The Xanth books (The Magic of Xanth series) hold a special place in my heart for a number of reasons – among them, that the world was my first foray into grown-up fantasy.
I say it that way because I was seven years old and had read through apparently everything of interest in the young adult fantasy section at my library at the time, and had thus wandered off into the adult fantasy section. The Xanth books often tend towards brightly colourful covers, and one caught my attention quickly. I took it back to my mother, told her where I’d found it, and after a bit of deliberation, it was approved to be taken home.
I would say I never looked back, from that first jaunt into the adult fantasy section, but that would be a lie – I often read YA fantasy even now. It is certainly true that Xanth only deepened my love for fantasy, however, and did so in the form of a book that introduced me to a world with so many more books and stories to discover. It was probably one of the best things from the adult fantasy section that my wee self could have chosen that day, years and years ago.
Piers Anthony led me into a book that was an adventure – all the Xanth books are – centred around a Quest, but far from the traditional Questing Hero’s Journey. And that was fascinating, and still is from where I sit now – where I am much more familiar with the fantasy genre as a whole, and the tropes and clichés – much as I love some of them – that crop up so frequently.
Xanth is quick and clever and layered – and full of puns and wordplay. The world is such that as I child, despite the dangerous things described, I wanted to step into the forests of Xanth to explore – and I still do. Not even particularly as an adventurer, a Main Character, someone with their own Quest to complete. . .
I would like to simply be able to wander through the forests of Xanth, poking at punny plants, perhaps finding one of the castles, speaking to some of the people.
Now there is an engaging world – I’ve been exploring it via books for over fifteen years, and I still want to take a walk in those woods!
For a series with so many books – 40 and counting, if I am not mistaken – it is also possibly the easiest series I have found to pick up anywhere at all. I certainly didn’t start with the first book – in fact, I believe it was six years after that first one was picked up before I would read the first book – but despite its complexities and the way the world and characters are built upon each other in successive books, Xanth is incredibly easy to slip into.
If puns and silliness make you groan with frustration, then Xanth is not a world I would expect you to be comfortable in, but for me – and puns do get on my nerves at times, I must admit – the humour and ridiculousness are rarely to the point of overburdening the story they are wound into. And, at many times, even vital to the plot, to varying degrees.
Currant Events springs to mind, for one very solid example!
The plots are often serious, sometimes incredibly so, but the books rarely make the reader feel as though it is a heavy topic, or difficult to handle. Light reading that doesn’t shy from topics that can be more intense and distinctly unfun – politics, death, the end of the world, betrayal, etc. – is a distinctly intriguing tone, at least for me – it keeps me happier to keep reading through the series at a quick clip (at least when I’m of a mood for such things, of course).
Piers Anthony, specifically in the Xanth books, is also the only author whose author’s notes at the end of the book I automatically continue on to read and never skip. (No offence intended to the other authors I love, but his are the only ones I always read.)
I love reading him talk about his craft and his fans, for one, but for another – in the Xanth books the acknowledgements or author’s notes at the end sometimes are invaded by the point after the end of the story (for example in one book the acknowledgements are being ‘read out’ by a character performing a Task).
I love humour with my plot, and I am fond of Xanth for being full of stories that entertain me, make me want to explore physically, and even make me think (along with the characters, who often have to think around corners – logical reasoning and common sense are both very important in Xanth!) while I’m giggling at the silliest – and sometimes most confusing – of puns.
I continue to be grateful that it was Xanth that I tripped into first, when exploring the adult fantasy section – especially looking back on the possibilities with a more experienced eye!
Though I may go long periods without returning to Xanth, it seems I always meander back eventually, at least for a book or two.
What was your first introduction to ‘grown up’ fantasy? Or to whatever genre is your favourite? How do you feel about lighter handling of heavy topics? What is your position on punning?