Ugh. This show aggravates me.
It doesn’t aggravate me in the way that watching an episode of Game of Thrones aggravates me. It doesn’t aggravate me the way watching a Harry Potter movie aggravates me. But it aggravates me nonetheless.
The problem is, I can (and do) go on endlessly about why certain things bother me in the Game of Thrones or Harry Potter adaptations, but when it comes to The Shannara Chronicles, I’m kind of stumped. I have some theories as to why it’s so hard for me to elucidate at the moment:
- I’m only halfway through skimming Elfstones right now, and I haven’t read that book in years.
- Though I like Elfstones a lot, it’s no Elfqueen, or any of the Heritage saga, or the Genesis saga, or the Knight of the Word trilogy. I’d have waaaay more to say about my favourites.
- Ultimately, I don’t think the changes these show runners have made are all that… fundamental.
I’m not a purist when it comes to adaptations, but I do think that if you’re going to try to faithfully adapt something, you need to identify some core elements that kind of have to stay the same. With Harry Potter, the core of the story is the golden trio and their dynamic. Harry gains a family in them and everything he faces afterwards would be too much for him to handle alone, and on the flip side, much easier to handle alone because he would have nothing to lose without them. That dynamic is crucial. But the movies somehow worked their way through eight movies without paying much attention to it, so, there you go.
What is the core of Elfstones? I have a pretty good idea, but it’s not something I can discuss without spoiling everything, just in case you’re reading this and you don’t know how it all ends.
The show really hasn’t had a chance to severely mess with the main workings of its source material, so I have to wait and see how they handle their season finale tomorrow. In the meantime, I know everyone’s complaining about how “MTV” it is. Lots and lots of teen angst, and teens doing stupid things.
But that’s Terry Brooks for you. Brooks always writes about young people getting sucked into bigger-than-us-all world events and being required, somewhat unfairly, to save everyone, which is why I think it’s actually fitting that Shannara is a teen drama.
Still, while skimming Elfstones I can’t help but notice how much more I prefer the book’s version. Partly this is because it’s so familiar. I’ve been reading Shannara for probably fifteen years now, and opening one of those books is like coming home. The settings are all familiar, and even if I wasn’t a Shannara fan, they feel like high fantasy in a way that so far, at least for me, the show hasn’t managed to replicate.
I know we needed some emotional stakes for Wil right away, but I definitely miss finding him training to be a healer with the Stors. And Amberle teaching children in Havenstead. I liked the racing, but runaway hidden princesses are so much cooler than just out in the open obvious ones.
Somehow there’s a more established atmosphere of magic as well as urgency in the book, and since it’s missing from the show the best assumption I have is that it might have been better if they’d stuck to the book a little more.
But the demons are right on the mark. Which doesn’t matter because they’re really boring apart from how cool they look.
Here’s a pretty universal and easy to express gripe, though: this show needed more diversity. The books too. There’s really no reason why most everyone had to be white – though there never is a reason for that. Come on, now, MTV.
If they get around to adapting my favourites from the Heritage saga, I hope they’ll fix that, and I hope they’ll trust both their source material and their audience a little more.
(click on the things to find where the things come from and some of them come from reviews that imply that Shannara is hopelessly derivative of the Lord of the Rings which is silly and a topic for another day)