X = Xanth, A to Z Blog Challenge

I’ve talked at length about Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels before. They started out with a good premise — every person born (or conceived) in the land of Xanth is born with a random magic talent, ranging from boring (making sonic booms), to the absurd (peeing different colors), or the strong (generating of storms, turning someone biologically into any creature) to subtle and devious (speaking to any inanimate object, or the enhancement of any perceived trait, including traits the caster possessed herself).

Map of Xanth. Yes, it's supposed to look like Florida.

Map of Xanth. Yes, it’s supposed to look like Florida.

The strong lead this land, as only someone with strong magic (a Magician or Sorceress) can be ruler of Xanth. This has been known to change in times of need (as with the Mundane Wave described in Night Mare), when the kingship came down from amazingly strong kings and queens to a woman with no control over her talent (she changes gradually from beautiful and stupid to normal to hideous and brilliant), to a horse, a night mare.

In the early days of these novels, the talents and the plots were very good and very inventive. The Magicians and Sorceresses, the nearly powerful, even the lame ones were exciting and interesting. As the series progressed, one a year for the last 38 years, they lost some of their fresh perspective and some were quite lame. The problem is that the characters age and breed and the world grows.

List of the good Xanth novels with covers and some amazing art.

List of the good Xanth novels with covers and some amazing art.

I think the problem is that, in the second novel, the source of all magic bestows on the main character Bink a gift — all of his descendants will be of Magician or Sorceress level. Since most of the novels follow his descendants, the author, once amazing and possessing of a formidable imagination, has just run out of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t lose talent like Piers Anthony’s. I just think that, within the framework of this novel and world, that there are few talents left to be found of a strong enough sort to be one of Bink’s ancestors.

Bink's family tree.

Bink’s family tree.

The series was a lot of fun…but then there were the puns. I departed from the series around book 19, though I read up on the plots and talents in subsequent books, gaining no urge to return. The puns started to become overpowering in book seven, but the plots were still good. In the next book, an entire chapter was so filled with puns that the editors cut it out. But the plot was about a barbarian warrior with a healing factor who is pitted between a good magician and a bad magician with a half demoness as their object of contention. It was really a good book.

Crewel Lye…even the goddamned title is a play on words. "Cruel Lie" which is a part of the novel.

Crewel Lye…even the goddamned title is a play on words. “Cruel Lie” which is a part of the novel.

Around this time, the story elements started to break down. One of my favorite main characters, Dolph, with the ability to change into any creature — magical or other, possessing their powers — met up with Marrow, an animated skeleton from the world of nightmares. He gets betrothed to spunky Electra and annoyingly elitist Nada Naga. That love triangle plays out with the introduction of the Adult Conspiracy — a conspiracy from the adults to keep kids in the dark about sex — and the end of the good times was born. Then there was an obsession by Dolph with women’s panties and the series as a whole started becoming similarly obsessed. It wasn’t until one of my favorite characters, the mischievous Metria, a hilarious and uncaring demoness who could never get the right word and would go through a list of synonyms, got a soul and became boring that I was officially done with the series.

On the whole, it was a good series until it jumped the shark. I have several of the novels after the ones I mentioned here, and I may read them some time. The early ones, even with the puns starting as early as the second novel, The Source of Magic, was still very good, if somewhat sexist. My favorites are Castle Roogna, which I just finished again, and Night Mare, which I just started again. They both involve magic wars with sirens, gorgons, normal humans, zombies, harpies, goblins, illusions, magically grown trees, Magicians and Sorceresses, and so forth. They are amazing, inventive, and an attest to the author’s amazing raw talent (whatever he has done with it in recent years).

Piers Anthony. A kind man and a great mind.

Piers Anthony. A kind man and a great mind.

Piers Anthony also wrote the Incarnations of Immortality series, which is worth reading all the way through the seventh book, And Eternity. I will always respect the man, and be amazed by him. Once upon a time, I even wrote out the skeleton synopsis of a fan fiction which would find out where the series went “wrong” and how the characters would “fix” it. I read that skeleton recently, laughed, was impressed by my suggestions, and put it away, never to see the light of day. Still, my memories of my time in Xanth are ones I still treasure, and they have shaped me as a writer and imaginer in more ways than I can tell.

Alternate letter considerations: X-men, xenophobia, xylitol

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~ by Darren Endymion on August 29, 2015.

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