I really enjoyed this book. Yes, I could see the obvious imitation of Lord of the Rings. There were times when I was laughing because the imitation was so blatant, and it became only too easy to refer to the characters by the names of their Middle Earthen counterparts. But, for some reason, I still really enjoyed it.
The characters had some differences from the LOTR characters, most notably Allanon. He is ancient, mysterious and magical like Gandalf, but unlike Gandalf, Allanon does not have the trust of Shea (Frodo) when he appears to send him on his quest. Frodo trusted Gandalf completely, as a friend and a mentor. Allanon not only doesn't have Shea and Flick's trust, he doesn't even try to earn it, obscuring information and guiding them with half-truths. The company or 'fellowship' trusts Allanon more from necessity than because he as actually gained their trust. Gandalf was honest with Frodo from the start of the quest. Frodo knew it would be dangerous. He knew there was a good chance he wouldn't succeed. He knew he probably wouldn't survive.
Shea understood the undertaking was dangerous, but he never understood the full danger. He didn't realize that in order to wield the sword and defeat the Warlock Lord, he would have to undergo a test of mental and spiritual strength, whereas Frodo was aware of the fact that the Ring would test him in this way before he even arrived and Rivendell. Shea is brave, and he does accept the task forced on him by circumstances, but he doesn't have the strength that Frodo has. Frodo knew, and accepted everything that happened to him, and willingly volunteered to take the Ring to Mordor. Shea is practically forced to go along when Menion gets into conflict with Allanon, apparently with the sole purpose of getting Shea to come. And Shea would have had to come, but he would have been a stronger character if he had chosen this on his own. One gets the impression that, even if Sam had not come with Frodo, Frodo would have been able to hold his own in the wilderness (without Sam, Frodo may not have had the strength to resist the Ring, and we all know what would have happened in Cirith Ungol without Sam, but Frodo could have taken care of himself on his own, at least at first,) whereas Shea is practically helpless the moment he finds himself on his own.
Menion was difficult to pin with a LOTR counterpart. His ability to irritate Allanon made me think of him as Pippin, but his ability to fight made him seem more like Legolas or Aragorn. I really liked Menion except for two things. First, his obnoxious instalove with Shirl Ravenlock, and second, his very annoying habit of leaving his sword lying around only to notice it's absence when he most needs it.
Like Samwise, Flick managed to become one of my favorite characters. He is the character who I'd say paralleled his LOTR counterpart the most in this series, being loyal, brave when he had to be, and simple in his desires.
Durin and Dayel are one part Legolas, one part Merry and Pippin, since they care for each other and largely remain together, though the fact that Dayel has a fiancé waiting for him back home makes him seem very un-Lord of the Rings-like.
Hendel, being a dwarf, was the obvious character to parallel Gimli, but Hendel lacked Gimli's temper and impetuousness, so he seems to be a blend of Aragorn, Gimli and, oddly enough, Gandalf. Hendel is older than any of the others in the company, accepting Allanon, and he has far more battle knowledge than any accept the Druid, he even seems wiser than Balinor, who I would peg as the most Aragorn-like of the characters.
Orl Fane was even nuttier than Sméagol. Gollum/Sméagol had some sanity still in him. He may have had a dual personality disorder, and been addicted to the Ring, but he was still able to use his reason. Brona, 'the Warlock Lord,' 'the Dark Lord' (between Sauron, Brona and Voldemort, you'd think that authors would be able to come up with another title besides Dark Lord,) is obviously Sauron. The Skull Bearers are clearly Ringwraiths, though they aren't quite as fearsome as the wraiths, and, unlike the wraiths, they don't have a clear number.
Panamon Creel and Keltset Mallicos are more enigmas. Who are they supposed to represent? Panamon is the type of roguish character we see a lot of in fiction now, but is not present in Lord of the Rings. Keltset is another of my favorite characters in this series. He couldn't speak, and Shea and Panamon know little about him, but, in a time when trolls seem to have joined the Warlock Lord against the free peoples, Keltset is there proving that not all trolls are bent on destruction without question.
Much of the plot also mirrored LOTR, until Shea was separated from the others. This too had some similarities to LOTR, but in LOTR, Frodo willingly separates from the group, taking Sam with him. In The Sword of Shannara, Shea is separated by accident, and Flick is unable to go with him. Because of this I found the plot somewhat different, and I honestly wondered what would happen. The lack of a Boromir character also helped to keep the plot somewhat different. The closest person to Boromir was Palance Buckhannah, and even he was far more like Denethor (because he was mad) or Théoden (because he was being controlled by an evil advisor) than like Boromir. The Battle of Tyrsis is like a combination of the Battle for Helms Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The destruction of the Warlock Lord is a mirror of the destruction of the Ring. Allanon's going away to sleep and recover his strength is like Gandalf's going to the Gray Havens. Shea and Flick's return home is like an odd combination of the returns of Frodo and Bilbo to the Shire at the end of their respective adventures. Like Frodo, Shea has been deeply affected by his adventure, but like Bilbo, he seems to be fairly content in his undisturbed, undestroyed home, and doesn't have to go to the Gray Havens.
The Sword of Shannara may be a blatant imitation of The Lord of the Rings, but at least it's a good imitation, which is more than I can say for Eragon. Since the villain was defeated and the threat to the world was ended, I honestly don't know where the plot of the next books can possibly go, but I'm willing to find out.