It begins with a novel that is remarkably influenced by The Lord of the Rings, almost as if Lester Del Rey approached Terry Brooks and said, "hey, what if you just re-wrote Lord of the Rings instead?" There are now 26 published novels in the Shannara milieu with more to come. What started as being heavily influenced by Tolkien quickly became its own thing.
I grew up in a small town with a small public library. It has since undergone a remodel, but I can clearly picture how the library was laid out when I first discovered it and where I spent so much time browsing its limited shelves. At the time, though, the library was big because I was small. I was in eighth grade and randomly choosing what to read next. I know the librarian was formative in introducing me to a handful of fantasy authors, but the memory I have right now is of browsing the shelves and finding a small hardcover of The Sword of Shannara. It was casebound (the art was printed and laminated to the cover, so there was no dust jacket), though I didn't know what that was at the time. It was different, and I was entranced by the glowing sword and the closed door looming behind those awkward characters. I wanted to know more, so I borrowed the book and started reading.
This isn't so much about The Sword of Shannara, though. As vital as the discovery was, and as interested as I was to read more of Terry Brooks, the book felt a bit stilted and older than the 1977 publication would suggest. What was important about The Sword of Shannara was that it was the beginning of something. I would say it was the beginning of my interest in epic fantasy, but that honor belongs to David Eddings. It was more than just the beginning to the Shannara series, though it is also that. I think The Sword of Shannara did two things. It helped me realize just how many worlds there were to discover, and it also introduced me to The Elfstones of Shannara.
Oh, the story of Wil Ohmsford and Amberle Elessedil. Stee Jans. The seige. If I was ever to re-read the Shannara novels, I might skip over the first book and go right to Elfstones. Elfstones of Shannara is the novel with which Terry Brooks showed the most growth and development as a writer and and storyteller. It also is where Brooks hooked me for the next twenty years, even when later novels did not hold up to the level of quality I expected from Elfstones through his Heritage of Shannara series and the Word / Void novels.
Like many others, Elfstones was a novel of great adventure, but unlike a number of the fantasy novels I was reading at the time, it was also a novel of great loss and sacrifice. While this is something that is reasonably common for those who have read widely, it was a new thing for me and it sealed Elfstones as a novel I would come back to, seek out, and recommend.
I have been reading the Shannara novels for a good twenty years or more, but it is the battles, last stands, and the Ellcrys that I remember so clearly.