Published on March 3rd, 2016 | by William O'Dell0
The Shannara Chronicles
Fans of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series were thrilled to see a TV show greenlit by MTV. But were they as happy after watching the show?
As an avid Terry Brooks fan, I was super excited to see his 1982 book, The Elfstones of Shannara, brought to the small screen courtesy of MTV. Unfortunately like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings or HBO’s Game of Thrones, The Shannara Chronicles deviates greatly from the source material.
If you had read the book up to about 10 years ago, you would never have imagined that the series was anything other than High Fantasy. There were subtle hints, but it was never solidified until Brooks’ trilogy, The Genesis of Shannara, linked his Urban Fantasy series The Word and the Void to the Shannara books.
As a fan, there was something about the quest — three young people on a quest to find the Blood Fire in Safehold in hopes of restoring the Ellcrys, an ancient tree that holds the demons at bay behind the Forbidding. At the same time, a Druid must help the elves, humans, gnomes and dwarves fight the demons as they seek to destroy the sacred ground of the Ellcrys.
Frankly, those key plotlines are there in the show. And if you had never read the books or seen the book illustrations, you wouldn’t notice how far removed the differences are.
However, the give and take of adapting one book into a 10-episode run has made indelible changes that take away from the heart of the book planting it squarely in Brooks’ larger world. And MTV is playing up to its demographic. Like The Hunger Games or Divergent, TSC is set firmly within the bailiwick of the post-apocalyptic with a healthy dose of magic and a love triangle.
Unfortunately, that revelation is overpowering to the intrinsic story. While the trio of princesses, Amberle Elessedil, Shannara descendant and Elfstones bearer Wil Ohmsford, and Rover girl Eretria move through the post-apocalyptic landscape of Seattle and San Francisco, the original High Fantasy feel of the book is lost. Gnomes and trolls were never described as wearing goggles or being nuclear-deformed humans.
And the majority of humankind was not described as being backstabbing or part of the gypsy-like Rovers who distrust everyone from elves to gnomes. This not-so-subtle racial tension serves as a much larger, dare I say dirty, plot distraction than it does as a helpful addition.
Yes, it is relevant to our time. Yes, it makes sense in the show the way they have portrayed it. However, it eliminates some of the strongest relationships and story points that were created in the book — such as between the gnomes of Storlock and Wil. And at least two of the episodes, ‘Pykon’ and ‘Utopia’ have included scenes of racial prejudice that were never in the book, complete with throwaway characters.
If you can watch the show without any link to the book, it stands on its own. The acting is solid especially from veteran actors John Rhys-Davies and Manu Bennett. The special effects are stellar and don’t distract from the suspension of disbelief.
However, with MTV guiding this show’s life cycle, the teen angst and love triangle angles are overbearing. Eretria’s attitude borders on Anakin Skywalker level whininess while Wil’s indecisive nature makes you doubt he has the conviction to be the guardian he’s supposed to be.
Since this series has finished its final episode, it will be interesting to see if a second series is greenlit. Of the original cast, only Bennett’s character the Druid Allanon makes it to the third book. And there is much more material that can be used beyond the third book that is set within 100 years of the events of this series.
Overall, I enjoyed the series about as much as I enjoyed the book but for vastly different reasons. However having read the books, I was too distracted by the differences to truly engage and just adore what was produced. As far as adaptations go, this one falls somewhere between the abysmal Dresden Files and the stellar Game of Thrones. But it will need another season and more fully-realized fleshing out of source material for it to truly bloom into the classic it deserves to be.