Comments on Arthur B's The Sequel of Shannara

The Elfstones of Shannara finds Terry Brooks continuing to fill a very specific niche in Arthur's driving routine.

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Adrienne at 21:06 on 2016-06-16
I gotta say, Arthur, it boggles my mind that you can tolerate fucking Shannara but you hated Fionavar. :)
Arthur B at 22:42 on 2016-06-16
I think it's because I have low expectations of Shannara and it meets them solidly, whilst with Fionavar I keep getting frustrated by how good it could be if it didn't keep doing stuff that annoyed me.
Adrienne at 07:40 on 2016-06-19
Hah, fair enough. Read later Kay, maybe?
Robinson L at 18:02 on 2016-10-01
I gotta say, the set up this time around sounds a lot more original and potentially interesting than the premise of the first book. Not devastatingly new, but like something which could make for a decently entertaining fantasy adventure.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that restoring the Ellcrys requires either sacrificing the Chosen or the Chosen merging with the Ellcrys/transforming into the new Ellcrys. Brooks didn't lend his name to the predictability rating scale for nothing. Am I close?
Arthur B at 14:52 on 2016-10-02
It's the transformation option.
Cheriola at 00:30 on 2017-08-10
I have watched the TV series based on this book now, and it's... actually surprisingly good?

Especially the female characters and their relationship with with Will seems to have been reworked to something much more positive and attractive to a female audience:
1. Amberle, Will, and Eretria are all young adults of about the same age, and no-one comes across as "child-like". Except maybe Will a little, due to growing up fairly isolated, he comes across rather clueless and unworldly in the beginning. Amberle has an elven boyfriend at the start of the show, just to make clear that she's not some sort of virgin Madonna symbol.
2. Eretria uses seduction to manipulate people, but it comes across more like a well-honed survival tactic, not like she actually means to go through with it. (E.g. shortly after meeting Will, she starts seducing him, but only to get his clothes off so she can steal the elf-stones. Once he's naked, she drugs him with a sleeping potion.) And when she describes Rover's habitual promiscuity, it seems like she's just exaggerating to shock Amberle. As far as I remember, the only instances of sex coming up are in the context of romance. There are no prostitutes.
3. The girls are much more competend fighters than Will is, which leads to the impression that the story is really Amberle's hero's journey, with Will having the usually female role of moral support (he's surprisingly kind and gentle for a young male character) with a magic superpower that's only useful in very specific circumstances. Most threatening situations that don't involve actual demons, he's the one needing protection. Also, don't know if this was in the book, but in the TV show, Eretria turns out to be just as destined to participate in the recreation of the Ellcrys as Amberle is, making it not feel like she's a third wheel. Rather, Will is the one team member who seems kind of surplus to the mission, if they didn't need him to operate the elf-stones.
4. There's a love triangle between the 3 protagonists, but eventually the girls bury most of their jealousy (and class-based animosity) and start to bond and maybe even develop an interest in each other, if you squint. When Amberle first seems lost to them, Eretria cries. And because the show spends a lot of time giving characterization to the girls, in the end it feels almost like Will is the prize (i.e. object) they're somewhat childishly squabbling about, until they get their act together in the end and do their duty for the good of the world. (Which involves giving up Will.)
5. I don't remember any twin witches.
6. I don't remember it ever being specified that only a woman can revive the Ellcrys. In fact, Amberle has to sneak into the competition for new candidates for the Chosen, since women aren't traditionally allowed. And she definetely doesn't know that she will have to sacrifice herself. She runs away from her duties in the beginning because she has visions of killing one of her fellow Chosen.
7. Will is played by an actor who looks like he belongs in a boy band, all slender and with long-ish hair, which just makes the whole show look even more like the main intended audience is supposed to be female. I distinctly remember thinking "It's nice they've hired someone who makes good eye-candy. But I cannot imagine any straight young man wanting to identify with this character. Turning off most of the standard audience for this genre seems kind of a bold move for this show."
8. From the way they were depicted in the show, I didn't make the connection between the Rovers and Romani at all. They seemed more like the typical scavanger gangs you get in post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max. And they were not Eretria's family - just guys who bought her as a slave and raised her with lots of emotional abuse - and whom she desperately wants to get away from. (The Romani stereotype involves close-nit family ties.)
9. In the end of the first season, Will loses both Amberle and Eretria, because Eretria does the whole "You shall not pass!" heroic sacrifice to buy Amberle time to get back home. In the last scenes, Will starts trekking back to go save her, even though others tell him it's probably pointless to try. And he has a desperate breakdown when she almost dies during the Bloodfire ceremony earlier. So if they get together in the next season, it will feel less like he's just 'settling' for her because Amberle isn't in the picture anymore. If anything it would feel like they're both going on as best as they can after one corner of their triad just died.

Also, the production values aren't as low as I was expecting, after all. The few CGI monsters are noticably made by the same team that made The Lord of the Ring movies, and those movie productions have clearly left New Zealand with a lot of competetend stunt coordinators and extras who can do a decent battle scene. Shame only that the TV show couldn't afford to hire more than two dozen people for its 'epic' climactic war.

The show also goes out of its way to make Allanon seem something other than a Gandalf-expy. Primarily by hiring burly, half-Maori Manu Bennett for the role.
Arthur B at 13:26 on 2017-08-10
It sounds like they have given themselves a lot of creative freedom with it, which is absolutely fine by me - everything you cite is a massive improvement over the book.
Cheriola at 20:57 on 2017-08-11
Having just re-read this article and the one for the first book, and then re-watched the first double-episode of the show, I'm also struck how up-front the show is about Allanon's manipulative streak and the main hero's less-than-heroic nature (I don't want to use the shaming term "whimpyness".)
Like, there's actually a character (an ex-lover bitter about being abandoned) who outright calls Allanon a "puppet master who's manipulating innocent lives as he sees fit" (to his face) in the pilot, just to make clear to the audience not to fully trust the guy. (Even though he's otherwise presented as almost the Only Sane Man in a world where the entire younger generation irrationally refuses to believe magic is real / still existant, the whole Ellcrys-protecting-the-world-from-demons thing is more than "folklore", or that that the Chosen really were murdered by a demon infiltrator, not a Gnomish attack that should be answered with war.)
Also, Will is refreshingly self-aware and unashamed of his non-macho personality, which seems to contrast with what you wrote about his father's character development in the previous book. (E.g. when Amberle tries to stroke his ego, after he's told her of his helplessness when his mother was dying, by calling him brave during the demon attack that follows their initial meeting, he answers with self-depreciating humor: "Don't mistake terror for bravery." Even though that's manifestly untrue in this situation: While Will was against going to investigate a scream without Allanon and they both would have been dead if not for Allanon's timely rescue, Will did have the instict to push the unarmed Amberle behind him and pull his little dagger to try and defend both of them, even if this attempt was obviously futile.) It's not that Will presents himself as a coward, á la Rincewind, nor even that he's refusing The Call because he's comfortable in his life, á la Frodo. (Will grew up being bullied for his elven heritage and he lived in a hovel in the middle of nowhere, with his mother's death being implied to have happened because they were so far away from civilization. He'd already decided to upend his life to move to a city and get an education, when Allanon derails those plans.) It's just that he never had any aspirations to become a fighter/mage, and sensibly sees no reason why he, random dude without relevant skills, should be called upon to save the world from demons. Which totally makes sense for someone who was planning to become a healer, but still seems unusual for the protagonist of an otherwise cliché-riddled book presumably written primarily for a young male audience. So was that part of the book characterization, or was the apprentice healer backstory in the book just there to make a plot point later?

Will also spends most of his early interaction with Allanon basically calling him 'full of shit' on both the issue of magic being real and his insistence that Will should throw away his life to save the world because that's what his blood / destiny says he must. Allanon, in turn is literally like "Why did I have to be dealt this Shannara?". The relationship between those two is so far from the traditional respectful-to-reverential mentor/hero relationship in this genre (e.g. Frodo / Gandalf or even Luke / Yoda), that it made me wonder if this was already in the book as part of the author's few glimmerings of originality. Or was it just added by the TV show writers for the sake of comedy and modernism? (Will and the other young characters also talk mostly like modern people, with Will in particular frequently using irony / snark to cope with his crappy destiny (he sometimes sounds like someone doing a rifftrax of a clichéed fantasy movie: e.g. Allanon: "I was tracking down descendants of the Shannara bloodline. They were being murdered." - Will: "...Of course they were."), which makes Allanon and his straight-out-of-LotR, portentous and purple language and almost total lack of humor stand out like some sort of fossil. (Which makes sense in the setting, but not really very much. He's only been in magical cryo-sleep for 30 years. It feels more like 300.)

At one point Allanon explains to Will that his father (whom Will only knows as a "sad, lonely, dead-beat drunk" whom the rest of his family refused to talk about after his premature death) was single-handedly responsible for saving the world and that "his courage and fortitude inspire [Allanon] to this day." And his failings of character later in life were apparently caused by "magic taking its toll". This does not seem to square with what you wrote about the protagonist in your review of The Sword of Shannara. Which makes me wonder if its just another lie to inspire / guilt-trip Will into fulfilling his part in Allanon's plans? On the other hand, Allanon tells another character (the aforementioned ex-lover, who apparently knew Will's father as well) "I'm not convinced he'll be the man his father was", with his tone implying that it's not meant as a compliment. Which sounds more like the show wants to retcon Will's father into really having been this great, tragic hero that Will fails to measure up against. This is made more confusing by the season's Big Bad (here called "Dagda Mor") getting the same backstory you described for the "Warlock Lord" in The Sword of Shannara, while at the same time being implied to have spent the last few hundred/thousand years locked away with the demons in the Forbidding. The older character's of Will's father's generation just vaguely refer to a "War of the Races" as the major conflict 30 years earlier.
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2017-08-30
Cheriola, from your description, it sounds like the show’s producers are playing fast and loose with the backstory – note that, according to the review, Will is supposed to be the grandson, not son, of the hero of the first book. Given the creative liberties they’ve apparently taken with the source material (to the show’s advantage, it sounds), why not do the same for the set up?

I have to say, you’re making this TV show sound mighty tempting. The self-aware humor sounds kind of like the deliberately anachronistic comedy of e.g., Xena. The female characters sound pretty great, Allanon sounds like a potentially compelling character, and a well-adjusted, non-stereotypical, non macho male lead is refreshing.

The dynamic between Allanon and Will sounds pretty entertaining also, potentially. However, when you say Will “sees no reason why he, random dude without relevant skills, should be called upon to save the world from demons,” that sounds like maybe he’s one of the protagonists who’s constantly trying to get out of taking part in the story, which is one of the most annoying tropes in fiction. Is that Will’s angle, or is it more that he thinks it’s inane but he’s going along with it anyway?
Cheriola at 10:48 on 2017-10-10
Sorry for not answering earlier, Robinson.

The show isn't really as cheerfully self-parodying in the way Xena was - there's way too much death and gory violence going on for that - but it feels sort of like Buffy in that the world-threatening drama is played completely seriously but the younger characters still occasionally make snarky comments about it as a coping strategy. Wil especially has this counterintuitive personality mix of being naive, nice to people, and none-too-bright, while at the same time managing to be a deadpan snarker and quite genre savvy about some particularly silly tropes. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does. (I've recently rewatched the first few seasons of Buffy, and Wil reminds me a lot of teenage Xander - except without all the seriously annoying parts, i.e. the latter character's more problematic attitudes about girls he's attracted to, occasional nastiness to cope with being unpopular or jealous, the near-constant jokeyness even when it really isn't the right time, and the sense that the self-depreciating humor masks a lingering shame about 'insuficient masculinity' / the fact that Buffy was a lot stronger than him.)

Sadly there isn't very much Allanon-Wil interaction beyond the first few episodes, as Wil gets sent off on his quest with Amberle and Eretria at the end of episode 4, while Allanon stays back in the elf kingdom.

As for Wil refusing the Call... That doesn't last long, thankfully. And after Allanon has convinced him that magic is indeed real and in his blood, he has even more good reason not to want to fulfill his destiny. ("So, I'm supposed to use Elfstones I don't have, to protect a princess, who doesn't wanna be found, from a demon horde bent on laying waste to the world. And even if I succeed - which is entirely... doubtful - my life could still be doomed, because magic will have fried my brain.") But at first he just sort of temporarily resigns himself to go along with Allanon - partly because "go find the druid" was his mother's dying wish, partly because Allanon initially tempts him by saying that he could teach him the kind of magic that could have saved his mother's life, but ultimately one gets the feeling it's really mainly because Allanon just doesn't take no for an answer and Wil doesn't have much psychological resistance to this sort of treatment. After that, for a while it's just that he and Aberle are almost constantly threatened (Allanon is gravely injured, sparking Wil's sense of healer's responsibility) and there's no-one else around to help her, so walking away is not an option. But as soon as they are safely back in the palace, Wil says goodbye to Amberle, basically tells Allanon to go screw himself (Allanon accepts this for once - probably because he knows the youngsters have emotionally bonded by this point), and he even leaves the Elfstones behind with Allanon. He really only finally commits to the quest to give Amberle emotional support, because most of the elven council still won't believe the whole "we are all going to be massacred by demons" thing, and they are insultingly dismissive of Amberle as the candidate to go on this world-saving quest.
Wil: "Magic and demons are real. I have seen them with my own eyes. Quite frankly, all I wanna do is run away. Then, I met Amberle. She might have been frightened, but she is also incredibly brave. She didn't have to come back. But she did. For all of YOU - the people she loves. If I had to put my faith in anyone to save the Four Lands, it would be her."
*goes to stand with Allanon* "...Don't even say it."
Allanon: *handing back the Elfstones* "I think these belong to you."

(There also was a very brief scene with a weird young man they'd just rescued (he's a seer, but Wil doesn't know that) trying to tell Wil that "something terrible will happen" if Wil doesn't go with Amberle to Safehold, but it's not clear if Wil believed him at all.)

The show really is worth watching (second season is just starting now), as long as you have a certain level of tolerance for teenage romance drama and the kind of "narm charm" that inevitably comes with a low-budget LotR (the occasional anachronistically modern-looking outfit; those Spock ears...). Though I was really understating the visual quality of the show above: For a TV show without the mass audience of Game of Thrones, the CGI, monster make-up, and elven court sets really look amazing. Plus, lots of pretty landscape shots, of course, this being produced in New Zealand.
Robinson L at 03:00 on 2017-10-11
No worries, Cheriola.

I didn't necessarily expect something as generally light-hearted as Xena. I guess something tonally similar to Buffy is what I envisioned, taking the problems seriously, but with a lot of self-aware humor. From your description, Wil sounds like potentially a really fun character - like Xander but minus the creep factor.

All in all, you make the show sound pretty tempting. I don't terribly mind low-budget production values, and I can definitely get behind more majestic landscape shots of New Zealand. Teenage romance drama isn't my favorite, but in terms of annoying plot devices it's pretty low on my list (unless it's coupled with, say, "conflict between the romantic partners which only exists for plot-driven reasons and could be cleared up in three minutes if they would just sit down and talk things out," which isn't confined just to teen romance dramas).
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