A Spell for Chameleon (1977)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Piers Anthony
Publication Date 1999
Format Leather-bound (235 x 150 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 217
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 119
Frontispiece/Illustrator Don Maitz
Original Details
Original Publisher Random House, Inc.
Original Publication Year 1977
Though already developing a successful career in SF with such heady novels as Chthon and Omnivore, Piers Anthony did not reach brand-name status until he cooked up some fantasy in 1977. And it was cheerful, humorous fantasy at that, as in his first Xanth series novel, A Spell for Chameleon. The book's young hero, Bink, is without magical powers in a world ruled entirely by magic. Worse still, if he doesn't discover his own magical talent soon, he will be forever banished from his homeland. Naturally, it takes an epic quest for Bink to learn what his unique talent truly is--and perhaps to win the girl of his dreams as well. A Spell for Chameleon was the very first of Anthony's bestselling (and still ongoing) humorous fantasy series. Noteworthy for their outrageous word puns and bizarre characters, the Xanth books are a light yet often satisfying brew, especially when compared with the author's sometimes nihilistic and ultraviolent hard SF. --Stanley Wiater

Fantasy operates in a world that works on principles different from those in the consensus world of every day. Sometimes the alteration in reality is small: the world is the same as the one we see around us, but ghosts appear or leprechauns, werewolves or vampires; gods or demons intervene in human affairs; miracles occur; people mysteriously appear and disappear and objects move without apparent agency. Such fantasies lead readers to question their own sense of reality; perhaps the world is not what it seems, and danger, or evil, lurks in unsuspected corners. Some people believe in those things, of course, which is why "consensus" is appropriate.

Sometimes the change from reality is major: the fantasy world operates on different laws than the world we know. Magic replaces science, for instance, or alternate realities compete for primacy with ours and intrude upon it. Sometimes the world is not our world but Middle Earth or an Earth remote in time, past or future, or a distant planet circling an alien sun. Sometimes the universe itself is governed whimsically, inimically, or mysteriously by supernatural beings or forces. Such fantasies return us to modes of thought and behavior that prevailed for most of the history of humanity.

These two kinds of fantasy are called "low fantasy" and "high fantasy." In low fantasy, the supernatural element enters the real world; high fantasy constructs another world, a fully realized reality alternate to the one we know.

Science has existed in the western world, in any meaningful way, only for the past 200 years, and it has been the dominant mode for interpreting reality only for the past century. As late as the 1890s, evolution was still being debated by T. H. Huxley and English clerics. Even today, opinions inherited from a past in which tradition and authority outrank observation are raised against parts or all of science. Science believes in a knowable universe operating by natural law. But for all the millennia that preceded the age of science, humanity existed in a world of supernatural explanations for the creation of the world and the way events happened in it; for most of its history human ity has looked at the world as a place shaped and controlled by forces that can never be completely understood but can be glimpsed or surmised, that can be propitiated and even, sometimes, controlled. In such a world the inanimate as well as the animate have souls; hierarchy prevails, power flows from the top down, and is earned not by good deeds but by discovering the right formula: prayer, for instance, intercedes for us and spells command action or obedience.

In such a world language itself has power: the names of things- the "true names"-bend them to the will of the person who discovers them; spells depend upon knowing the right words and pronouncing them in the right order and in the right way. The modern world knows the power of language; the ancient world lived with the knowledge that language is power.

That kind of realization evidenced itself early in fantasy's incorporation of spells and "true names." In scientific and non-scientific societies, everything has a name, but in primitive societies every thing has a secret name as well. The true name is kept secret, as in the fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin," because the use of that name can force its possessor to perform supernatural feats or surrender wealth, power, or life itself. As The Encyclopedia of Fantasy points out, the true name "is shorthand for deep understanding of the named thing's essence, identity, or Achilles' heel. . ."

Fantasy's recognition of the power of language came to a focus in Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon. The literal "truth" of words produced a narrative in which cherry bombs grow on cherry trees and shoes on shoe trees, in which the double meaning of puns can link together unlike things in powerful ways. It was a transformation that created a new career for Anthony and a series of best-selling novels about fantasy worlds with word-play titles such as Split Infinity, Centaur Aisle, Viscous Circle, and Crewel Lye.

Anthony was born Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob in Oxford, England, in 1934. He was educated in the United States, earning his B.A. from Goddard College in 1956 and a teaching certificate from the University of South Florida in 1964. He served in the U. S. Army from 1957-1959, in the middle of which he became a U.S. citizen. He worked as a technical writer for Electronic Communications for three years and as an English teacher for a year at Admiral Farragut Academy. He began publishing short stories in the science-fiction magazines with "Possible to Rue" in 1963 and became a full-time writer in 1966 with the acceptance of his first novel, Chthon (1967).

His second novel, Sos the Rope (1968), won the $5,000 Pyramid-Fantasy & Science Fiction-Kent Productions contest, and led to a post- holocaust trilogy that included Var the Stick (1972) and Neq the Sword (1975). They were published together as Battle Circle (1978). His long, ambitious novel Omnivore (1968) is considered by many critics his best science-fiction work. It too forms the first part of a trilogy that includes Orn (1971) and Ox (1976). They are assembled as Of Man and Manta (1986).

After several other SF novels, Anthony switched careers with the publication of A Spell for Chameleon in 1977. As Don D'Ammassa wrote in The St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, "in 1977 Anthony started two separate series which were to radically alter his place in the field." The second was his Cluster series; the first, and most important, was A Spell for Chameleon, which not only sold better than his SF novels; it was well received by critics and won him the British Fantasy Award.

Always a prolific writer, Anthony turned to producing fantasy novels at a remarkable rate, averaging several novels a year. By 1998 he had published nearly 80 SF and fantasy novels, five martial arts fantasies, and four collections of short stories: Prostho Plus (1971), Anthonology (1985), Hard Sell (1990), and Alien Plot (1992). His autobiography has appeared under the title of Bio of an Ogre (1988). He also has published Piers Anthony's Visual Guide to Xanth (1989) with Jody Lynn Nye. Over his career he has averaged nearly three books a year.

Anthony's success in the writing of fantasy novels led to sequels to A Spell for Chameleon in what became known as the Xanth series. He also has produced other series under the general titles of Apprentice Adept, Aton, Cluster, Geodesy, Incarnations of Immortality, Jason Striker, Kelvin of Rud, Mode, and Tarot, as well as the more SF-like series, which includes Bio of a Space Tyrant.

In the Tarot series, for instance, Anthony blended fantasy and his fascination with Tarot and Kirlian auras with space epic science fiction, beginning with Cluster (1977) and continuing with Chaining the Lady (1978), Kirlian Quest (1978), Thousandstar (1980), and Viscous Circle (1982). He extended his interest in Tarot with God of Tarot (1979), Vision of Tarot (1980), and Faith of Tarot (1980). All of these and more contributed to his readership and his reputation, but possibly his greatest effort and production has gone into Xanth, the universe that came into being with A Spell for Chameleon. At last count the Xanth series had reached a total of 15 novels.

The world of Xanth is surrounded by ocean and the non-fantasy lands called Mundania (to science-fiction fans, non-SF-readers are known as "mundanes"). John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy compares Xanth to Florida, where Anthony resides, except that it "is a land permeated by ecologically balanced magic, whose laws can be worked out pragmatically, and where time moves independently of the outside world; words and puns (hence the titles of individual volumes) can operate in a literal fashion.. . ." And Clute goes on to write that the Xanth books "in their playfulness, escapism, geography, and dependence on word play are strongly reminiscent of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum and his successors." David Pringle in Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels credits Gordon R. Dickson's The Dragon and the George (1976) as heralding the new wave of "light fantasies" in the late 1970s, including A Spell for Chameleon, but both owe a great deal to John W. Campbell's 1939-1943 fantasy magazine Unknown, which inspired and encouraged a new approach to fantasy called "rationalized fantasy," and featured many light-hearted, roman tic comedies such as Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp's The Compleat Enchanter series and Robert H. Heinlein's "The Devil Makes the Law" (Magic, Inc.).

Don D'Ammassa praised A Spell for Chameleon as "exceptional" and went on to say that "Anthony created an original magic system, a convincing fantasy world, superimposed an intriguing plot with sym pathetic characters, and enlivened the mixture with humor." The readers of Locus magazine ranked it 18th on its list of "All-Time Best Fantasy Novels."

In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute described Anthony as "a writer of sweepingly intricate fiction" and commented "when he embraces a complex mythologizing vision of the meaningfulness of things. . . he becomes fierce." In The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, he wrote, "When his imagination is properly involved.., his work is explosive."

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas