Rooting Against the Protagonist: Railing Ohmsford

I remember going to the Downtown Main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library one summer, over 20 years ago, to look for some new books to read. I had worn out the first 3 books in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and had just finished up Larry Bond’s book, “Vortex” (a very good and interesting book, BTW). I decided to try my hands at the Fantasy genre… which then led me to Terry Brooks. I really don’t remember what it was about his books that caught my attention – maybe it was the art work on the cover? – but I settled on “The Sword of Shannara”, the first book in what would become a multi-book epic series.

Since that summer afternoon, I have traveled along the many roads of The Four Lands (the main settings of Brooks’ novels), from the forests of Arbolon and the Westland Elves, skirting along the edges of the Forbidden Forest and the mysterious and ancient Druid keep of Paranor, walking or riding (or, in later novels, flying) south through the free borderlands of Callahorn, to the monstrously large cities of the Human-dominated Southland, turning east through the Dwarven-Gnome contested forests and hills of the Eastland (making a stop in the neutral Gnome Healer village of Storlock to rest, recuperate, and stock up), heading north to the rugged Charnal Mountains of the Northland – the domain of the Trolls – before turning back west and heading for other villages, towns, and cities (such as ancient Tyrsis) in between. I have ‘met’ hundreds of characters throughout the years, such as: Shea and Flick Ohmsford, the brother protagonists from “The Sword of Shannara”; Allanon, the Druid who acted as the Four Lands’ protector throughout the early books of the series; the descendants of the Ohmsford family, who have played key roles (good and bad) in nearly every book of the non-“Word and Void” books of the series; the human Leah family (friends of the Ohmsfords), and the elven Elessidil ruling family (who have friendly, and interesting, tie-ins with the Ohmsfords). Most of the protagonists, coming mainly from those 3 families listed earlier, end up going on large-scale quests, using varieties of magic and skills, to help the Four Lands via lost talismans, magics, or other “standard” fantasy quests: finding something or someone evil and stopping/killing/destroying it, without too many losses of life in your party.

Almost all of Brooks’ Shannara protagonists have some small flaw or issue but are, in general, easy to pull for during their quests and stories. The only one that, until recently, I’ve had some irritation with is from the book “The Wishsong of Shannara”: Rone Leah. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! Rone, close friend to main characters Brin Ohmsford and her brother Jair, accompanied the Ohmsfords as “unofficial protector”; he spent a majority of book questioning and second-guessing quest-giver Allanon on his decision to send the Ohmsford siblings out to destroy an evil book known as the Ildatch, questioning Brin on her reasons for accepting the quests, and, once Allanon’s patience broke, causing him to enchant Rone’s sword with magic on par with Brin and Jair’s, whining about everything from his role in the party to his lack of control over the magic (he had become addicted). While not actively rooting against Rone, more than once did the wish cross my mind that Allanon would grab him by the neck and throw him through the nearest tree. Rone’s attitude, however, changed for the better, after a couple of disastrous battles, losses, and incidents (including losing his Sword); his and the Ohmsford’s handling of things after these losses, led to a redemption of sorts for Rone (can’t say much more than that about him, Brin, and Jair, without spoiling some big story lines). Since that book, there hasn’t been a character on that level of annoyance.

Until “The Dark Legacy of Shannara” trilogy.

Last Christmas, I got this trilogy from a friend and co-worker during a Secret Santa gift exchange and started reading it a few months ago. I am current just over halfway through Book 3 of the series. The basic (but large) plot of this series: brothers Railing and Redden Ohmsford, empowered with the Wishsong, are chosen by the current head of the Druid Order, Khyber Elessidil, to join her, Mirai Leah, and others on a quest to find the lost Elfstones. Of course, things don’t always end up that simple:
– During this journey, the Druid Party runs into disaster after disaster, getting thoroughly decimated and divided
– Khyber, Redden, and others end up getting trapped in a demonic dimension known as the Forbidding and must find their way out
– Railing, Mirai, and the other survivors race to find and rescue the trapped party, by any means necessary
– The demons in said Forbidding don’t really want to stay there….
– One of the Druids, Aphenglow Elessidil, and her sister Arlingfant, go in search of a way to keep the barrier between the Forbidding and the Four Lands sealed for the demons

All of these quests weave in and out of each other in some way, with characters going with different groups for different reasons. Throughout these stories, Railing and Redden get separated. Railing then spends the VAST majority of the last 2 books trying to find Redden – a noble enough cause. However, he also spends this time constantly pouting (about his choices and their consequences, about perceived ‘slights’, etc.) and “oh-woe-is-me!”ing, doubting himself (to the point that Mirai and others, in turns, have lost any patience they had with him), holding potential beneficial information and magic items back (to dangerous limits), and stubbornly putting Redden above everything else, including the potential demon outbreak and the trapped party with Redden, despite numerous warnings from other magical creatures (including one, who has had a history of aiding the Ohmsfords throughout the centuries, that told him that “what he wants and seeks may not be what he gets” – FORESHADOWING).

As I started Book 3, I found myself actually rooting against Railing. I wasn’t rooting against him and his quest to get Redden back. I was rooting against him, personally. I want those who are traveling with him to stop their airship, anchor it, slap Railing a few times, and tell him to stop moping around, find the courage that he apparently lost about 2/3 through Book 1, and reveal EVERYTHING that he’s hiding about this quest (at this point in the story, they know he’s hiding something) or “we turn this boat around” and you rescue Redden on your own. Even better, I wish that their Troll guide bodyslams him a couple of times, THEN lets someone – I’m seriously hoping that it’s Mirai – light him up and give him the ultimatum. Because, for someone who is unofficially leading a group into unknown parts of the Four Lands, to find someone (can’t reveal who, without spoiling a few books) that may OR may not help them, he is certainly acting like a whiny juvenile who WILL NOT GO TO BED AT 9:00 BECAUSE HE ISN’T TIRED AND HE WANTS TO PLAY HIS PS4 AND YOU CAN’T MAKE HIM GO TO BED BECAUSE HE WON’T BE LOUD AND HE WON’T BE TIRED IN THE MORNING EVEN IF YOU WARN HIM THAT HE WILL (…to put a ‘modern spin’ on things). If Railing finds the person he’s looking for, I hope that they talk some sense back into him. He is supposed to be the ‘tragic’ figure, trying to reunite with his family and closest friend(s), to save the world. Instead, I increasingly find myself hoping that someone else does it, especially if Railing and Redden reunite. Let Railing’s story end with the Ohmsford going back home and Railing maybe realizing that, through 2 1/2 books, he needlessly put a lot of lives at risk because of his stubbornness, self-doubt, and whining.

Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and read that Railing, like Rone Leah, by the end of this series, pulls himself together and becomes a character that I (and others) can root for again.

4 thoughts on “Rooting Against the Protagonist: Railing Ohmsford

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