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Perhaps the biggest surprise about the news that we’ll soon have a television series based on Terry Brooks‘ Shannara novels is that it’s taken so long — Brooks’ fantasy series started way back in 1977, after all, and continues today with more than 25 books so far. Given the success of both The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, the idea of taking a fantasy series with this much success — and this much existing material — and bringing it to the screen seems pretty close to a no-brainer.
In fact, the Shannara cycle feels like a perfect combination of George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien; there’s the multiple kingdoms and familial legacy of Martin, combined with the epic quests and fantasy creatures of Tolkien. In fact, given the postapocalyptic setting of the cycle — the books, it’s eventually revealed, take place on a future Earth recovered from a nuclear holocaust — there’re elements of science fiction and even Jack Kirby‘s Kamandi in there, as well. Really, how could MTV pass up an opportunity like that?
Unfortunately, the familiarity of the material is what’s likely to cause trouble for the adaptations down the line, especially for the series’ existing fandom. For all that Brooks takes from Tolkien — admittedly, a fair amount — or whatever similarities the books have to Martin’s later series, the Shannara books are their own thing, and any attempt to turn them into a The Hobbit but on TV or Game of Thrones for Teens is surely doomed to … well, if not failure, then at least a risky betrayal of the books’ established fanbase.
Worse yet, for those concerned about the fidelity of the series to the original source material, is the track record of those responsible for the new show. MTV’s Teen Wolf series bears little resemblance to the movies it shares a name with beyond the lycanthropy connection, having been reconstructed in the shape of the more popular, contemporary hit Twilight, while producing duo Al Gough and Miles Millar were previously responsible for Smallville, the long-running CW series that transformed the Superman mythos into … well, something more akin to Dawson’s Creek meets The X-Files. (Jon Favreau, meanwhile, gets a pass as the guy who made both Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens.)
While past transgressions don’t necessarily translate into future plans, they do at least provide some reason to worry for fans hoping for a show that faithfully reproduces what’s to be found in the books. The question may be whether or not anyone outside the current Shannara fanbase really cares — or, more importantly, whether or not MTV does.
Certainly, Brooks is on board with the plan, commenting that the show will be “an epic television series that both new and old fans of the books will love.” The first season will be based around The Elfstones of Shannara — the second book in the series and, tellingly, one that could easily be molded into a traditional quest/romance/tragic sacrifice narrative that audiences would be familiar with.
Handled correctly — which doesn’t necessarily translate as “faithfully,” as Teen Wolf‘s success demonstrates — the Shannara series could be the thing that fantasy fans have hoped for for some time: A television series that embraces the genre as much as Peter Jackson‘s Tolkien movies have, that takes the material more seriously than something like ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but which is appropriate for a wider audience than Game of Thrones. Shannara could be a gateway to making the fantasy genre seem more than just hobbits and book series completed decades earlier, something alive and vital and contemporary. And, if it means some long-term fans of the material aren’t on board, is that really too much of a price to pay?
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