Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for ... Xanth

The Xanth novels of Piers Anthony - he claims the partial eponym is coincidental - are a series of works of comic fantasy, originally conceived as a trilogy, that now spans enough books to qualify as a cubic trilogy with some to spare (the 27th Xanth novel was entitled Cube Route, a punning reference to the fact that 27 is 3 cubed).

Anthony has found a gold mine with his Xanth universe - its magical Talents, its population of centaurs and gargoyles and goblins, its tongue-in-cheek Adult Conspiracy to protect children from knowledge that might scar their youthful minds, and, above all, its pervasive puns have made it hugely popular with a devoted following. The author himself has remarked that Xanth novels are all his publisher wants him to produce these days, and if he sounds a little bitter there it's because even the most successful milieu can become an albatross round an author's neck if he's unable to write about anything else.

Particularly in the fields of humor and fantasy, imaginative creativity is the author's mainstay. When that author has spent around three decades churning out sequels set in the same world, there is a tendency for his well of inspiration to run dry. Indeed, for neutrals at least, Xanth novels, taken as a whole, constitute an uneven set; some are sublime, others simply seem to be extended Feghoots whose sole purpose is to fulfil Anthony's contractual obligations and shoehorn puns, almost at random, into a derivative plot.

That being said, even the worst Xanth novel is entertaining - Anthony is a fine writer, and he's been canny enough to supplement his own inspiration with that of his legion of fans. He receives huge amounts of fan mail incorporating suggestions for plot devices, character twists, new Talents - and puns, of course. I myself have sent him almost a dozen puns in the hope that one would show up in a future Xanth novel.

No pun in ten did.

You may groan now.

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