If you’ve seen the highly anticipated series, The Shannara Chronicles on MTV or read the epic fantasy book, The Elfstones of Shannara, you can understand why we were ecstatic that we had the chance to interview Terry Brooks. As the author of the New York Times bestselling book and the executive producer of its TV adaptation, Brooks ingeniously captures the attention of fantasy lovers everywhere and continues growing his fan base with each episode of the MTV series. The former attorney and Illinois native excels at taking us on a magical journey through fantastical lands filled with Elves, Druids, and Demons. His creativity and attention to detail are evident in his work, so we’re not surprised that we’ve seen The Shannara Chronicles trending all over social media since its premiere in early January.
We were honored that Terry Brooks agreed to answer our questions about his work, which has so many people hooked. Keep reading to find out more about Brooks and the creative processes behind his book, The Elfstones of Shannara and its TV adaptation, The Shannara Chronicles.
You’re a New York Times bestselling author with numerous titles that have made the list, The Elfstones of Shannara being one of them. As the executive producer of the TV adaptation, was it strange giving up the role as the writer and having others write the scripts? Although you were able to see and approve everything, was there ever a time you were worried about the outcome?
TB: Scared to death at the beginning. Didn’t want to have to apologize for something I hated. But I was able to give input on the scripts for all the episodes along the way, and that gave me a sense of control over what was happening and a chance to correct things that seemed wrong. Mostly, I put my trust in the people doing all the heavy lifting, and I was not disappointed.
You’ve mentioned in the past that good fantasy mirrors reality, which allows us to reconsider our attitudes and beliefs. What real-world issues are mirrored in The Shannara Chronicles? Were there any challenges you faced while taking these issues and disguising them within an imaginary world?
TB: I tend to write about both social and personal issues in our own world in all my books because that’s part of what good fantasy does. In Elfstones, the questions of moral responsibility for ourselves and others are front and center. Three young protagonists are placed at risk with a task that might well cost the lives of millions if they fail. That’s about as heavy as it gets. How do they handle it? How much are they willing to sacrifice? What are the limits to which they will go? We all identify with and recognize these issues as a part of our daily lives, albeit on a lesser level. The screen writers were on board with this the entire way.
As with most adaptations, loyal fans of the book worry about how much change there will be to the storyline of The Elfstones of Shannara. You’ve ensured fans many times that all of the changes made were necessary and that you gave your blessing on new subplots and characters. Were there any changes that you wish you had thought of yourself while writing the book? On that note, were any of the changes for the adaptation suggested by you? Or did you solely trust the script writers?
TB: I keep saying the same things about this issue of changes from book to screen or even screen to book, such as I faced in Phantom Menace. A good adaptation is not a paint-by-the-numbers experience. It is a reimagining of the story. The writers had my blessing to make changes. They are craftsmen, and they knew how to make it happen within the context of a visual experience. Changes are necessary to tell the story effectively. When there were changes I didn’t think appropriate, the writers were great about finding a different way. For the most part, they didn’t need to do much of this.
Many epic fantasy books, such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, have had movie adaptations. Was this ever an option for you? What do you like about a TV adaptation as opposed to a movie adaptation?
TB: Options for visual presentations are a part of life for successful book authors. I had a few, but they were all just talk of great things followed by “so long.” MTV was the first platform where the actions really backed up the words. A TV adaptation is to my way of thinking the best way to go with epic fantasy. You need all that time and space to tell the story in the right way. Two to three hours isn’t long enough. Good writing and great visual effects are now available to you on TV as well as movies, so I didn’t hesitate to embrace this approach.
Speaking of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, you’ve said that you occasionally describe your work to others as being similar to those hits, even though you feel that it isn’t a truly adequate description. How would you describe The Elfstones of Shannara and The Shannara Chronicles for those who are new to the series?
TB: Well, all fantasy shares some commonalities. The nature of the storytelling necessitates it. So Shannara is a sweeping epic in the tradition of Rings and a tale of young people coming to terms with having the use of magic as in Harry Potter. But mostly it is a story of this world where science has failed us, the old world is gone, a new world that now relies on the use of magic has risen and the inhabitants are coming to terms with how magic is the flip side of the science coin. It’s essentially an adventure story.
Your inspiration as a writer came from European adventure stories and the works of William Faulkner. Do you have any current book recommendations for those that love your work?
TB: There are so many. Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, Lev Grossman’s Magician series, R.A Salvatore’s Dark Elf novels, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, the list goes on and on. I read a lot of young adult series, as well. Lots of very good books out there. On the science fiction side, read The Martian and the Southern Reach books, starting with Annihilation. I tend to hang out in bookstores where I can track those books down that I think I will love.
You’ve mentioned that there are definite plans to adapt other books for each season. Is there any other information you can share about that?
TB: Not at this point. There is much to be decided about how to do that with our current cast, which we absolutely love.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the TV adaptation?
TB: I want them to feel they haven’t wasted their time. I want them to feel like they have been whisked away to a magical place but discovered how much like themselves the characters that inhabit it are. I want them to be hungry for more.
The characters in The Elfstones of Shannara were carefully thought out and created by you so that they would succeed in being accepted and believable. Did you have any say in casting decisions for the roles in The Shannara Chronicles?
TB: I was not involved in the actual casting – why would I be when I have no expertise – but I was shown the actors and told why they were the right choice and asked if there was any problem from my end. There never was. The choices were all the right ones and now I cannot imagine anyone else playing those roles.
Your life seems must be incredibly busy…between writing best-selling novels and working on The Shannara Chronicles. How do you find time for yourself? What kinds of things do you enjoy doing on your free time?
TB: I still write nearly every day to stay grounded and to meet my deadlines. We all know what happens to authors who don’t. I still travel with Judine and I still play Scrabble and watch the Seahawks. Go Hawks!