Friday, November 1, 2013

Piers Anthony and the Politically Correct Gang

A site called AV Club has a column here trashing the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.  Honestly!  Yes, there are a lot of politically incorrect elements to the series but . . . but it's fiction!  It also is a series my students loved--maybe more than any other series.  This is what I posted there:

Sigh.  I hate having books torn apart like this.

I taught high school English for almost forty years, and the Xanth books—along with the Robert B. Parker Spenser novels—were the most successful for getting kids to like reading.  I can’t even count the number of students I had who disliked reading until I handed them A Spell for Chameleon.  I thought a lot about why the kids loved them so much.  The kids most attached were usually kids from fairly dysfunctional homes.  My guess was that the humor and warmth and—in the later books esp.—the picture of functional families—was a big reason for their popularity.   The puns were a lot of fun too.

So I really hate to see these books trashed.  Okay, so you can read lots of non-politically correct things into them.  Big deal.  Read any of the classics. 

In a country where teenagers spend an average of six hours a day watching television or playing computer games, let’s celebrate the authors who know how to lure kids into a world of books.  And Piers Anthony is one of the very best at this.  Leave him alone!


  1. Mary, I loved the Xanth books. In some ways, I still do. But the criticisms in the "Av Club" article is far from the "Political Correctness run Amok" that you seem to think it is.When was the last time you read "A Spell for Chameleon"? Piers Anthony can be fun to read, but he has some truly and exceptionally twisted views on male-female relations and sexuality in general. I suppose you can ascribe some satirical intent to some of his characters (Chameleon, in particular) but the sexual politics of his books (all of his books, not just Xanth) is really problematic.
    That's not to say that they shouldn't be read. But observing that Piers Anthony's Xanth novels are embarrassingly misogynistic isn't political correctness gone crazy, it's just an accurate account of the novel and Piers Anthony's entire career.

  2. Thank you for bringing this to my attention on your thoughtful blog.

    I read the Xanth books, as well as many other of Anthony's series books, when I was in my early teens. I also read tons of other science fiction and fantasy books, many of which described male-female relations that did not achieve the standards to which we now strive in the early 21st century. My parents didn't censor my reading in any way. I read such questionable volumes as John Norman's Gor series, Robert Heinlein's Friday and his Lazarus Long books, and lots and lots of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion books. Those were the books that were on the shelves in the 80s, both in bookstores and in libraries, so I read them.

    Contemporary sci-fi author Charles Stross suggests in one of his many informative blog posts that genre fiction has about a maximum 20-year shelf life, so now in 2014 the books published in the late 80s and early 90s are starting to disappear from circulation. I suspect that the kids these days are reading other books that are more consonant with current mores, not the Xanth books or other series from the 80s. If I was looking for a humorous fantasy novel to recommend to a teen today, I would go to a bookstore and ask for a recommendation, I wouldn't give the young person a book from my childhood and expect him or her to enjoy it.

    1. To elaborate, I just picked up a collection of formerly out of print John Varley stories "Good Bye Robinson Crusoe." I remember reading them in my teenage years (1980s) in other collections. The ones I remember best seem most dated now. Is that just something about Varley, or is it the case of all fiction we read as a kid?