My journey to becoming a fan of the fantasy and science fiction genres started with Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, back when I was about 9 years old, or so. I was starting to get into reading in a big bad way, and had grown out of more specifically young adult fare, like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, etc. I remember perusing my father’s book shelf, and coming across the second book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara. The thing that immediately caught my attention was definitely the cover art. It had rich colors, and characters that seemed to be backed into a corner, holding dramatic posturing. It was intriguing, I guess you could say. I spent the better part of 10 years, or so, reading everything that Brooks put out, because, well, there’s a lot.
There were a few breakthrough moments in the series that solidified my fandom. First: when I realized that the entire series was taking place in the future of the real world, and wasn’t just some vague fantasy universe. Sure, it still shares a lot of the same tropes and cliches that are prevalent in the genre, but it re-contextualized all of those trappings in some really interesting ways. It purported a “ground zero” for fantasy universes, and offered a type of origin story for how the different fantasy races came to be, through evolution and mutation; how “magic” is an extension of technological progress, and offered a history that gave the universe a context for why it was operating the way it was. Like, a nuclear war that wiped everything out and forced everything to go back to basics. It took humanity a long time to get to where it is, so, if we had to do it again it would probably take awhile, you know?
The second significant “Come to Shannara” moment came after I had read a most of Brooks’ work, including, what I thought at the time, “spin-offs.” But, you see, none of these series are actually separate, and pretty much all lead into each other. The first time I think it really occurred to me was while reading the first novel in his Word & Void series, Running with the Demon. It takes place in a contemporary setting, and the “fantasy” stuff is held to only a few characters. It’s more akin to something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Lord of the Rings. I don’t mean that as a slight, either, in fact, it actually works pretty well. The thing that really elevated the series, in my opinion, is when Brooks started connecting it to the Shannara series, and basically uses it’s story as a prequel to his earlier works. It is brought further into a “full circle” with the original trilogy with his next series, The Genesis of Shannara.
If you’re a fan of this kind of stuff, and haven’t read them yet, I’d definitely recommend the series. Just be warned that it starts out being really derivative of Tolkien. I mean, so much so that it’s distracting if you’ve read the Lord of the Rings, or have even just seen the movies. Stick with it, though. By the second novel it starts to really differentiate itself and build a unique world, characters, and mythology. Actually, if you do plan on checking the series out, I’d suggest skipping the first novel, The Sword of Shannara, altogether. So, I’d say read the last two books of the original series(The Elfstones of Shannara and The Wishsong of Shannara), then head into the Word & Void stuff, and then just proceed from there.
In regards to the allegedly forthcoming series, I’m surprised someone hasn’t done anything with this series yet, honestly. Given the success of other fantasy properties and the mainstream popularity of this series you wouldn’t be totally remiss in thinking that surely somebody in Hollywood was aware of these books. Years ago, there were rumblings of a film version of Brooks’ Magic Kingdom For Sale- Sold! being bandied about, but I think that may have preceded the Lord of the Rings films. Well, apparently, it’s been green lit again recently, but I don’t really care for that book, so, it doesn’t have me all that excited.
It would seem that Iron Man director, Jon Favreau, is spearheading an adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara as a series for MTV. I’m not sure how I feel about this, in all honesty. Sure, Favreau isn’t a stranger to “fantastical” stories, but nothing he’s ever done has really “set my world on fire,” or anything. Also, MTV? Man, that is the most shocking part of this whole thing, in my opinion. I mean, I get it. Given how popular Game of Thrones is, I’d imagine that there are a lot of premium cable channels looking for their piece of the “serious fantasy pie,” and beyond that MTV has been venturing out into scripted series fare lately. They have their terrible looking series version of Teen Wolf, so, there’s that, I guess.
The thing that concerns me the most about this being adapted for MTV is that they aren’t exactly known for their restraint. It would be really easy to ruin this series by forcing it to be sexy, and overly stylized to appease MTV’s general audience, and Jon Favreau seems like the kind of guy that would “play ball” when it came to stuff like that. He’s a journeyman director, who is, more often than not, just competent. I’m also concerned that they will try to ape Game of Thrones too much. They are so fundamentally different in almost every way. The Shannara series is, for lack a better way to put it, for all ages, and I don’t mean that it’s not “complex,” or isn’t “adult,” or anything. It’s “for all ages” in the same way that Lord of the Rings is. Listen, I understand that only people that are familiar with the series will care about that, and the fact that it’s MTV that’s going to be bringing the show to air tells me that I shouldn’t expect anything all that faithful. I have a bad feeling about this project on a fundamental level. That’s just me, though.
I’ll definitely check it out whenever it comes out. I mean, if out of nothing more than morbid curiosity. It’s a childhood favorite of mine, and the fact that they are adapting my first, and probably favorite, of the series definitely peaks my interest. If done right it has a lot of potential, but so do most adaptations. Who knows, maybe I’ll be proved wrong. Honestly, I kind of hope so, because, at the end of day, I really love this series. So, here’s hoping, I guess…