Terry Brooks’ Shannara series has been a pillar of the fantasy genre for decades, and many have wondered why there are no films or TV shows set in his rich world. Now there will be, with the January premier of the “Shannara Chronicles” television series. In his own words, Terry Brooks explains the twisty path traveled from page to screen—and why the show turned out far better than he ever dared imagine.
I am fast coming up on forty years of being published and fifty years of writing Shannara books. It does not seem like yesterday. It feels like long ago and far away. But for purposes of this article, let’s pretend I remember that far back. I always said that I would be thirty years dead before anyone ever made a movie or TV show of one of my books. But it was enough for me just to have written the books and know they were so well received.
Then a few years ago I got an offer to go another way. It had always been about movies, but this new offer was about television. I liked the idea as soon as I found out that in television, writers are much more important. They call them showrunners. Like the word suggests, they pretty much run the show. Working with writers was an opportunity I craved, a chance to bring the stories to visual life while working with people from my own tribe. I jumped in feet first.
There’s a saying in the book world: “Having your book made into a movie or a TV show is like having your child kidnapped by a cult.” I’ve heard enough writer horror stories to know there is some truth to this, so I entered this experiment a bit wary. But to my astonishment, the process was nothing like I had feared. It was wonderful. I went with an offer from MTV—an odd choice at first glance since they are not known for fantasy productions—but the right one. They made such a strong commitment, and they followed through on every promise they made and a lot more. They based Season One on Elfstones of Shannara, and they made it a big, powerful and captivating production. And—OMG—they stuck to the story! They honored my wishes and preserved the heart of the book, they made changes that strengthened rather than weakened the plot, and at the end of the day it was much, much better than I ever could have hoped for.
Why did this work out so well?
This is hard to explain because much of it is based on instinct and vibe. But here is the gist of my reasoning based on the time I spent being involved.
Everyone felt like this was a family effort. Everyone talked about what a good job the others were doing, how helpful and kind they were to one another and how hard they were working for the show. There was never any suggestion that the end result would be anything but terrific. Compliments were the norm and unsolicited. The commitment of everyone working on the show was consistently aligned with finding ways to not disappoint the readers or the viewers, of making the show as true to the book as possible, and to make viewing it an experience that no one would ever forget.
I just never had any reason not to think that all of this would result in anything but success. It was a team effort up and down the line, and I cannot tell you how good that felt.
Sometimes the Magic Works was the title of a book I once wrote about my writing life. I believed it back when, and I believe it now. It happened here, once again, with The Shannara Chronicles.
Amazon Books Editor’s Note: We got a sneak peek at the series premier a few weeks ago, and we left the viewing thrilled by the charismatic characters, the jewel-bright setting (Seattle after an apocalypse?!), and the smashing action scenes. —Adrian Liang
See a clip of The Shannara Chronicles here. The Shannara Chronicles airs on January 5, 2016, on MTV.