A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony – typical Anthony

A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth #1)A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read, and remember liking, this back when it came out. While Anthony is an anachronism today, he was one even when this was published in 1977. His sexism is pervasive – integral to the story? no; seems he just like being perverse. Some is couched: on page 53 of the paperback, he has a farmer laughing about the main character accidentally groping a female centaur and then he says that farmers had “an earthy sense of humor”. “Earthy”? “Lecherous” or “vulgar” is correct in the context he created. Constant references to females growing “shrewish”, or losing their looks…

And some is not couched. Only 3 pages after the “earthy” commentary, he describes a date rape surrogate trial (to protect innocent parties) with the outcome that would make a good ol’ boy, or a billionaire golf course owner, smirk. And two pages after that, a bit character, talking to the main character about an attractive female participant in the acted out trial: “Better have Wynne show you.” “Wynne?” “Your opposite. The one you almost raped.” [Note, the main character was conscripted to play a role, and the outcome, as noted, was in the favor of the male players…] “Not that I blame you.”

Yes, he went there. And that is a theme/attitude common throughout the first third of this book. Do we dismiss Anthony’s deplorable references for culturally relative reasons, or do we hold him accountable? I regret introducing Xanth to my third son, who read nearly all of the series (I stopped after four – and the fourth was pushing it too far.) As a teen, I seemed to have been largely oblivious to Anthony’s sexism, but it bothered me as an adult when I read some of his other series.

Now…there’s actually a decent story in here, despite Anthony. [Yes, I know…because of Anthony]. I will probably reread the other two of this trilogy to see if Anthony’s style – intriguing first novel of a trilogy, weak filler middle novel, sometimes okay conclusion – fits my memory. Now, I know that this particular series went beyond three…he’s still writing these things… It’s almost as if he’s in competition with himself to see how many inane stretches of wordplay he can work into every page. And they often get in the way of a potentially good story.

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