Shannara

Shannara-officialThe Elfstones of Shannara was one of the first fantasy books I ever read, and I remember it as one of the most exhilarating and fantasy-esque things I ever encountered it. Wizards battled in the skies with appropriately colour coded magic fire. Trees spoke telepathically to priests and chosen ones. Long voyages were undertaken, destinies fulfilled. It was Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter all rolled into one. It was glorious. So when the announcement came that Shannara was being made into a television series I was extremely excited. Fantasy is a much neglected genre in TV-land, but a format very well suited to the long, saga-like Shannara Chronicles.

Now that the pilot has aired the ultimate question must be asked–does the result live up to the expectations?

Just as Middle-Earth is set sometime in the mythical past of Europe, Shannara is set sometime in the mythical future of North America. The pilot portrays opens with a sequence of fallen landmarks reminiscent of the scenery of Revolution, and this sets the tone for the entire show. Modern-influenced costumes, dialogue and music lend a contemporary atmosphere that stands in odd contrast to the magic, druids, and pointy-eared elves of the plot.

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After the destruction of the modern world, magic returned to the land, along with all the races and customs associated with it. Wars were fought, demons were defeated, and the powers of darkness were locked away for eternity, guarded by a sacred tree called the Ellcrys. Time went on, the druids vanished, and people began to forget about the existence of magic. But magic isn’t ready to be forgotten.

The story follows an elven princess named Amberle who runs the Gauntlet, an annual race used to choose seven youths to guard the Ellcrys. While there are no rules against a woman running the race, it has never been done before, and there are many grumbles of disapproval when she is Chosen. She herself soon comes to regret her choice when the tree begins to show her horrifying visions of the future–a future she believes she is responsible for bringing into existence.

Will is a half-elf, half-human living in the middle of nowhere doing nothing important. After his mother’s death he attempts to reach a larger village in hopes of studying to become a healer, but his mother’s dying bequest has other plans. Three blue elfstones that once belonged to his father are intent upon dragging him to his destiny whether he wants it or not, a destiny that just might involve saving the world.

 “So I’m supposed to use the elfstones, which I don’t have, to protect a princess, who doesn’t want to be found, from a demon hoard bent on destroying the world. And even if I succeed, which is not likely, I’m still doomed, because magic will have fried my brain.”

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The Shannara Chronicles is a lavish world of magic and culture and style, backdropped against a dead civilization and four hundred years of fantastical history. The characters are both compelling and compelled, driven by a destiny spun for them by their ancestors, but also by their own decisions. The internal conflict is supplied by a generational gap between the elders who remember the last magical war, and the young adults who think themselves too grown-up to believe in bedtime stories. It adds interest to the external threat of a demon universe threatening destroy their world and keeps us interested in the people as well as the plot, but can feel a little juvenile at moments. Hopefully it will pull together as the stakes get more serious, and the character dynamics settle into place.

On a scale of “meh” to “awesome” the pilot definitely rates “keep watching.” And the best part? MTV is posting the episodes online as they air, so if you missed it on television (or don’t own a television) you can catch up this weekend!


 

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