Prolific fantasy writer Terry Brooks is the latest novelist to find his vastly popular characters transition from the page to television. MTV optioned Brook's Shannara trilogy as the basis for their first, scripted genre series. A younger-skewing Game of Thrones, The Shannara Chronicles (Season 1 is available now on DVD) is a lush telling of the Brook's Four Lands mythology, which deals with heroes, demons and a quest to stop an impending war. The first season was based primarily on The Elfstones of Shannara, the second book of the trilogy. In our exclusive chat with Brooks, the author tells us what it was like letting his book babies go into a new medium, how much he was involved with the development of the series and which of his books will be the foundation for Season 2.
The Shannara Chronicles television series arrived just shy of 40 years after your first book was published. Was an adaptation something you hoped would eventually happen?
That's a tough question to answer. It's an obvious plus if you have it happen, because a movie or TV show is a huge advertisement for your books. Since I'm a book guy, I never once underestimated the value of something like that happening. On the other hand, if you have a long career, which I have been lucky enough to have, the fans become very passionate and protective about the material. We've seen it with George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones or J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. So if you do have it done, you better get it done right, or you'll spend the rest of your life answering for what happened. (Laughs)
With that being said, were there major concerns regarding what others might do to the mythology?
Of course I had concerns. Right from the beginning I had concerns if this was going to work or not. You can't help it. But the support and the commitment from MTV was pretty vast and that gave me some reassurance. I was also reassured by the fact that I had met, and felt comfortable with the work of the writers. Plus, the presence of [producer] Jon Favreau. There were reasons to believe that they were going to make it work. The further on the project went, and the more I saw of the sets in New Zealand and the cast and the crew, the more convinced I became this would work out. I thought the cast was terrific. I was vetting the writing so I had my chance to make the changes I thought needed to be made. By and large, I thought it worked out.
When did you feel confident that TV was the right medium for it?
I think when I heard how much support, money-wise and publicity-wise, MTV was going to give to the show, I was pretty confident that in terms of production values that it would be fine. Of course filming in New Zealand was a tremendous help to capture the authenticity of the setting. But it's hard to say, as there were moments I was really excited about what was happening and there were moments I had concerns. I think that would have been true no matter who did it. By the time I saw the premiere, I was convinced everything would work out well.
When it came to working with executive producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, how did you want to position yourself so you were helpful but not obtrusive to the process?
You have to walk that line. The minute you start becoming too aggressive about what you think should happen, people stop talking to you and they stop having any interest in having your advice from any quarter. So you pick and choose your battles. You try to be reasonable. I never make an argument without offering a reason why or a solution to how to solve a problem. I try to minimize the places I stick my nose. I learned from working with George Lucas [on The Phantom Menace novelization]. He gave me free rein with that book and let me do virtually anything. He just said don't wreck the movie with the book. I thought it was a good template. You have to trust the people doing the work in their area. Al and Miles are professionals and they needed to be treated as professionals. I vetted the scripts for each episode all along, from the outlines to the rewrites, so I had my chance to say what I thought needed to be said at any given point. I encouraged when I thought it was warranted. I settled for that as that was all I was brought onboard to do anyway, except for acting as a father figure to the show because I have all the knowledge and background for all the books. I can talk about the history more easily than anyone else.
You've lived with this world in your head for decades, so was there anything they created for the series that captured something how you imagined it?
Absolutely! I can start by talking about the actors themselves. I've never been a writer who envisioned actors in the roles of my characters. I've taken more of an attitude about what is it that troubles these people and their internal emotions. Their physical characteristics have never been particularly important. I felt all of the actors all were very good at capturing those emotions and portraying the characters in the right way. That made it very easy to see them in those roles and now, I'll probably never be able to think of those characters without seeing the actors. (Laughs)
What about any set pieces?
Certainly, they captured the Ellcrys tree. That was a terrific building job by the set designers. I thought opening with the race, which wasn't even in the book, got everybody into the story right away which you need in TV or film. There was a sense of immediacy to the storyline which I thought was terrific. I loved the scene when they were in the Runes of Paranor and Allanon is holding up his hands to find the Codex and the runes light up in his neck. That was chilling.
Talk is that The Wishsong of Shannara (1985) will be the narrative foundation for Season 2. How's the process of adaptation going?
At the moment, I've had some fairly intense conversations with them about what might happen in Season 2 and how they might make it happen. They've asked about this, that and the other thing, so I've given them responses. But I haven't said, "If you do this, your career is over." If they want to do something, this is their show. I think it's my job to help them do it as long as they aren't trampling on some sacred part of the storyline. I'm going to help them find a way to make certain things happen. We've had some instances that I can't talk about where they said we've been given a situation and we don't know how to handle this. I given them a suggestion or two on how to make it happen that won't defeat the books and still make everything ring true.
Are they just focusing on Wishsong, or are other stories and characters up for grab?
They've been leaning towards Wishsong, but they also want to bring in some elements from The Sword of Shannara (1977). There may be some blending of the two, which is certainly possible because the characters are all still around, so they could come back at a later period of time that I did not write about. There's a gap of time in there after The Elfstones of Shannara (1982) where's it logical something could happen. We're looking to make it interesting and different. Of course, lots of readers say how come there isn't anything about Sword? We could pull elements out of Sword and they could be part of Season 2. See, I view the TV show as a companion piece to the books. I don't get all upset if they don't want to follow the entire plot lines of the books. If they want to make a new experience, that's fine. I don't see any problems with it.
You're on a book tour for the new release, The Sorcerer's Daughter (The Defenders of Shannara). With the success of the TV series, are you seeing younger faces at events?
Yeah, I am seeing what I hoped to see. Younger readers are coming in who have seen the show but not read my books. But I am seeing all ages, which is interesting. Lots of new readers coming in and they aren't just reading Elfstones, which is extremely gratifying. At the book store last night, we took a poll of the audience about how many people had seen the show and every hand in the room went up. Then we asked how many like the show and every hand in the room went up and I thought that's 100%. You can't do better than that! Obviously my goal as a writer is for people to read my work and this is a terrific avenue for having that happen. I want the TV show to be successful but the viewers to go read the books.