What are The Shannara Chronicles anyway?
So glad you asked! We’ve been jumping up and down with joy over them here, and we’d like to tell you why in one, single, compact post (You can read all the other posts later, if you want). This is the post that will show you what the miniseries is about and why you want to watch it, with some asides from a long-time reader of the Shannara books.
The Shannara Chronicles is a ten-part miniseries on MTV retelling The Elfstones of Shannara, the second book in the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. It is coming out in January 2016.
The majority of the Shannara series–including Elfestones–takes place in a post-post apocalyptic world. Earth has already developed extremely advanced technology, including AI, and has already lost it all. The big, devastating war that destroyed everything? That was a long time ago, so long ago that it is more a hazy myth than history or clear memory.
There are still traces of the old world seen from time to time: That’s why there’s a big, fallen tower near the beginning of the frankly magnificent trailer and probably why Eretria is holding what looks like a gun later on.
After technology fell apart, some humans mutated into goblins, dwarves, gnomes, trolls, while some stayed recognizably human. Although the dwarves et al were named because of myth, the elves were always there. They’d just been in hiding for a long time.
Also after the wars, humans started practicing magic again. Not all of them, just a few like the Druids and a scattering of others. Elves, in the meantime, have gotten fairly slack in their use of magic. They have a few powerful artifacts leftover from a long (very long) time ago, but that’s about it.
This is a problem because one of the leftover powerful magics is the Ellcrys, and it is guarding the world from demons who were locked away so far in prehistory no one at all has more than a vague idea that it happened. But now the Ellcrys weakening, and the demons, who have not forgotten magic and who have had a long, long time learning to hate, are breaking out.
With that, the trailer, for your further edification and enjoyment:
Wait—did you say the second book in the series? What happened to the first book?
Yes, I said the second book, but don’t worry, the first three books: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara
, and The Wishsong of Shannara all function as standalones. There are mentions of previous adventures by earlier generations, but they are just that—mentions. It is easy to follow the story of one without having read the other.
But why start with the second book?
Two reasons: According to Shawn Speakman, Terry Brooks’ website manager, “The main reason that Terry picked Elfstones was because of Sword‘s first half being plot-point-by-plot-point similar to Fellowship of the Ring.” And “Sword has no primary female character. Not one. . . Elfstones, on the other hand, has two primary female characters” (see the comments on this article on Terrybrooks.net) Having read both books more than once, I concur.
The Elfstones of Shannara is really where the series comes into its own. Sword does have the post-apocalyptic setting in the background, if the reader pays close attention, but otherwise it reads a lot like The Lord of the Rings. It is possible to enjoy both Sword and The Lord of the Rings–I do—but no one watching or reading Sword is going to miss the similarities. Filming the series in New Zealand would only make it worse. Also, the writing style is more confident in Elfstones. Not that that really matters much for the miniseries, but you just might want to read the book before the minseries comes out in January.
Sword has only one woman, Shirl, and she shows up very, very late. While we are told Shirl is strong, she’s mostly there to sooth Menion’s fevered brow etc (I like the book; that doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect). Brothers and fathers get mentioned; sisters? What are they? And mothers? They die before their children grow up, don’t they?
Elfstones, on the other hand, has two women in leading roles, plus some significant minor characters allowing for a story that not only has women but has women of different characters and abilities.
The Shannara Chronicles is adding at least two or three additional women to the supporting cast in spots where they should fit in well—Catania and Captain Tilton will be discussed more in the who’s who below. There is also a brief glimpse of the woman in the demon ranks. She may be a full addition; there is no reason why the demon army wouldn’t have women and plenty of reason why they should, and later books make it clear that there are women among those in the Forbidden. Or, she may be the Changeling which, by nature, doesn’t really have a gender.
If it’s based on The Elfstones of Shannara why isn’t it called The Elfstones of Shannara?
Did you see me mention the Shannara series up there? There are a lot of books in the series, and I suspect that MTV is leaving things open for adapting more of them. I, for one, hope they at least get as far as The Wishsong of Shannara
Who are all these people anyway?
Once more, with pictures! I wrote a who’s who earlier, but MTV has since released publicity pictures and a trailer, making it easier to talk about them in context and, on occasion, with more detail and some reader’s commentary.
The Ellcrys is the Four Lands’ only guardian against the demons who would overwhelm the lands. She has kept them held in the Forbidding for as long as anyone can remember. When The Elfstones of Shannara begins, the tree is failing, and she needs Amberle to bathe her seed in the bloodfire to renew the protection. So far, there is no news on who, if anyone, will voice her; she doesn’t exactly talk in the book, so things could go either way.
Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) is studying to be a healer when Elfstones begins and is jolted by Allanon’s insistence that he travel with and defend Amberle Elessedil on her quest to save/replace the Ellcrys. He’s chosen because he is the current holder of the Elfstones, another powerful magic left over from the Elves heyday.
Reader’s note: And because, as anyone who reads the series will soon notice, the Druids pretty much have the Ohmsford’s on speed dial. The family is never reconciled to this, but tends to agree—sooner or later–that saving the world beats letting it fall apart.
The miniseries is making Wil half-Elven, while in the book it’s quarter-Elven, but it that hardly matters. The part-Elf problem can be dealt with just as well at half as at a quarter.
Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) is the daughter of the Elven king. When the book begins, she has fled from the Eleven kingdom for reasons she will not disclose and is serving as a teacher in one of the human towns. She has built a quiet, stable life for herself, and mysterious druids followed by killer demons are not welcome.
Reader’s note: You really can’t blame her for refusing to talk to anyone for a while. She’s all settled, and then these two show up telling her that, no, she can’t stay quiet and safe, she has to go on a quest to save the world.
Allanon (Manu Bennett) is a dark and forbidding druid, the last of his kind. He appears when the Four Lands are in trouble and provides aid as needed. He also never tells anyone everything he knows, which isolates him and leads to people distrusting him.
Reader’s note: Seriously. He spends a lot of time brooding about this, but always ends up deciding not to tell people the whole truth. I love the character. I also frequently want to throw the hardcover copy of whichever book I am reading at him.
Artaq (Trienko) is the willful and powerful horse who carries first Allanon and then Wil and Amberle on their quest. Like many such horses, he starts out seeming unmanageable, but he gets along with the druid well–probably because they’re both too stubborn for their own good.
Ander Elessedil (Aaron Jakubenko) is the younger son of the Elven king, Amberle’s uncle. The Shannara Chronicles Tumblr describes him as having a “party-boy reputation.”
Readers comment: This is pretty much the opposite of the Ander in the novel. That Ander is a quiet, self-effacing sort who is very good at doing the necessary work, though he does get to shine on one of the battle scenes. I rather like this Ander and I will miss him on screen. However, I can see the reason for the switch “quite and prone to brooding” is not going to make him shine in a movie full of swordplay and monsters. Also, the main personality arc in the book is from not even considering himself as a possible heir to taking charge, and that arc can still go forward.
Arion (Daniel MacPherson) is the eldest son and heir to the Elven king. In the miniseries, it looks like he’ll be flipped with Ander and take the serious, studious role. This Variety article describes him as a man who “takes himself very seriously and is the opposite of his wilder brother Ander”
Reader’s note: In the book, he’s self-confident to the point of arrogance and can be really, really annoying and extraordinarily rude. It is hard to think well of him, though the men who follow him do, so he must have some good qualities.
Crispin Edensong (James Trevena-Brown) is the captain of the Elven guard sent to protect Wil and Amberle on their quest. He is an incredibly capable man and an outstanding fighter. Reader’s note: The miniseries has given him a last name. Perhaps that will translate into some more time on screen and a few more speaking lines.
Commander Tilton (Emilia Burns) is the Captain of the Black Watch, defenders of the Ellcrys. If she’s there for the siege, she’ll have plenty to do.
Reader’s note: She is not in the book. On the other hand, the Black Watch is, and there’s no reason why the captain can’t be a woman.
King Eventine Elessedil (John Rhys-Davies) is the king of the Elves. He’s a noted fighter and strong ruler, but he is getting old and is now faced with ruling over the almost-certain destruction of his people. No wonder he broods.
Reader’s note: Brooks’ Elves are nothing like Tolkien’s. They age, they make mistakes, they are just as mortal and just as fallible as everyone else.
Cephelo (James Remar) is the leader of the Rovers, a traveling people who wander the Four Lands. He sees no reason to trust anyone outside of the Rovers.
Reader’s note: I like both Amberle and Eretria, but I find the love triangle aspect awkward. I’m hoping the movie smooths things out a bit.
Mallenroh (Genevieve Aitken) and Morag (Kendal Rae) are powerful witch sisters in the Wildrun, a nasty wasteland. Each wants power over the other and realizes that control over the Elfstones would give just that. Wil and Amberle are quite negligible as far as they’re concerned.
Catania (Brooke Williams) is Amberle’s friend and confidant.
Reader’s note: She’s not in the book, but (again) according to Shawn Speakman is there to give Amberle someone to talk to about her fears and concerns, to “give voice to” her. Since she spends half her time in the book not talking to Wil and Allanon, this is good. Presumably, she’ll talk to Wil earlier in the movie than she does in the book, but still, she needs someone to talk to.
Bandon (Marcus Vanco) is also not in the book. Amberle and Wil find him chained to a wall because people fear his visions. I have no idea how he fits into the puzzle.
The Dagda Mor (actor not yet named) is the leader of the demons. He’s powerful, smart, and determined. Also, he has his own magic which makes him a formidable foe.
The Reaper (actor not yet named) is pretty much what you’d expect from the title: Someone who is extremely fond of killing and extremely good at it. He’s also got incredible tracking skills.
The Changeling (actor not yet named) can shapeshift to be anyone or anything.