(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This series is Piers Anthony’s most famous. The first book in the series deservedly won the British Fantasy Award, Britain’s highest literary award in fantasy and science fiction. The novels that make up the Xanth series can best be described in a single word as “fun.” Xanth is a world where the unexpected is likely to happen. The land is a living world of puns, providing the backdrop for a magical world. These puns are largely responsible for much of the humor and the danger in Xanth.

Although much of the magic of the books lies in the puns, testing the characters’ and readers’ wits, Xanth is more than wordplay. Many who read these books only superficially will miss the real magic of Xanth, the characterization and storytelling that account for the substantial popularity of these works. Anthony weaves his tales from the perspectives of each of the major characters involved. This shift in perspective both builds and structures the novels, threading the way to each novel’s climax. Repeated elements and structures in the novels, such as various pilgrimages to the good magician Humphrey’s castle, where characters must surmount three challenges, provide a comfortable familiarity and yet are each different enough to maintain the audience’s interest. Anthony creates a perfect blend of anticipation and novelty.

Xanth is more than the continued story of a set of characters. Continuity and a sense of familiarity throughout the entire series come from both the reappearance of characters who are no longer the center of the story and the recognizable landscape of Xanth. The series, viewed in its entirety, is a history unfolding with each new novel. As readers continue through the series, they tend to feel that the land is a part of them. This accounts for the inundation of suggestions Anthony has received from readers. The author’s notes that appear at the end of most of Anthony’s novels help readers become familiar with the author. There is the promise of more books in the series, and it seems that Anthony will keep getting better.