A blast from my eleven-year-old past

I somehow managed to miss the fact that they made a Shannara TV series. But it aired on MTV (and will be getting a second season), so I decided to give it a shot.

Watching it is . . . interesting.

More precisely, watching it is like taking a trip in the Wayback Machine to my eleven-year-old brain. These were the first adult fantasy novels I ever read, purloining them off my brother’s bookshelf — my first introduction to high fantasy. I keep thinking of Benedick’s line from Much Ado About Nothing: “Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale men’s souls out of their bodies?” Back then, capital letters could hale my soul out of mine. The last descendant of the King of Shannara has to use the Elfstones to help a princess take a seed from the Ellcrys to Safehold, where she’ll immerse it in the Bloodfire and renew the Forbidding that keeps Demons out of the world — yyyyyyyyeah. Nowadays that mostly sounds goofy and artificial to me, but back then, it was awesome.

The TV series doesn’t do a whole lot to restore that power. For me to care about a Destined Hero, I need to care about the characters, and neither the writing nor the acting here is good enough to really compel me. The show also has a certain look to it that I don’t have a good name for, but it’s a lesser version of the same thing that drove me straight out of Reign after a single episode; people look like they’re wearing costumes instead of clothing, and furthermore they look like they’re about to burst into the latest auto-tuned pop hit. One of the reviews I saw gave it a tepid recommendation to those looking for a “teen-friendly Game of Thrones,” and that feels apt. I have trouble telling the two female leads apart, if the camera angle doesn’t show their ears: one’s an elf, one’s a human, but they’re both generically pretty dark-haired young women wearing MTV’s idea of fantasy chic. Their hair is too clean and well-brushed, nobody ever has more than cosmetic smudges of dirt on them, and the entire thing feels like it’s made out of plastic.

Which isn’t to say it’s complete crap. I stopped reading Shannara ages ago, so I had no idea the setting is technically our world, post-magical-apocalypse. That’s an interesting twist on the epic fantasy thing, and sometimes you get the characters riding past the crumbling remnants of modern technology and architecture. I also give them points for having racially diverse elves — and most of the characters we’ve seen so far are elves. On the other hand, no points for Obvious Romani Parallel Is Obvious and Offensive: really, Brooks? We needed a clan of itinerant sexist thieves? The show intermittently entertains me, but it hasn’t yet (as of the first three eps) risen above the status of “thing I can put on on the background while I do other stuff because its plot isn’t complex enough and its performances aren’t compelling enough to really require my attention.”

I don’t much expect it to do so, either. But still: it’s interesting to revisit my eleven-year-old brain, and to muse on what she used to think.

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