[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episodes 1×01-1×02: “Chosen”

written by Dayna Abel

Welcome to Made Of Fail’s first review of MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, posted every Thursday! Shall we begin?

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

The year is 1991. It’s my eleventh birthday, and my maternal grandmother has just gifted me with a worn copy of The Elfstones Of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It’s actually the second book in the series, although I don’t know this yet.

What I do know is that I am riveted.

Since I was really little, my favorite stories have been those of magic and fantasy. My favorite cartoons were shows like He-Man, She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, Thundercats, and so forth. Magic crystals and warrior princesses and cool swords and the like. I honestly don’t know what fantasy satisfies in me, but it does so in spades. Give me a Magical Thingamajig and a little bit of a plot hook and a likeable main character and I am sold.

I ended up reading every single book in the Shannara series and loving it. I would pretend to be a Druid of Paranor, studying under Allanon and using the Elfstones to fight demons. This one book hooked me into a lifetime of magic that would eventually include Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, World Of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons and the novels of David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson, among others. But at the heart of it all is Terry Brooks, and his story about a young half-elf, the last Druid, a Rover and an Elven Princess who are the last hope of the Four Lands against the Demons of the Forbidding.

I’m telling you this story because it’s important that you, dear reader, know exactly what it means to me that Shannara is a television series a quarter of a century later. Hell yes I’m going to be biased. I’m also not going to deliberately recap every plot point because I’m going to work off the assumption that you have already seen the episode, and I also don’t want to be here all day. So let’s get on with it, as a certain British comedy troupe would yell.

Season One of The Shannara Chronicles begins with Amberle, princess of the Elven kingdom of Arborlon. Instantly we have a difference from the novels. Book Amberle is Chosen by the Ellcrys, whereas TV Amberle puts herself through a grueling trial in order to serve the tree. I like this. Book Amberle had an inner strength and determination even in the face of her fears, but TV Amberle has a bit more grit to her. It’s still clear there’s a bond between her and the Ellcrys, because the tree speaks to her alone. There is a huge spoiler of a reason for this and oh man I’m dying to see what you all think when it hits that point.

As for the Ellcrys itself, I’m not exaggerating when I say that my eyes went wide and I said “WOW” out loud when I saw it. That inner 11-year-old had a picture in her head, but it was surpassed by miles. I cannot praise the cinematography of this show enough and we’ve only just started. Every frame could be a poster. New Zealand is the backdrop for the Four Lands as it was in Lord Of the Rings and I don’t know how its citizens can function surrounded by so much beauty.

I had concerns about the casting of Manu Bennett as Allanon. Allanon is supposed to be about seven feet tall, dark and imposing and even a little frightening. He looms. I shouldn’t have worried – Bennett carries the Druid’s presence, if not the height, while adding a layer of humanity that isn’t quite as present in the novels, but is nonetheless a welcome change.

The Dagda Mor and the Changeling are amazing to behold. The Dagda Mor is genuinely frightening to look at. A major change from the novel is they seem to have combined his story with that of the Warlock Lord from Sword Of Shannara. I was skeptical at first, but honestly, Sword is…not that good a story. It lifts a lot from Tolkien, and there is literally one female character in the entire book who is a love interest and nothing more. Terry Brooks himself wanted the series to begin with the stronger story of Elfstones, and I agree. There are references made to Sword, but it’s just backstory that doesn’t need its own thing. I approve.

Wil Ohmsford comes across as naive but genuine, while adding a sense of humor that was sorely missing from the book. I love Terry’s writing but I can absolutely criticize the way he writes his characters. But that’s another tangent and I’m already going long here.

Did the show do the book justice? Absolutely. It remains faithful to the spirit of the story without being a carbon copy of every single plot beat. Some things are changed, some compressed, characters are added, but none of the changes hurts the story itself, and Episode 2 (the premiere consisted of a two-parter) ended on a heartbreaking and dangerous cliffhanger. I could watch the next two episodes on MTV’s website right now, but where’s the fun in that?

The Shannara Chronicles opened strong. MTV’s marketing money and muscle did it a great service, and airing it after Teen Wolf likely didn’t hurt either. There’s been a lot of skepticism about MTV airing this series, with some critics dismissing the new slant towards a young adult audience.

Look. Eleven-year-old me may have loved Elfstones with all her heart, but I was a weird kid. Nobody my age read like I did. I had all this excitement for something amazing and no one else to talk about it with. It was very, very lonely for me.

With the debut of The Shannara Chronicles, millions of viewers can now experience the magic of Terry’s story. The internet is around to give a new generation like-minded people to talk to. Lord only knows what Tumblr’s going to do with it and good for it. It means everything to both 11-year-old me and almost 36-year-old me that a story so close to my heart can now be enjoyed by so many people who wouldn’t have otherwise experienced it. My husband Karl loved it, and he is a man who takes no pleasure whatsoever in reading. He never would have picked up Elfstones, but he can see the Four Lands and the Elves and Arborlon and Wil and Amberle and Allanon and Eretria every week with me. Sharing a thing I love, which gave me so much happiness, with as many people as possible…

…well, that’s a Made Of Fail mission statement if there ever was one.

Episode 3 coming up next week.

The Shannara Chronicles airs Tuesday nights on MTV at 9 pm Central and can also be viewed online at http://www.mtv.com/shows/shannara.

One thought on “[Review] The Shannara Chronicles Episodes 1×01-1×02: “Chosen”

  1. Hear hear. This was marvelous.

    For me, it was Wishsong around 1994, quickly followed by Sword and Elfstones. It really is great how readable each of those is on their own.

    One of my favorite aspects of the books is that, instead of a typical medieval fantasy setting, it’s a post-post-apocalypse society on a future Earth. I don’t think it was until I followed Wishsong with Sword that the revelation hit, and I remember it blowing my mind as a kid. I’ve seen some criticize the show for putting that aspect front-and-center – the ruins, the clothes, the vernacular – to cash in on the YA dystopia boom, but I think it was absolutely the right choice, giving it both a great sense of relatability and a unique identity from both other fantasy epics and apocalyptic dystopias. I was also a little thrown by their choice for Allanon at first, but wow did he win me over quick.

    My only quibbles are that the cast could have been much more diverse, especially given the setting, and some of the T&A felt a bit obvious and unnecessary. But I have no criticisms for the direction, the writing, the performances, the locations and effects. A really damned well made piece of work.

    I loved it and have already thrown the books on my pile for a fresh re-read.

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