It All Started When: Charles Tan

Charles Tan maintains the blog Bibliophile Stalker. He has contributed to and edited projects that bring Philippine SF to the wider world, such as the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler. He is also a frequent contributor to SF/F sites such as SFSignal.

While I was always a fan of mythology and the fantastic, it wasn’t until grade seven that me and my best friend decided that we wanted to read fantasy novels. I don’t quite remember the rationale for doing so. Maybe it was because there were numerous brownouts at the time and we wanted a pastime that we could enjoy without electricity. Maybe it was because we were addicted to Magic: The Gathering which ignited our passion for more fantasy. Either way, this wasn’t as easy as it sounds because we were at the mercy of the local bookstore which carried only a few fantasy titles, and seldom the entire series (imagine finding a copy of The Two Towers but Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King were nowhere in sight). Luckily for us, said bookstore had restocked their shelves, and had the completed works of David Eddings and Terry Brooks (yes, those were our only choices when it came to fantasy reading at the time). My best friend picked Eddings to collect while I got Brooks. We would loan to each other the books the other bought to see who was the better writer. Suffice to say, this initial choice shaped our preferences: my best friend would forever be a Belgariad fan while I would always struggle to spell Shannara correctly (is that with a double n or a double r?).

While I would realize later on that Brooks’s writing was a derivative of Tokien and eventually formulaic, his Shannara series did have a big impact on me. The part that made his fiction adult reading in my opinion is that one of the most powerful talismans in his setting is the Sword of Shannara and what makes it powerful is that it reveals the truth, or rather, the wielder’s self deception. A critical reader could view this as the deus-ex-machina mechanism for character growth, but for someone who was raised on 8-bit video games and American cartoons, it was a far cry from who was simply more powerful (or more skilled, or who had the bigger gun, etc.). Brooks showed me that in fiction, it was possible to write about conflict without it being a physical fight, and that such lessons could be applied in real life (how many times have we justified our actions through rationalizations and lies?). Suffice to say, I was hooked, and starting devouring whatever the local bookstore offered.

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