Friday, April 21, 2017

The Fantasy World of "Xanth"

            Currently they are kicking around the idea of a TV show based on the Xanth books by Piers Anthony.  I am familiar with his work.  When I was in 7th and 8th grade we had a program called "Accelerated Reader".  You would read a book and then take an 8-20 question test (dependent on the length of the book) and get points for doing well. A typical young adult book was worth 5-8 points.
            Somehow the Xanth series by Piers Anthony was on the list, each 400-page novel was worth about 14-16 points and I liked them so much that I read one a week.  All 17 that existed at the time and scored 100% on each quiz.  I had the 6th highest Accelerated Reader score in my middle school of 900 kids that year.  My Mom volunteered at the school running a mini-toy shop that allowed you to spend your reading points on prizes for your hard work.  (I have mentioned this before.)
            I have grown beyond Piers Anthony.  To the point where I just can't bring myself to read anything by him.  It kind of makes me sad, like how I can't really enjoy anything from when I was a kid except in a nostalgic sense.  I just don't get the same rush from Lego, video games, candy... Each day the world is a little colder, colors less bright... Adulthood blows.
This book is actually lots of people's introduction to fantasy so the nostalgic looking back is not uncommon.

And Introduction to the Series
            Let’s talk about the first book, “A Spell for Chameleon” and to a degree the earlier stories.  The premise is that in the magical land of Xanth everyone has one magical talent, these are all different, randomly assigned X-gene style to the residents of the continent and ranging in power from “spot on the wall” (powers that are basically the ability to cause momentary discoloration on some surfaces) all the way up to “Magician” having tremendously powerful abilities like controlling the weather or talking to any and all inanimate objects.  The first book starts off with Bink, the only man in a long time to not have an obvious talent, if he is unable to display a magical ability he will be exiled from Xanth into the world of Mundania (Earth).
            Bink goes on a road trip of sorts from the Good Magician Humphrey’s castle to ask him for information on what his talent is, then across the canyon “gap” which splits Xanth in half meeting a strange woman named Chameleon, into Mundania where he meets the exiled Magician Trent who tried to conquer Xanth in ages past.  Bink, Chameleon, and Trent all end up back in Xanth where they discover an ancestral castle of a lineage on kings and Trent eventually becomes king with Bink’s help, with Bink’s talent being revealed as being Magician caliber power but best when kept secret.
            Really, the plot is a background to instead explore the rules of the world and society.  As to whether this was intended to be a series at the start it certainly feels like an introductory read.  Numerous rules, locations, prominent characters, and key locations are all introduced.  Future books would explore the place so thoroughly that there is nary a corner that remains unmapped.
If you can't tell, Xanth is based on Florida.
The biggest difference being all the mountains and the canyon.
Magical creatures and monsters are actually too common in Florida for that to be considered a major break from reality.
Strange Authorial Quirks
            The writing is exceptionally skeevy at times.  Nearly all writers of genre fiction let their strange kinks creep into their work at various times (look back at my discussions of Wonder Woman for a good example of that) and Anthony is no different.  Lots of talk about women’s underwear pops up thru the series, one of the titles of the series is just “The Color of Her Panties”.
            This is to say nothing of the amount of nudity, topless centaur women, the origin of things like centaurs, and lots and lots of people being perfectly cool with everybody being naked.  Not to kink shame, this is all just a warning for you if you intend to give the series a whirl.  There are a few angrier perspectives on this topic you can find regularly online.
This is the cover of "The Color of her Panties".
I have no idea why that was the title, I barely remember this book.
There are maybe 6 that stick out in my mind and this ain't one.
The Humor
            Most of the humor comes from puns that are so numerous and go by so quickly that they have all vanished from my memory for the purposes of giving examples.  In the later books, there are entire chapters that can be skipped because it is just a literal parade of strange creatures based off of puns.  In the first book things are a little subtler, for instance there are “Cent”-ipedes that are tiny copper colored bugs that take coin sized bites out of people.  Oddly there is a missed opportunity for a pun in the form of a man named Justin who was turned into a tree; didn’t want to make that a “Joshua Tree”?

In Conclusion
            I got a kick out of these when I was in Middle School.  They were more of an introduction into high fantasy settings than anything else I can think of (I am that mutant that never cared for the “Lord of the Rings” books) along with the “Magic: The Gathering” novels, so I do not hate them.  They are just weird in retrospect.
            They are kind of perverted when I view them thru the lens of adulthood, but in a way that is so juvenile and silly that it feels harmless.  The writing is only okay (at best) when I look back on it after having read literally hundreds of books.  The setting is bloated and cluttered, even when compared to everything-and-the-kitchen-sink type fantasy settings like “Warcraft”.
            I do not regret having read these.  I would not heartily recommend them to anyone who has already read a lot of books, not when Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is around, with humor that is far more droll and clever.  I can imagine young readers enjoying this as their first steps into fantasy though, they feel like books aimed at a younger mindset.
            Maybe I am wrong, but that is my take and if you enjoy them more than I do, have fun.

Piers also wrote the "Incarnations of Immortality" series.
In this series the Grim Reaper, Father Time, Lady Fate, War, and Mother Nature work together to stop Satan.
It is better than Xanth because it is tighter, but it is also rather bloated.
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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