A few thoughts on Piers Anthony 6

Jason Heller wrote this excellent piece on revisiting the Xanth series as an adult, and I really recommend it: Revisiting the sad, misogynistic fantasy of Xanth

Which has subsequently made me think about my own relationship with those books. Because like most people in our general age group (I think Jason’s maybe a little bit older than me? I’m terrible at guessing ages though, so now I feel all awkward about it) I read those books in my teenaged years. Mostly because there wasn’t at that time a decent YA section in the local library, and not much of an SF/F section either. I think I ended up reading Piers Anthony because he had the advantage of being at the front of the alphabet, and had so many books out that he took up a shelf and a half all his own.

I read nearly everything the library had of his, and spent some of my pocket money on buying my own books. One different experience I had, though, was I found there was a very limited number of the Xanth books that I liked even at the time, though I couldn’t have explained to you why that was. For example, I really disliked A Spell for Chameleon. I think perhaps because I didn’t like any of the characters. The only Xanth novels I remember liking enough to read them more than once were Night Mare and Isle of View. (Though I also recall playing the Xanth videogame when it came out on PC, which was a frustrating experience.)

I do remember being really discomfited by the obsession with panties endemic to the series. (There is, quite literally, a book titled The Color of Her Panties.) Panties, which were pretty obvious shorthand for female sexuality, were used in the series as a way for women to exercise control over men; as an adult, it becomes very obvious why I found the entire thing so troubling. In fact, The Color of Her Panties was actually the book where I started losing interest in Xanth, and the last one I even attempted to read was Roc and a Hard Place when I was 15.

They just didn’t feel fun any more, and I had never felt connected to any of the characters–with the sole exception of Mare Imbirum. Who was, as you might guess, a horse.

I liked his Incarnations of Immortality series far better than Xanth, probably because I’ve never really been a fan of puns (clutch your pearls now) and the Incarnations felt like there was some meat to the stories at least. But there was some stuff I found a bit creepy in those as well, even at the time. What springs instantly to mind is the final (at the time) book, And Eternity. Which had a cool plot in it I really liked, about god being dethroned and replaced with a woman, but then on the other hand a rather major plot point in the book is a sexual relationship between a teenager named Vita and a much older male judge, which I found intensely creepy.

I haven’t read any of the books in years. I don’t have any desire to revisit Xanth, to be honest, but I kind of want to go back and look over the Incarnations of Immortality series and give it another read with a critical eye now.

On thing this does make me think about is the importance of libraries, then and possibly now. I read the Xanth books because they were there, and there were a lot of them available. I wonder who else I might have read if the collection at my local library had been a bit more diverse. I also discovered Tamora Pierce’s books because of my local library, and those had a profound effect on me.

It’s something I bring up every time someone questions the value of diversity in both authorship and characters. Considering Piers Anthony and the Xanth panty fetish, I can’t help but think it was a reflection and normalization of some incredibly sexist tropes. I’m glad even as a teenager, I felt that there was something not quite right.

6 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Piers Anthony

  1. Reply Sin Oct 20,2013 21:08

    I never did read Xanth, but I did read Incarnations in college and enjoyed them, though I never did read And Eternity as I broke up with the guy I was dating who had them.

    I guess it does say something that I never felt the need to go read that one on my own. Maybe some day I’ll pick them up again myself and finally get through them all.

    • Reply Rachael Oct 20,2013 21:18

      PZ Myers (who hates the books big time) commented on the fact that there was always a glut of them in the used book stores… probably because people just don’t get attached to them at all. Not feeling compelled to read them is never a good sign…

  2. Reply Emily Oct 21,2013 16:27

    you will find that if you go back and re-read some of those, they are unreadable. dreadful prose, all of them. anthony was a totally rubbish writer.

    i came to anthony when i was in my early 20s, having already established at least some levels of acceptable prose that i would consume (though, i admit to loving anne rice and jean auel-i’ve never said they were _good_ writers, but i love them like love troma films). i found his prose nigh-unreadable. i’ve been accused that it’s cos i am not a fan of fantasy because i have no imagination, which is why i found them execrable.

    but, i do admit to not being a fan of high fantasy, due in great part to the fact i spend more time correcting their grammar and incorrect usage than i do actually reading the writing.

    • Reply Rachael Oct 21,2013 18:43

      In fantasy as a genre, the Xanth series is really, really not a good example. I’d challenge you to give, say, NK Jemisin a try to see some good fantasy. But no, it’s not lack of imagination, and people who use that as a way to excuse shitty writing is just… sad.

  3. Reply Emily Oct 23,2013 15:30

    i’ve been trying to read GoT. i really like his characters, especially tyrion and danaerys, but, again, i find myself correcting his grammar and goofy language mistakes (what ppl think “old english” was, i have no idea. it’s like being back out at festival =P). i’ve been told martin gets better with later books, but that the plot goes off the rails. so, dunno.

  4. Reply Frank Oct 29,2013 11:01

    Xanth was okay when I was young, I think I quit reading them around 14, not very good to me even then. I much preferred the Incarnations (Amy and I have a hardback set) and personally I thought his Bio of Space Tyrant series was best. But I haven’t touched any of his books in probably 15-20 years.

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