Posted October 8, 2010
Piers Anthony has been writing his popular Xanth series for a long time, and I’m fascinated by the fact that he has never walked away in an artistic snit. Thirty plus books later, he still works hard to keep the faithful readers happy.
That’s not counting all the non-Xanth books he’s published (the tally is around 140 books over a 50 year career). Even compared to other workaholic writers, Anthony is an outlying case, and maybe that’s why his wide-ranging ambitions haven’t derailed the the narrowly-focused Xanth series. The 30th Xanth book has a title that says a lot about
where the series is (still) going: Stork Naked.
(See, I could have said it had a revealing title, but I resisted the
urge. I suppose I also could have called this piece “Stork Raving Mad”
or something like that.)
So two things here: Anthony has been writing Xanth for a long time,
keeping his readers happy apparently, and the series is still in love
I really, sincerely admire Anthony on the first count. In one of his entertaining Afterwords, Anthony talks a bit about how Xanth is all his publisher wants from him. But the publisher follows where the most readers are, and
Anthony has been faithfully targeting the niche of pun-filled, saturated-with-non-threatening-sexual-innuendo, light-comedic fantasy.
I dunno, Anthony has done a fair number of interesting, heavy-hitting works in the
field – he’s been writing since the days of Dangerous Visions and before. I’ve read
some of his more “serious” works too, and they’re fine. But the people
who are into Xanth are really into it, and Anthony has not given up on
Xanth in an artistic huff of one kind or another. He’s still trying new
stuff all the time (see his bibliography, linked above), but he treats his fans right.
Like I said, I really admire him for that. Whether Xanth hits the mark
for me personally is beside this particular point.
That brings me inevitably to the subject of puns. The Xanth series has more puns than the rest of the genre put together, and if you want to be known for something, at least this is a distinctive trait. I won’t say much about my own distaste for puns, except that I find it curious how even fans of puns have a love/hate relationship with them. Or at best they’re groanworthy? I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. Suffice it to say that at one point in the book, the characters are stuck in an area called the Punderground. Magical forces compel them to utter horrible puns every time they open their mouths. For myself, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the painful puns of the Punderground and the other puns in the rest of the book.
Stork Naked has a typical Xanth plot, i.e. it’s an excuse for “naughty” situations. The stork tried to deliver a baby to Surprise (daughter of a golem and an elf) and her mate, Che Centaur, but took it back because of an error in her record back at Stork HQ. Surprise gathers a cadre and goes on a quest to get her child back, and along the way, there is of course a swamp that’s made out of love potion. Naughty situations ensue. And so on. Even more complicatedly, the storks deliver across multiple dimensions, so Surprise and friends are soon meeting (and trying not to get involved with) alternate versions of themselves, their friends, and their friend’s mates.
This particular article about Piers Anthony came about because I had been looking back at
my book records from the old, old days, and running some tallies. It
turns out that, over my lifetime, the two authors that come up as
most-read are Stephen King and Piers Anthony. If I run the tallies for
number of re-reads, it’s a slightly different situation (I think it’s
Zelazny or Le Guin), but in terms of sheer bloody quantity of titles,
it’s King and Anthony. Interestingly, in that order too, chronologically
speaking, since my local library had TONS of
King titles, and the Anthony peak came a bit later, when I could
actually buy my own books. I’ll be taking a look at a recent King book
next month, probably Under the Dome, but I’ve certainly kept up with
recent King titles more than recent Anthony. Here on the Gutter, I
reviewed the finale of the Dark Tower series (a book published in 2004). I also read Cell (a pseudo-zombie novel from 2006) when it came out. I hadn’t read a
new Anthony book for about 15-20 years! So this was a neat exercise for
me. And unlike my project from a few years ago of re-reading some
childhood classics (like McKinley or MacKillip), I somehow couldn’t
bring myself to re-read old Xanth material, so that’s the long version
of how I ended up reading Stork Naked.
Anthony still writes an afterword for his Xanth books, and he is
still writing his famous newsletters. The online version started in 1997, and there was a print version
before that. Anthony has always been outspoken and always willing to
connect with his fans. An interesting guy for sure.