Tuesday, March 2, 2010

1978 BFS - A SPELL FOR CHAMELEON by Piers Anthony

I'm more than a little ashamed to admit how much I loved Piers Anthony's Xanth novels in Junior High School. The Xanth novels are parodies of fantasy novels, like Terry Pratchett's Discworld books dumbed down a level. Or maybe Discworld is a more clever version of Xanth, since the latter came first (I will take an opportunity to talk about Discworld in the future). Xanth is a magical kingdom shaped like Florida that actually coexists with our world, which the Xanthians call Mundania. It occasionally replaces various peninsulas, like Florida, Korea, etc., so that people can travel between the worlds. Xanth has the usual assortment of magical creatures - centaurs, nymphs, ogres, dragons - but every human being has a "talent," which is basically a superpower. Some people can control time or fly, and others can only project a spot on a wall. So, you have a merging of superhero comics with sword and sorcery, but the main appeal is the humor, which is...somewhat less than mature. Most of the humor revolves around bad puns, and there's also a fair share of Flintstones-esque replacement of modern conveniences with fantasy versions. There's also a large share of sexual humor - though it's of a very tame and juvenile sort. There's no real sex (when it does finally appear in the later novel it's described as "rolling around together"), but, for instance, there is an entire plotline in a later novel about seeing a girl's panties, and there's gratuitous nudity throughout. It's all perfectly suited for the not-sexually-active but very sex-obsessed 'tween mind.

A Spell for Chameleon is the first Xanth novel, and among the better ones. It involves Bink, who appears not to have any special talent. As a result, he is exiled to Mundania, where he runs into some other exiles from Xanth. Hijinks ensue, and Bink eventually discovers his power, gets the girl, and his friend becomes king. The novel was very successful and there have been thirty-two sequels (another similarity to Discworld), and this is apparently how Piers Anthony makes his living now. The books at least skip forward in time quickly so that you get a new generations of characters every two or three novels. I read the first umpteen of them, but I remember that they began to go downhill after book five or so. But those first five books were good, clean fun for me as a thirteen/fourteen year old boy. Still, I'm not so sure that I'd recommend them to adults, and I have no real desire to revisit them. Xanth is, at least, an original and entertaining fantasy setting.

Grade: B

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