It all started for me back in the 80s, with the book The Sword of Shannara. It had been published in 1977 so we are approaching the 40th anniversary of this story. But like I said, for me it was the 80s. This is one of the first novels in a long list of novels that broke through the barriers of what fantasy and modern fiction were for me. I have a long list of things going on at this time in our fantasy history that was the start of what we have now. We can agree and disagree on this section of history but it isn’t really the point of where I am going today. I have bigger issues to deal with and only offer this small snippet in time as a reference point.
To put even more perspective on all this, the second book in the series, Elfstones of Shannara, came out in 1982. Since these points in time, Terry Brooks has gone through and written a whole world of books that populate the history her created within this series. Like the books or hate the books is pretty irrelevant when you consider that he has managed to build a career centered pretty heavily around this vision of our earth’s history. Yeah, in case you didn’t know, these particular stories take place in the future of our earth, roughly several thousand years after the last war that sent man scrambling into a new dark age. The stories more than anything are a testament to our desire to survive and rebuild even through cataclysm, our lives will go on.
And so we fast forward to our current time period. And by this I mean our real time and all, within the life of the stories but not as the stories. You know what I mean? Real life and stuff. Anyway…
After all the lives that the books have touched, and these many years of Terry Brook’s career that has centered on creating this world, MTV gets the rights to produce a show based on the stories. And of course, I know what you’re thinking. You’re torn right, “Yippie a show based on classic fantasy stories but it’s MTV…” This could easily be a mixed bag of blah. But the stories are the stories and we can hope that they will carry through and make it something much better than we fear it could be. Or something…
This is when we get into the heart of the matter. We hit July 1st 2016. Chronicles of Narnia (the show) is now available on Netflix. (We don’t do regular tv so I wouldn’t have been able to watch it as it aired anyway). The entire series is available to binge watch. And you know I did. I mean, how could I not. This is something I have been waiting for since I was a teenager.
We are faced with the usual expectations. We have to know going in that it won’t be an exact port from the books to the show. Heck, they started with Elfstones of Shannara as the first season to begin with (I forget the reasoning and really don’t care why they couldn’t begin at the beginning anyway other than the histories of the books all stem from Elfstones a bit more than they do Sword). Right away, if you have read the books you experience that moment when you are watching an adaptation and you know that it isn’t really going to be the book you know. They didn’t waste any time in setting this ball in motion. For me, I don’t always need a direct port. There are things that do bug me when the changes come but if things are relatively within a modicum of what it should be I can forgive and forget the differences to enjoy a show. And with this one you really do have to accept that the story you are watching has a semblance to the book but as if someone else is telling the story.
It is the trick of memories and experiences. We don’t all experience the world around us exactly the same. That is pretty much what I came to with this. And binge I did. I ended up watching the entire season in roughly three days. Granted it was only 10 hour long episodes but still, that is half a day of watching if all you have to do is sit and watch. (No, I am not judging you, you know who you are).
But here’s the thing, I watched them as if they were a different version of the story. I don’t know if I could have watched at all if I held on to the idea of what it was “supposed” to be. This didn’t stop me from picking out story elements that were wrong, mind you, but I still accepted that it wasn’t the story I grew up with.
And oh were there some doozies of issues between the books and the show. Right off the bat, the elves were and egalitarian race with women and men serving in posts equally. Women served as the Chosen (those who cared for the tree) just as often as men. And the tree was the one who chose those who served as opposed to the bullshit blind folded and bound foot race through the woods. I mean seriously, what kind of bullshit test is that for such an important position? And then this thing that Alanon is a normal sized man who needs some kind of switchblade sword to do his magic. I mean … What? The dude was described as somewhere around 7 foot tall in most tales that had included him. He was huge and often depicted as a Gandalf in his early years looking man, long flowing beard and all. But these are differences that come about in the experience of the teller of the tale. For all we know the dumb ass foot race might have been the tale teller’s way of describing just how assinine the actual choosing seemed to be.
Like I said, I could ignore stuff like that long enough to get into the story. The base of the story was still there and it helped to carry all the other foolishness along. But there was something that stood out that was a huge elephant in the room and it made for a kick out of the narrative that was so bad at one point it had even been written into the dialogue.
In this storyline, the fall of man had happened about 3000 years prior to the events of the story. In the books there are a few places that have survived the transition. But they generally happen to be places that have automated systems that maintain the facilities and such. When the characters are out and about in the world. We see stuff like a swing set (you know, the cheap ass kind made from rolled sheet metal) that has some how managed to survive all this time out in the elements. Or the, what looked to me, a truck from the 40s or 50s just rusted out but largely intact in the background of a scene. I mean seriously, how the hell does it survive so long? And then, and then, of all the things in the world, the two female characters fall into a hole that ends up being the perfectly preserved remains of a high school prom. It was this moment that one of them says something about how could it have survived so long, and the other says some bullshit like the place had been sealed air tight or some other bullshit response.
They picked up a letterman jacket to keep warm and the thing looked practically brand new. Seriously… And then there was the post apocalypse rave that happened in a human community on the outskirts of civilization. I figured that was thrown in solely for the benefit for MTVs core demographic because, well, what else do you do when you know you can be killed and eaten by gas mask wearing trolls at any time, you throw a party, right? When you add in that this was basically HBO light and you have to throw in the gratuitous sex scenes but without the full on skin showing and you know they are trying to key in their demographic and what not. The books are written as adventure stories, sex might be hinted at but it isn’t something that goes into any detail or what not. Kids are born between books, made in generations outside of the current book and what not. That stuff just isn’t important to the story so it doesn’t show up in the stories.
In the end, if you are a longtime fan, there are some things you will have to be prepared to set aside. The base story is good and there are some really good representations of the original work. But there are also some things you will encounter that will make you simply shake your head and say WTF.
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