It was nearly 40 years ago when author Terry Brooks introduced readers to the Four Worlds, a fictional post-apocalyptic earth now populated by humans, elves, demons and other creatures. Since then, and over several generations, the Shannara novel series have continued to capture the imaginations of readers all over the world.
This year, those novels got their first live-action adaptation in the form of a series called The Shannara Chronicles, which airs on MTV on Tuesdays.
Brooks spoke with Tech Times about that adaptation, as well as how MTV, a network not necessarily known for serious TV, became the best choice for that particular story. Of course, at first, MTV's interest in the series surprised Brooks. But the directors and writers insisted that the network was the best choice for the Shannara story.
"And they said 'we want you to go with MTV' and I said that wouldn't have been my first guess as to where you were going to want to put it, but they said 'the reason we're doing this is because we feel they have made the strongest commitment to the effort they would put behind it, the money they would put behind it, the production values, and so forth. They are head and shoulders above everybody else,' " said Brooks. "I thought about that for awhile, but what really intrigued me was going somewhere where no one thought I would go. Being the first one to do a show like this on MTV, and I thought people might be resistant at first, but they'll get used to the idea. And that's pretty much what's happened."
MTV is a network that constantly reinvents itself. It originally began as a channel that only aired music videos, but later delved into reality television and lighter fare. Now, it's looking at drama. It started with Teen Wolf, which has become a hit for the network, and it hopes to continue that momentum with The Shannara Chronicles.
However, as executive producer of the series, Brooks had some input into how MTV handled his story.
"And executive producers do all kinds of things, but in my case, the understanding that I had with the writers, when I first met them, was that they were going to give me access to everything that they were doing, and I would be in a position to comment and to discuss what they were going to do if I felt that it needed something else done to it," he said. "And they were very good about that all the way through the process, and I read everything and sent in notes.
"This is one of those things where you want it to not make you have to apologize later on for how it turned out. I didn't want to be invested too far in this anyway because I'm writing books, for crying out loud, and that takes up most of my life. They were very good about this whole thing and it's worked out well."
Brooks stated that MTV hit the right notes in creating an adaptation worthy of the book series.
"I felt that they needed to stick very close to the storyline, the major plotline and the characters in Elfstones because that book is very close to the hearts of the readers," said Brooks. "And I hear about it all the time, and I was hearing it after I signed the deal with MTV, 'don't screw it up. Don't let them walk all over it.' And I said, 'I don't think that's going to happen.' And it hasn't happened. I really felt like they got the heart of the show, the show captured the heart of the book and what was important about it. I love the fact that the characters, for me, the actors inhabited those characters in a way that I hoped they would."
Brooks did point out that adaptations mean that some changes from the books have to happen to keep viewers interested and entertained. For example, characters' interior monologues don't necessarily make for good TV viewing, so one of those changes is more dialogue between characters. There would also be great expense in creating every single battle scene that happens in the books. Other smaller changes got made, too, although Brooks feels that they work well for TV audiences.
"Some of the characters that were in the book are not in the TV show, but they are extraneous to the major plotline, so they didn't need to be there. It's like I keep saying: you should celebrate it for what it is, which is another way of telling the story, but it's still the recognizable story, and it still has the same ending, it still has the same main characters with the same relationships between them and it has the same tone as the book, and I felt that was very important," Brooks said.
"So the things they cut out were not things that were troublesome to me," he continued. "And the other thing I want to say is that they had to rearrange scenes and when the characters appear and so forth because there are some rules about how TV shows need to work. For example, you need to introduce your main characters early on and not later. And I did a lot of that later stuff, so they moved it up, and that was OK. And they rearranged some scenes, but I found out after I'd seen the rushes on how it was going to go, I said to myself, 'you know, I could've done it this way. That would've been OK.'
With the first Shannara book now nearly 40 years old, Brooks hopes that The Shannara Chronicles exposes a new audience to his books.
"Well, of course, you hope, as a writer, that people will continue to buy your books, not that they will buy them for awhile and lose interest," said Brooks. "And of course, if you're lucky enough - and I've been lucky enough - to have your books read over at least four decades and to have them also in print, and still have an audience, that's pretty lucky. But it requires that new people coming up, as new people are born, and get into the reading mode, you want those young readers.
"I want those young readers, and I was slipping away from that audience because I had a hardcore audience that followed me for those 30 or 40 years. But the teen groups were going with new people because that's what happens. So this is a chance to re-introduce the series and the books, I hope, to a young audience, an audience like MTV has, through the TV show. That would be the perfect scenario for me."