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Shannara Chronicles s01e01: Chosen part 1

A review by Nalini Haynes

Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler) is a half-elf racing to save his mother’s life. Sadly, he arrives too late, only to hold his mother as she dies. His uncle Flick (Mark Mitchinson) tells Wil to throw away the Elfstones, his heritage bequeathed him by his long-deceased father via his dying mother.

Wil pretends to have thrown away the stones and heads off to learn the healing arts, only to be waylaid by beautiful Rover girl Eretria (Ivana Baquero) who drugs Wil and steals the stones. Upon waking with a hangover from the drug, Wil looks up to see a tall dark stranger looming over him. The stranger is Alanon (Manu Bennett), a druid just awoken from a magic sleep so he can help save the world.

Meanwhile, in the beautiful Elven city Arborlon, Princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Drayton) breaks the male-only tradition to compete to be Chosen to serve the Elves’ sacred tree that, according to myth, holds back the forces of darkness banished beyond the Forbidding. The tree gives Amberle visions.

For those who came in late: Terry Brooks began the Shannara Chronicles with the publication of The Sword of Shannara in 1977. This television series is based on the second Shannara novel, The Elfstones of Shannara (1982). Brooks’s lengthy series is composed of sequels and prequels to this trilogy, lending a richness to the backstory that is introduced skilfully, giving hints of the story to come without slowing the plot.

Opening scenes include birdcam (?) flying over the terrain, revealing wrecked ships, buildings and bridges from the present era. Brooks wasn’t groundbreaking in his post-apocalyptic fantasy setting: see Andre Norton’s Witch World series begun in 1963. However, the Shannara story was still relatively unusual when it was written. These days, it’s still not that common as a setting for a television series (as opposed to movies). This visual introduction sets the scene quickly with a beautiful montage.

The arguments between Flick and Wil establish Shannara‘s relation to the Star Wars universe; one can almost hear Uncle Owen’s “just one more season” in Flick’s dialogue. Fans of the novels will be aware that Flick wasn’t just Wil’s father’s step-brother but an major participant in the Sword of Shannara quest. He’s grown into a cranky old man trying to protect his young nephew.

It’s been a while since I re-read the Shannara Chronicles, which I initially read and loved as a teenager. However, I believe female characters are being introduced to the TV series to increase representation and pass the Bechdel Test. Amberle is a central and key character but there aren’t many other female characters present in that novel. The television series better reflects the current era.

The novel had one girl and two boy characters as the key group who set out to save the world. Based on the images on the screen saver and cover, it’s possible that the TV series will have two girls and one boy. With accompaniment, of course. Every princess needs an honor guard.

The Shannara Chronicles: the Chosen part 1 was a good pilot, promising an enjoyable series appealing to contemporary audiences and life-long fans of Terry Brooks’s Shannara series. The series is rated MA so, although it seems fairly family-friendly in the beginning, it is supposed to get darker. And sexier.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Creators: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Terry Brooks (novels)
Stars: Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Ivana Baquero
Notable appearances: Manu Bennett as Alanon, John Rhys-Davis as Eventine Elessedil, James Remar as Cephelo

Shannara Chronicles s01e01 — Chosen part 1. A leather-gloved hand leaves a teenage boy's fingers exposed. Three blue stones rest on his fingers

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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