I finally watched the first episode of The Shannara Chronicles, the TV series by MTV. While I would have loved to see it as a kid, let’s be serious, it wouldn’t have been this good. Today, however, fantasy story arcs are incredibly popular so this series now has a chance to both be entertaining while also being quite accurate to the source novels.
Yes, some things will change and tweaks and adjustments will be made but it’s wonderful watching the first episode and feeling it reminds you of the novels you read many (many) years ago.
For those that don’t know, Shannara is a collection of fantasy novels first published waaaay back in 1977, beginning with The Sword of Shannara, written by Terry Brooks. There are numerous other books in the Shannara story arc(s) but the two other core books for the first trilogy are The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) followed by The Wishsong of Shannara (1985).
Based on the characters involved, it appears that MTV has selected the events and characters of the third novel, The Wishsong of Shannara, as the source for the series. I will not be surprised to see the periodic element from Sword and Elfstones also show up in the series but, based on the first episode, they have selected the third book as the source of their story arc.
Most people would think the use of the Shannara series and being true to it is vitally important. After that, it is how well done is the show. Thankfully, they selected a large number of the right people to strive for that. Heck, they have Manu Bennette who plays, what’s that? Azog in The Hobbit? Oh my goodness, he got to be the source for a significant role in The Hobbit movies and now he’s playing a wee bit of an important role in The Shannara Chronicles? Methinks he’s having a pretty darn awesome time in his career of late.
Seriously though, I first got to know Manu back in his Spartacus days and he’s advanced his acting career one step at a time, each time portraying more than just a big collection of muscles. After all, his portrayal of Allanon, one of the most vital characters for the Shannara series, is a wonderful example of that, needing him to play a significantly potent character who does have a compassionate element that events prevent him from exploring — he has evil to fight, not love to explore, but he does feel love.
And, thankfully, it’s not the sole role being portrayed well — be it Poppy Drayton’s portrayal of Amberle or Ivana Boquero’s Eretria or Austin Butler’s Wil. They each are doing a very good job portraying three of the key roles for the series. When that is done well, it pretty much guarantees a good show, a show which they are, so far, delivering.
JRR Tolkien Copy Cat
There have been accusation that the first book in the Shannara series is basically just a retelling of Lord of the Rings and, let’s be serious … um … Well, it is. It isn’t an overwhelming, literal copy but to say that the story in the first novel (Sword of Shannara) is heavily inspired by Tolkien’s work is an understatement.
The execution of the novel, the telling of the story, and, of course, the story itself, are not the exact same as Tolkien’s work. In many ways, Brooks’s writing style is much easier to absorb which makes his books much more casual and enjoyable to read for most people. But, despite the difference in writing style, the story arc elements of the first novel and parts of the second are … heavily inspired by Tolkien’s novels.
In the end, how big an impact (and detriment) the similarity is depends on your personal opinion. Though it is not a total copy-paste style of inspiration, you may be looking for a fantasy novel that feels wild and extravagant, filled with original thoughts and Brooks’s early novels won’t meet that objective.
The major saving grace is that MTV and the creators clearly realized that starting their Shannara series on one of the first two books was far to risky that this discussion would hindering the show. By the third novel, however, Brooks was well on to his own path as an author so people being exposed to the TV show would no longer watch, thinking it was a copy of Tolkien’s work. They would watch and enjoy it.
Now, I’m not going to pretend it was the best thing I’ve ever seen based on a novel because, well, it’s not the best thing I’ve seen based on a novel, a comic, or anything else. But, most importantly, It was really good and it leaves me looking forward to seeing the next episode. Time will tell if they start strong and falter in the later episodes, which does happen for some shows but, if they manage to keep things within the realm of the quality shown in the first episode, they should do quite well. If it does well, it will be incredibly interesting to see which book it leads to next…