DM Blog 10: MTV does Shannara


Happy New Year.

This week, MTV released their new fantasy show The Shannara Chronicles.

Here’s a positive review
Here’s a more critical one

The show is based on a series of books written by Terry Brooks, starting way back in 1977. I read the original trilogy sometime around 1985-86, when I was 14-ish. I remember Wishsong coming out as I was reading the first two. Here’s the Wikipedia page on them (no spoilers).

The first book is very consciously Tolkienesque, but lacking the detail and prose. However, The Sword of Shannara did have an ace up its sleeve that caught my imagination when I read it. Unfortunately, for it to work it had to be delayed and not dwelled on too much. At a point through the heroes’ journey they come across strange ruined towers and without spelling it out too much you release it’s the American Pacific Northwest in the far future. That was still cool in 1984. Although I had already read Moorcock’s Hawkmoon books, that explicitly take place in a future Europe fantasy setting and were first published in 1967, this still worked because it was done economically and the characters were not aware of it. It was enough to make me go on to the second novel The Elfstones of Shannara.

Elfstones is a borderline experimental novel. Its two stories – a war, and a adventure journey – cross cut chapter for chapter across the whole book. But, as a teen I found it very formulaic and a drop off from the first novel … until I got to the end. And then it became something I thought about for ages afterwards. Be careful now, with the internetz it would be so easy for you to immediately spoil the ending for yourself, and believe me, it only works if you first spend the whole book with the characters, getting sucked into the repetitive narrative that has you wrongly projecting forward. Then it hits you with a very upsetting and profound finale that will make Will and Amberle stay with you for a long time.

I think that’s why the TV show has decided to start not with the original first novel, but with Elfstones. Provided they intend to stay faithful to the book, it will give them their Game of Thrones moment, that’s all the rage now. They already did the future in the past reveal in the trailers, showing the toppled and ruined Space Needle. They filmed in New Zealand, maybe they changed the ruined city to Auckland? Anyway, once the show finale is out, it’ll be spoilers ahoy. If they follow through. Maybe the CGI demons will be off putting visually for most people? Maybe the fact that the source material is average, but elevated by a good ending that makes you re-evaluate what came before it, will cause many episodes to be filler. At any rate, fantasy fans should check it out, it’s very D&D and a work of the imagination.

Oh. Touching back to something we talked about here regarding D&D in the 80s and ‘satanic panic’ … here’s an interesting article talking about how the media really fanned the flames: The Media Still Owes Dungeons & Dragons an Apology

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