Sanctum Sanctorum: We’re Off to See the Ellcrys
In light of the new series that’s been running on MTV, this month we’re chatting about Shannara and are joined by Hannah of Dragon’s & Whimsy! The television show stars Manu Bennett as Allanon the druid and also some other people but mostly Manu Bennett and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. It is based on the series by Terry Brooks, that begins with The Sword of Shannara, though the show takes up with the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara. It’s considered a fantasy classic by some, but here at Bibliosanctum, we’re not so sure…
What do you think of Shannara? Are you watching the show? Have you read the books? Answer in the comments!
What was your first Shannara experience?
Wendy: When I was a young teen, I’d take out as many books as the library would let me and gobble them all up in a couple of weeks. Sometimes I’d read one chapter of each book per day. The Sword of Shannara was in one such pile, but, as I read through each books’ chapter and turned to pick up that one, I found myself dreading it more and more until I finally gave up. Shannara was the first book I did not finish (the second was Eye of the World) because it was so completely and utterly boring. Decades later, my brother, who had not read any other Brooks book, raved about The Genesis of Shannara series, so I decided to try it out and was pleased to see that Brooks’ storytelling had improved over time. It wasn’t the best read, but I enjoyed the series nonetheless, particularly the idea that this world of elves and magic and fantastical demons was actually a post-apocalyptic earth. You can read my reviews of Armageddon’s Children, The Elves of Cintra, and … oh it looks like I haven’t actually read The Gypsy Morph yet, which goes to show how much I care about the series overall. Hmmm. I did finally read The Sword of Shannara though, and laughed along with Tiara at this obvious Lord of the Rings fanfic that fixed all the troublesome issues like Boromir dying and Gandalf not being young and hot. For the latter alone, I was quite pleased with the announcement of a television show that would bring this to life in the form of Manu Bennett. Thank you MTV. Thank you.
Mogsy: I have a confession to make: I haven’t actually read any of the Shannara books. Well, no, that’s not really the whole story. I tried The Sword of Shannara a long time ago when I was in my late teens but didn’t get to finish it before I set it aside. Terry Brooks’ writing just didn’t do much for me. I was a very distractible teenager though, so maybe I’ll try again one day, but because I didn’t get far into the book at all I certainly don’t count myself as having read it. So, I’m going into this with pretty fresh eyes.
Tiara: I read (okay, listened to) the first book The Sword of Shannara last year as one of my classic fantasy reads. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I didn’t go into the book with high expectations. I didn’t realize that I knew so many people who’d actually read the series. General reactions ran the gauntlet from “OH MY GOD NO!” to “BEST STORY EVER!” I hadn’t actually heard of the series before last year. (I don’t think.) I guess, because I’ve only started reading more fantasy in recent years I missed out on many of the more popular series when I was younger, and I’m just getting around to them now. When I started reading it, I was thinking, “Wow, is this Lord of the Rings?” Then, when I announced my findings to friends, they confirmed that the first book is basically Lord of the Rings, but funnier. (Note: I dislike Tolkien’s writing, but I love the movies. Go figure.)
Hannah: I used to be a member of one of those mail order book clubs, I think it was called the SFF Book Club or something, and they had these huge bind-ups of the trilogies. Originally I picked up the second Shannara omnibus, then I got a hold of the first, and then I discovered the prequel as well! So of course I felt obligated by this point to read them all and started reading The First King of Shannara. I think it took me a year and I didn’t enjoy it, then I moved onto The Sword of Shannara which wasn’t much better and from there I ran off to read something else.
Have you watched the show? Thoughts?
Wendy: Knowing that it is an MTV production, I did not walk into this with high expectations. I really only wanted to see Manu Bennett. Preferably naked.
I got my wish and then was pleasantly surprised to find that the show wasn’t half bad at all. It reminded me of my journey through Legends of the Seeker, which I really enjoyed despite its low quality production and meandering plot.
Shannara has got that typical young adult vibe, but the three main protagonists aren’t slipping too easily into the tropes. There is an inevitable love triangle going on, but it’s not defining the characters and is proving to be a source of amusement. And while the majority of the main characters are not people of colour, I am pleased to see that the elves of all places is where the diversity is appearing, with Commander Tilton at the top of my list of new favourite characters, just below Allanon.
Oh and I love the outfits. Must get myself some more corsets.
Mogsy: I hadn’t planned on watching the show, especially in light of some of the…less than stellar things I’ve seen said about it in my timeline on Twitter. Because of this feature though, I got assigned to watch it for “homework” and that was actually pretty exciting! I found myself filled with a kind of anticipation that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, so there was that. It did turn out pretty much the way I’d expected though. I didn’t love it, but it was certainly nowhere near as bad as some of my friends have made it sound. Not quite the glowing recommendation, I know — but considering this isn’t something I’d normally watch, I think it could have gone much worse. With only a few episodes under my belt, I may have to reserve final judgment until I’ve seen more, but so far I have to agree 100% with Wendy on the major YA vibes.
Tiara: I’m still catching up. My initial plans were to read the second book and watch the premiere when it started in January. Unfortunately, plans didn’t shape up in that way. Mainly because there were so many other books that I wanted to read that took precedent over finishing The Elfstones of Shannara. I finally just decided to go ahead and watch the show even though I haven’t finished the book. So, I came to watch Allanon wearing practical questing gear. I might stay for the hot mess this show obviously is.
Hannah: Absolutely. It started off feeling a little disjointed but it soon picked up. Plus, you know, it’s fantasy. That’s almost all that matters! I also second Manu Bennett. However, I don’t have the same issues with the acting as some have been mentioned which definitely helps with my enjoyment of the show overall, and I’ve just generally been enjoying watching the story unfold as the weeks go by. I also really like that opening theme — it’s a little different for an epic fantasy show but it’s appropriately dramatic. I did find the ‘Age of Man’ episodes a little odd, however. They didn’t fit well into the aesthetic of the world. They contrasted so poorly and left me feeling like the actors just showed up in their own clothes. It didn’t work.
How does it compare to the books or what you know of Brooks’ world of Shannara?
Wendy: It’s fun to see what you’ve read come to life and I particularly like the portrayal of the post-apocalyptic world, even though realistically speaking, the rusted out vehicles wouldn’t be quite so easily recognizable. I was livetweeting along with the premiere and was surprised to see very few complaints. Some diehard fans were disappointed overall, but seemingly not so much that they would quit the show completely. I think they’ve done a good job of making something that works for both older fans (if they accept that an MTV show is never going to be Golden Globe quality) and new fans. It’s mature and fun at the same time and the cinematography is beautiful.
Mogsy: I know next to nothing about Shannara. Fortunately (or maybe, unfortunately) for me, my husband is intimately familiar with the books and he was snatching glimpses of the show from behind my shoulder the whole time while I was watching, inserting snarky asides until I had to shush him. Like, I actually hadn’t known that the setting was post-apocalyptic, and my husband informed me that that was was something gradually revealed in the books. As you can imagine, he griped about showing the busted husk of the Space Needle in the opening sequence thus ruining the “surprise”, further going on to use some very choice words that I can’t repeat here to describe the acting and make fun of everyone’s hair. I don’t know, I actually kind of liked the way they portrayed the world by showing flashes of skyscraper ruins and things like that! I’ll refrain from commenting on the other stuff.
Hannah: I would like to read Elfstones of Shannara now to see how it compares but I wouldn’t say I am especially compelled. There’s a certain dryness to Terry Brooks’ writing style that just doesn’t work for me and I have a lot of books on my bedside table at the moment.
Are you compelled to learn more about Shannara?
Wendy: I do want to read and possibly complete both of the trilogies I’ve started now–Genesis just for the sake of completion, and the original books because I want to compare them and see if it’s true that Sword really was the only utterly boring one. Beyond that, probably not.
Mogsy: I admit, the show is very pretty. But is that enough to compel me to learn more? I don’t know. Like I said, I’ll probably need to watch more before I get a better idea, but right now I’m flashing back to first experience of the book and once again feeling those vibes of take-it-or-leave-it.
Tiara: I’m reading The Elfstones of Shannara right now… very slowly… because it’s the book the television show is actually based on. I don’t have any really strong connection to the series other than thinking it’s amusing
trash. I’m pretty much only here for antics.
The story of Shannara seems to revolve around those damn elves who in turn revolve around a tree called the Ellcrys that keeps causing problems. What would you do if you were in charge of the Ellcrys?
Wendy: So much firewood.
Mogsy: Bad Wendy! “You tell that to your people when the fairy tales are ripping out their throats!”
Tiara: Hell, I don’t know. You just don’t leave things like trees in my care. I mean…
Hannah: I’m sensing a little Elf bias in this question. Anybody else? 😉