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For fans of The Shannara Chronicles book series, the long wait to see the written works translated to the screen finally recently came to an end. What began in 1977 as an epic tale of a fantasy world arising from the post-apocalyptic ashes of our current one, ‘Shannara’ had been in development in Hollywood for almost as long; bouncing between movie studios and various production houses, no one could seem to get the timing just right to produce a tale based on author Terry Brooks’ fantastical world. MTV finally managed to make it happen, though: the network produced a 10-episode first season based on the second book in the series, “The Elfstones of Shannara,” and a second season followed on the Spike/Paramount Network. While aimed at a more “young adult” type of audience (it was MTV at the helm, after all), this is by no means considered a “kids” show; all ages should be able to watch and enjoy. Further seasons are currently in limbo, as it was announced last year at the conclusion of the second season that the show was not being renewed – the producers are shopping the show to other networks with the hopes of keeping the tale going.
WARNING: What you’re about to read contains minor spoilers about some episodes of ‘The Shannara Chronicles.’ Proceed at your own risk/reward!
The show follows a fairly “standard” sci-fi/fantasy plot line, but don’t hold that against the show creators; remember, Brooks wrote the Shannara books in the 1970s and 1980s, so much of what has come after in the entertainment industry may actually be riffing on his works (among many, many others, of course), just as he “borrowed” from classic series such as ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Early in the show, viewers learn that our present-day culture suffered a cataclysmic end and that the action is taking place thousands of years in our future. On the ruins of our world has sprung a myriad of offshoot races: there are still humans, but now also elves, gnomes, dwarves, and trolls, in addition to demons and magic-wielding druids.
Elf princess Amberle decides to break anti-feminism tradition and enlists as the first female to compete in the competition to become a Chosen – the first 7 elves to complete a rigorous yearly trial – and help safeguard the Ellcrys, a gargantuan tree that, according to legend, keeps the demons locked away in the underworld. Amberle’s grandfather, King Eventine, is none too pleased with her decision (and her eventual crowning as a Chosen), but he soon has bigger issues to address: the world’s last remaining Druid, Allanon, has been awoken from his decades-long hibernation. Both Allanon and Amberle have been receiving visions and messages – warnings that they discover come from the Ellcrys itself, whose legend is true but is now in jeopardy as the giant tree begins to die.
Amberle sets off into the world to attempt to find answers before Allanon arrives in the Elvish kingdom of Arborlon. Allanon needed to find one more very important person: half-elf, half-human Wil Ohmsford, who is (unbeknownst to Wil) actually the last in the line of the Shannara family, warriors who have long been the key to holding the evil forces at bay. The trio must find their way to each other and work together to plant a new Ellcrys before the old one dies – but this will be no small feat, as every time a leaf falls from the Ellcrys, another demon is released from the underworld prison. The tree has lost three leaves so far, and are gathering and preparing to attack…
Credit MTV for not shying away from showing many beautiful (and likely very expensive) sets and shots of this “new world.” Filmed primarily in every fantasy-lovers paradise, New Zealand, the visuals are really quite stunning and the use of good CGI adds an extra layer of intrigue to a world that’s barely recognizable as our own (but clearly is, by subtle visual clues that are fun to watch out for). The show was lead by a team of producers of fairly recognizable genre names, including Dan Farah, Jon Favreau, Miles Millar, Al Gough, and Jonathan Liebesman.
As mentioned previously, fans of Brooks’ work (who, it should be noted, also functions as an Executive Producer of this show and is on record as being very happy with this adaptation) may quickly notice that this TV series is actually based on the second book in the Shannara series, “The Elfstones of Shannara.” The first book, “The Sword of Shannara,” follows the exploits of Wil’s father Shea (mentioned in the series) and his brother Flick (seen on-screen in this episode). Those viewers who find themselves intrigued by this world may want to head to your local library or retailer to read some of the back-story of this world.
While the show never necessarily broke a ton of new ground in terms of plot or character development, it was one of the most visually-stunning sci-fi/fantasy shows featured on TV in recent years. Further credit is given to the second season for not shying away from a few LGBTQ+ subplots that never detracted or pulled too much attention away from the main plot lines. MTV was wise to downplay the romantic/teen-angsty aspects that inevitably make their way into their shows; the show has enough intrigue and visual enjoyment to make most viewers glad that they came along for the ride.