Terry Brooks on “Why I Write About Elves”

In 2005, Terry Brooks, literary giant of the Fantastic realm, wrote a piece for Amazon Shorts on the importance of the genre, touching upon how much careful consideration goes into making the make-believe believable. Since the Amazon Shorts program was discontinued, the essay is now posted for free in its entirety on his website.

Below, we present an excerpt from this wonderful analysis of what exactly fantasy is and why readers embrace it more strongly:

“…There is something about fantasy books that many readers find perplexing… there are all sorts of fantasy stories, an entire gaggle of different types loosely separated by headings with which only the faithful are familiar: heroic or epic fantasy, dark contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, and humorous fantasy, to name only a few. Fairytales are an instantly recognizable type of fantasy, usually the one we encounter first as children, either in the stories of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen or in derivations thereof. Epic fantasy is another form with which readers are familiar, because it is the one that has its roots planted most deeply planted in European literature.

“…Writing fantasy differs in at least one basic way from writing other forms of fiction, one that is so intrinsic to the creative process that without it, the entire effort fails. Every other form of fiction is able to rely on our world and its people, whether past, present or future, for a storytelling foundation. Sure, there are frequent variations, but whether the story is about science fiction or history, South America or Iceland, Inuit or Zulu, robot or rabbit, there is always a relationship with either this world, or its people, or both.

“This is not true of fantasy. More often than not, fantasy takes place in an imaginary world. It relies on imaginary creatures and that all-important element of magic. In order for this to be possible and for the book to succeed, there must be an acceptance of both characters and story that, however odd or foreign to a reader’s real life experience, allows for a willing suspension of disbelief…Believability is essential to fantasy storytelling, and it begins with consistency.

“What this consistency requires, unlike any other form of fiction, is world building from the ground up—not just of people and places, but of flora and fauna, of animals and birds, of food and drink, of life from the smallest act to the largest. World building, of course, is the process of creating a new world and its various components. Every detail that might have a bearing has to be considered before the story can be written, not necessarily for the purpose of including those details in the story, but so that it will feel to the reader as if the writer could have included them had he chosen to do so.

“…None of this is to say there isn’t world building involved in other forms of fiction. There is, but it is not as extensive or as risky. We are more willing to accept a story about ancient Egypt or colonization of Mars or thefts of nuclear submarines because such stories are grounded in aspects of history and science and politics with which we are familiar. But how prepared are we to accept stories about elves? There aren’t any elves, after all. No one has ever seen one. Magic isn’t a part of our lives, at least not in the fantasy storytelling sense. Dragons and griffins and flying horses aren’t real. Leprechauns and pots of gold don’t exist. Fantasy requires the aforementioned willing suspension of disbelief. It requires an exercise of imagination that accepts the possibility of the impossible.”

· End of Excerpt ·

This is only part of Terry Brooks’s original essay. The complete essay brings in many wonderful details about Brooks’s specific books and writing experience and we encourage you to link over to Brooks’s site.

  • In Terry Brooks’s latest novel, the first in a new Shannara: When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power of magic ruled—and the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried away more than her heart.

    Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon the secret account of an Elven girl’s heartbreak and the shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a little knowledge been so very dangerous—as Aphenglow quickly learns when she’s set upon by assassins.

    Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating clash to come. But Aphenglow and her allies—Druids, Elves, and humans alike—remember the monstrous history of the Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question entirely.

  • Enjoy an excerpt of Wards of Faerie on Terry Brooks’s site.
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Terry Brooks is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five books, including the Shannara series. His novels Running with the Demon and A Knight of the Word were selected by the Rocky Mountain News as two of the best science fiction/fantasy novels of the twentieth century. The author was a practicing attorney for many years but now writes full-time. He lives with his wife, Judine, in the Pacific Northwest.