September 27th, 2014

Macbeth the Usurper

A Spell for Chameleon (Review) (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

Next up in our Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970's is A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony. This was the second Xanth novel that I read, the first being The Source of Magic. (Yes, I read the two out of order.) I must confess, on rereading this particular novel, I was incessantly charmed by the whole work. Not only is it fantastically light and popcorny fair, but the overall pacing stays as light as well. I won't be rereading Castle Roogna as that novel did not star Bink, and as far as I'm concerned, the proper Xanth novels are about Bink and his adventures, while all the others are posers.

From here on out, I will assume that you've read the book. There are spoilers. (The work is over thirty years old now. Do I really need to warn you about spoilers?)

FYI, if you want to talk about Piers Anthony and misogyny, please do a search on those terms and go elsewhere. I do not want to discuss that subject. Please go elsewhere. Thank you.

"A Spell for Chameleon" is book is about sex. I would go so far as to call it a medieval morality comedy about sex. You have Bink, our hero, who has no magic (sex) but wants to find his magic (sex). On his travels to find his own magic, he meets many chesty women who take an interest in him for various reasons, some sexual, some not, with great awkwardness ensuing. In the end, his magic power turns out to be "getting lucky", which is about the most super-sexual power that you can get. He learns about his mysterous power in the same chapter that he finally gets laid. Coincidence? I think not. Naturally, everyone winds up paired off in the end like any good romantic comedy.

The book follows all the best rules about comedy. Sex isn't funny, but frustration, frustratin is funny. Bink has no lack of frustration, partly because he just wants the wrong girl, but mostly because he's so dense and thick headed that he doesn't need any roadblocks at all. He puts up sufficient roadblocks to make his own life miserable. So Bink winds up in any number of awkward sexual situations, many described, and many implied, doing his best to keep himself true to his girl back home.

Piers really worked hard to keep the book PG, which I appreciate. Her really could have gone down the road of down and dirty, but used enough innuendo and circumlocution to communicate with the adults and still leave lots of room for the not-so-adults. Bravo to him.

The characters of this work are flat but colorful. By that, I mean that the characters represent aspects of ideas rather than fully fleshed out characters. These characters are purposefully over-simplified, adding to the general cartoony feel of the work. Like a Scooby Doo character, their job is to say all their right lines at all the right times, but never to develop over time. This flatness helps keep the work light and fluffy. If these had been fully developed characters, the book would have bogged down under its own weight, so the flatness is the narrator's choice.

I found the work far less pun-filled than I feared, instead finding the book more silly-filled. Instead, the book was filled with lexicolic literalisms. (I don't know if that's a real term, but now it is.) Lexicolic literallism is when you take the component parts of a word and accept them as the literal definition of the word. For example, an egg is a small, hard container for growing new creatures. A plant is something that grows. And eggplant is therefore something that grows eggs, rather than a plant that grows large, purple vegetables.

The book is also filled with magical ways of producing ordinary items. Candy trees and oil barrel trees are mentioned. There no pun behind them or literalism. They are merely the way that Xanth produces materials differently than the mundane world.

Trent proved interesting for me. As I read him, Liam Neeson's voice kept speaking in my ear.

Given the passage of time, I must say that the book stands up very well. A new generation of boys is always going through the whole "girls are plushies/girls are real people" problem all the time. As I read through this book, those awkwardnesses and those desires stood front and center. I remember some of those emotions myself. You might think that boys just learn and know this stuff, but that's not the way that it works. Boys only pretend to know this stuff, then get blindsided by all the consequences.

So all-in-all, I had a grand time reading the book and I look forward to The Source of Magic, which was among the most favorite of all my tween-year books.