10/24/00: Xanth Author draws fantasy from reality
by Pieter van Hiel

Note: This article first appeared in a slightly different form in Realms magazine, October 2000.

About 15 years ago, Piers Anthony was exploring the forest behind his new home in Florida. He mounted a that hill rises from his backyard, and cresting the top, he discovered a deep scar. A railway had recently been cut through the hill, leaving a 50 foot crevice that the sun was not able to illuminate. The image stayed with Anthony, and he adapted into the fantasy world he was creating - Xanth.

"Suddenly, Xanth had this big cut through the centre of it called the Gap Chasm, a mile deep," Anthony said. He took the image and made it grander, more fantastic, to suit the world of Xanth. "Since it’s fantasy, everything is on a bigger scale. And of course at the bottom of that I had what is called the Gap Dragon, a steaming monster that cruises along the bottom. Well, that was an obviously analogy for a train. A old train, with puffs of steam going," he said.

The railway embankment was just one of the many real world elements that Anthony drew upon to create the fine details of his imaginary setting. "Everything was adapted, some of it consciously, some of it unconsciously. Conscious was the trees, the live oaks with their dangling live moss. They became the tangle trees, with tentacles that grab you as you go by. Everything was adapted freely from what I saw around me," he said. The physical geography of Xanth itself is based on that of Anthony’s home state of Florida. Additionally, Anthony said that as the years have passed, he’s realized that many of Xanth’s characters were unconscious adaptations of real people he has known.

"They say write what you know… Fantasy, by definition, is not something you know. I adapted things to make them magical," he explained.

The 66-year old author, who recently became a grandfather, is currently working on the 26th book in the Xanth series, tentatively entitled "Up in a Heaval." Anthony admits that the series, which began with the 1986 novel "A Spell for Chameleon," has taken on a life of it’s own, and that he occasionally lost track of what he had written. The 25th book, "Swell Foop," exists only as a manuscript, while the 24th, "The Dastard," has just hit bookstands.

The three latest books share all the usual hallmarks of the Xanth series, including the mandatory puns. Xanth is a magical pennisula separated from the real world, which the inhabitants call "Mundania," by a mystical barrier. Each denizen of Xanth is born with a unique magical talent ranging from the ability to create a spot of colour on a wall, to the ability to fly or transform others.

"They share a setting, and there’s certain things we expect from that setting. We expect magic. There will be puns. There will be certain characters that will generally appear. Somebody will always have to get into the castle of the Good Magician to ask him a question, and that’s never easy," Anthony said. He admitted that his creativity has been questioned as a result of these shared characteristics. "I realize that critics don’t think they’re original or different, but they are," he said.

His most recent release, "The Dastard," is about a young man with the ability to change the present by editing the past. Four young princesses, whose magical ability is multiplied when combined, must try to stop him. "Two of them squares it, and four of them cubes it, which is a tremendous amount of power. But they’re only four years old, so they have to exhange places with their olderselves, so that they’re suddenly 21 years old," Anthony said.

The heroes of the Xanth books are often quite young, and yet deal with some defintely adult situations. Anthony said that his was originally because the series was geared towards adults. "Technically, Xanth is an adult series. When it first started, it had a character who was 21 years old, and the editor made me raise it to age 25 to be sure it was recognized as adult. But the average age of the readers, at least of the ones who writes to me, is 12. It didn’t put them off at all," he said. He said that survey conducted by his publisher indicated that most Xanth fans started reading the books about age 12, and drifted away as they got older. "They read it when a child stops having to read what is specified in school, and starts getting to read what he wants to. He reads because he enjoys it for the first time. After a few more years, he gets into adulthood and has to earn a living. Again, has to go back to doing whatever he’s told to do," he said. "It’s life that gets in the way."

Editor Pieter van Hiel regrets not asking Piers about all the Centaur sex .