youve written 14 previous novels in the past 20 years, each one a New York Times bestseller. Has your success come as a surprise?
A: I wrote my first book, Sword Of Shannara, over a period of years, while I was going to school and practicing law, and I sent it to Lester Del Rey at Ballantine after it was rejected by DAW. Lester picked it out of the slush pile, and wrote back to me. He compared my book to Lord of the Rings, one of my favorite works and one that most influenced me, but he wanted a rewrite. Anyway, several rewrites later, Del Rey Books did publish my first novel, and it did become the first work of fiction on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list. I dont think I knew enough to have any particular expectations. I thought that was a normal experience. Of course, I know better now, and Im certainly pleased; its worked out pretty well.
Q: Youve had a great deal of success writing in the worlds of Shannara and The Magic Kingdom. What made you switch to the "real" world?
A: I spent forty years of my life in Sterling, Illinois, which became the prototype for Hopewell, where Running With The Demon takes place. If you spend forty years anywhere, it tends to have some sort of effect. In my case, I think the effect was a good one. Growing up, I didnt have a lot of toys, and personal entertainment depended on individual ingenuity and imagination -- think up a story and go live it for an afternoon. I wanted to say something about the nature of childhood, and what it is like to grow up in a small town. I wanted to explore how, for children, the line between fantasy and reality is nebulous, how "make believe" is real for children, and a part of everyday life. I also felt it was time for a change. A Knight Of The Word and Running With The Demon are very different books from my previous novels. Theyre contemporary and dark. Theyre set in places Ive lived, or places very much like them, and theyre about the apocalypse and one mans attempt to stay its coming.
Q: A Knight Of The Word deals with homelessness and other pressing social issues. This seems like a change of pace for you why did you decide to write about these things?
A: Ive always tried to write about issues I feel strongly about or that Im tied to in some way. The last book dealt with alcoholism, and with growing up in a small town. I now live in a city that has a large homeless population, and because its a socially conscious city, it has programs for homeless people and for the victims of domestic violence very much like the ones I wrote about in the book. Ive always written about the struggle between good and evil, and homelessness is one of the biggest evils in our society. For the purposes of storytelling, big issues are frequently drawn in black and white. In reality, theres really a lot of gray; theres not just one answer or solution, not just one way to make the world better, and thats why real-world solutions are so much harder to find. The next book will deal with the issue of drugs, not only the obvious issue, but drugs in the form of medication, and the way we make our lives more palatable.
Q: Why does fantasy have such a great appeal for you as a writer and as an individual?
A: Again, the answer is in my childhood. When I was a kid, we had to rely on our imaginations for entertainment. I remember one winter, when I was about five or six, I spent three days with another boy, tracking a bobcat that had been sighted in another county fifty miles away, but which I was sure had come into our neighborhood. One summer we played for a week at being Knights of the Round Table, using broom handles as swords and lances and metal garbage can lids as shields. In bad weather, I spent hours drawing action figures on paper, coloring them, backing them on cardboard, then cutting them out and creating whole stories around their lives. What I learned from this, early on, was that if you could imagine it, you could create it. And if you could create it, you could live it. Fantasy is the only canvas large enough for me to paint on. It lets me capture the magic I felt reading my favorite books, and of imagining my own worlds. A world in which elves exist and magic works offers greater opportunities to digress and explore. I think that it gives both the reader and writer more room to play.
Q: What writers influenced you most?
A: The books I grew up reading were adventure stories, bigger than life, but with characters you could understand and admire. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey, and I read H.G. Wells and James Fenimore Cooper. In seventh grade, I began reading everything I could find in Science Fiction -- Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein and Lester del Rey; the field was a lot smaller then. My breakthrough as a reader was when I discovered the European adventure story writers. Alexander Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, to name a few. The thing they all had in common was that the stories were so large and wonderful and the worlds they wrote about were so compelling that weeks after reading one I was still living it and imagining how it might have been, wondering what the characters were saying to me about my own life. Later, of course, I discovered and loved J.R.R. Tolkien, for many of the same reasons.
Q: What about the future -- Will you keep writing in the contemporary world, or will you go back to Shannara?
A: For a writer, its very attractive to stay in one world for a time. After all, you put a lot into creating a universe and everything that goes with it, and it seems a shame to use it only once. I have two more Shannara books planned, but they wont be out for a few years, and I have one more book planned to follow A Knight Of The Word, with some recurring characters, most notably Nest Freeman and John Ross.
Q: What are your goals as a writer?
A: Well, I think that as a country, weve drifted away from appreciating the importance of imagination. Non-fiction outsells fiction almost three to one. We are obsessed with true crime stories and tabloid journalism, and were fascinated by tell-all biographies. We forget that what matters begins with the imagination. Writing fantasy lets me imagine a great deal more than, say, writing about alligators, and lets me write about places more distant than Florida, but I can tell you things about Florida and alligators, let you make the connection all on your own. I want you, as a reader, to experience what I experience, to let that other world, that imaginary world that I have created, tell you things about the "real" world. I want to kick-start your imagination and let you discover the places it can take you.
Knowing what's going to happen isn't the same as knowing how. Terry Brooks' novelization of The Phantom Menace adds a sense of destiny and of foreboding without taking anything away from the story.
Collect all Four! Phantom Menace comes in 4 different covers...just what we needed.
| Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace
by Terry Brooks with George Lucas
ISBN: 0345427653 / Lucasbooks Hrdcvr May 2, 1999 / review by Ernest Lilley
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: Publication date: May 1999 in hardcover
TM, ®, & ©1999 by Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Knowing what's going to happen isn't the same as knowing how. I've wondered how Lucas was going to make the prequels to a story we know so much about interesting, but on the first page of Terry Brooks' novelization of The Phantom Menace, I saw that what we know adds a sense of destiny and of foreboding without taking anything away from the story.
The story explodes in a Ben Hur-like burst of energy. Pod-racing, it's called, and it bursts across the page with a promise of SFX to come. Twin rocket engines lashed to a cockpit hurtling across the desert of Tatooine. One pilot is a nine year old slave boy with an uncanny sense of his surroundings and his machine. The future echoes in my brain, and I hear Obi-Wan's voice: "Your father was a great pilot too." Out of the machine climbs the young Anakin Skywalker.
After ten thousand years, the peace of the Republic is about to be shattered, as surely as the quiet of the Tatooine desert.
Elsewhere, two Jedi emissaries are sent to negotiate the end of a trade blockage of the planet Naboo. In response to Republic taxation of interstellar trade routes, the Trade Federation has blocked traffic to Naboo, to force the Republic's hand. A curious response, not at all in keeping with the Federation's normally careful trading.
"These people are cowards. They will not be hard to persuade. The negotiations will be short." Short indeed, because they hide a trap that the Jedi barely escape with their lives, taking refuge on the planet below.
Naboo is overrun by the Trader's army of battle droids, and The Jedi attempt to flee to Coruscant, the capital world of the Republic, to plea for assistance for the besieged world. Along with them are the young Queen of Naboo and a froggy alien named Jar Jar Binks they came across during their escape. Jar Jar is a member of the "other" race living largely out of sight on Naboo, content to have nothing to do with the technological civilization of the Naboo. He happens to be an outcast, due to a real knack for getting into trouble, and just the sort that Jedi Qui-Gon finds helping irresistible.
Soon they find themselves stranded on Tatooine seeking parts for their damaged ship, and Qui-Gon's Jedi sense leads him to trust the young Anakin in whom the Force runs incredibly strongly.
Jedi are chosen soon after they are born, and the Jedi council will probably reject Anakin as a candidate because of his age, but collecting strays of hidden value is Qui-Gon's strength and weakness, and young Skywalker's life becomes bound up in their adventure. Qui-Gon is convinced that Anakin is the boy foretold in prophecy, one that will bring balance to the Force. Indeed, there is a great disturbance in the Force, and its name is Anakin Skywalker.
The Dark Side of the Force is represented by Darth Sidious, the Sith master, and Darth Maul, his protégé. The Jedi seek serenity, while the Sith, founded by a renegade Jedi, seek control. After ten thousand years of Jedi influence, the wheel is about to turn.
We meet the earlier versions of characters we've known from before. We collect a protocol droid here, an astromech unit there, face the head of the Jedi council, a short green alien (with such annoying sentence structure, he has, no?). Young Obi-Wan is very like Luke Skywalker will be - strong with the Force, but impatient, straining against his mentor's urgings to focus on the now. And At the center of everything is Anakin, a slave all his life, seeking freedom for himself and his mother, dreaming prescient dreams of battles and glory.
This story holds together as an episode in the Star Wars Saga, complete with the obligatory party/ceremony at the end, but it's clear that it will take all three of the planned movies to complete. It also raises a new question of its own. who was Anakin's father?
Unlike much of the Star Wars fiction written over the last few years Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is both well written and officially sanctioned. Terry Brooks has provided a good voice for the film, and I was left wanting to see the realization of the scenes on the big screen.
Great SF lit? Maybe not, but it's definitely a story that you can get caught up in. I kept hearing John William's score as I read, and I could almost see the SFX . Still, I am troubled by the age of the main character. It smells like a marketing decision to me, intended to hook pre-teens in at the start of their buying lives. Oh well, hopefully kids will enjoy it, though I fear that adults will shake their heads a bit at nine year old Anakin's daring doings and precocious wooing.
My favorite Star Wars film was the original. Simple, exciting, heroic. The next two films seemed contrived, trying to make a bigger story out of a simple conflict between good and evil. The Phantom Menace is not simple, in fact it may be a bit busy, trying to get the characters on the stage and set up the conflicts that will drive the story arc. For those of us raised on the original, it resonates with a sense of destiny. Coming to know Anakin and the Jedi, we begin to see that he is not just an instrument of evil, but of change. We can only hope that the new generations to see it will find it as exciting as we did, once upon a time, in a galaxy, far, far away.
| Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks
ISBN: 0-345-42258-9 / Del Rey, Pprbk, Jul-98 originally published Harper Prism, Sep-97 / Review by Ernest Lilley
Magic runs in the Freemont family. For seven generations the women of the family have been charged with the stewardship of Sinsinippi Park, warding off the mindless "feeders" that no one can see and maintaining a balance of magic with the help of Pick, a Sylvan ("Don't call me an Elf!") and his forest friends. Nest Freemont is a normal 14 year old girl if you discount her prodigious athletic ability and the strength of the magic inside her, or the way her future self keeps popping up in visions of a dark future. Nest's mother died mysteriously when she was an infant, and no one will tell her about her father; not her grandmother, who wielded the power in her time, not her grandfather who can't see the magic, not even Pick.
Two men, or things that were once men, come to town as it readies itself for the Fourth of July, and tries to forget the strike that has shut down its sole source of industry, the steel mill. One is a demon in human flesh, come to tip the balance of power towards an apocalyptic future, the other a Knight of the Word, sworn to the service of an ancient power, sworn to stop the demon and his kind, forsaking his humanity in that service. They have both come for Nest. On her future rests the future of mankind, a future that John Ross, Knight of the Word, dreams all too vividly in the desperate visions of what the future might be if he fails.
The story climaxes in a battle which is clearly part of a larger war. This awareness, along with the author's superb storytelling skill leaves you in suspense as the story moves towards its conclusion. Nest and her band of teenage friends are as well realized as the adult and elderly characters. Though there is some adult content, it is handled with restraint and should make this acceptable for mature teens as well as the adult readers it's aimed at.
| A Knight of the
Word by Terry Brooks
ISBN 0-345-37963-2 / Del Rey Hrdcvr, Aug-98 / Review by Ernest Lilley
Long ago, the Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr was chosen by the Lady of the Word to carry her magic into the world and battle the demonic force of the Void. Centuries later English teacher John Ross is called to her service, carrying a staff that fills him with the power to defeat the invisible demons feeding on mankind's lusts and hatreds. A staff that cripples him as well, to remind him that he has been bound to the Lady's service. When Ross dreams, he dreams of terrible futures where mankind has turned on itself in an orgy of mad destruction the evil feeds upon. Terrible futures he has a chance to prevent.
Though he succeeded in the first book, John Ross takes the stage in A Knight Of The Word broken by failure. The blood of children he had gone to save from a tragedy foreseen in his dreams is more than he can bear and he sets aside his staff to do no more harm. Unfortunately, his burden is not one that can be surrendered, and he will either be taken as a prize by the Void, destroyed by the Word, or saved by a friend.
Once rootless, John Ross has found a new life in Seattle working with Simon Lawrence, a celebrated champion of the homeless, and a different kind of magic in the love of Stephanie Winslow, a beautiful woman whose love heals the scars he carries. Terry Brooks brings back Nest Freemark, the young woman of power he saved in the first book. Much as Ross saved Nest from the demons seeking to turn her in the first book, she is now called upon to save him, unleashing the magic within her once more. Close at hand a demon waits to take him into the service of the Void, but with its ability to take any form it chooses, how can Nest find it in time to save him?
Running With The Demon gave a tremendous start to this series, and A Knight Of The Word carries its momentum forward every bit as strongly. If Demon smells of Bradbury, with its small town and summer nights, Knight reeks of King in a darkly urban setting. Both books are superb Fantasy, and the sequel is self-contained enough to read alone.
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