The Source of Magic
By Piers Anthony
Published by The Louisville Trading House for the Blind
Read by Lee Ewing
This is the second in Piers Anthony’s very long-running Xanth series. In it we see many of the characters from the first book, A Spell for Chameleon, now engaged in a searech for the ultimate source of the magic that makes Xanth what it is.
Some months has passed since the end of the first book. Chameleon, now eight and a half months pregnant and peevish with everyone, especially Bink (she never quite says, “You did this to me,” but the rest of it was worthy of a lame sitcom). So in order to keep peace in his realm, King Trent send Bink off to search for the source (an activity briefly mentioned in the first book) in spite of all the omens and prophecies (which always come true in Xanth) that such activity will destroy Xanth.
In his journey, Bink and his motley crew encounter a long line of strange characters nearly all of whom seem to exist only for the sake of parading out the author’s ability to make a pun and eventually they do find the source, destroy Xanth and then… well, keep in mind it is light adventure and putative comedy so there has to be a happy ending.
I really enjoyed this book the first time I read it. What can I say? I was much younger. Some stories really don’t hold up as you get older, I guess and this was certainly one of them. Admittedly, this series is usually marketed to “young adults,” which I think means “Tweens” and younger teenagers, but even so its only virtue may be in getting them to read in the first place. However, it is a very long-running series and would not be if it did not sell so well, so maybe it is just that my tastes have changed.
The characters are flat, two dimensional at best, but frequently not even that complex, the supposed verities they espouse are extremely sexist and not particularly accurate, but in keeping with television from roughly 1955. Even the strong, individualistic women in the story seem to just want a good man to take care of them, but there aren’t many of those. In short, on this run-through, I got really tired of Anthony’s repetitive gender stereotypes. In fact, it had me wondering if this sort of fiction is truly appropriate to the age group at which it was aimed. There was no profanity or undue violence for parents to worry about, but the underlying messages (which lie in plain sight underfoot as you trod through the story) are not the sort I would want my children (if I had any) indoctrinated with.
Well, I read these stories as a kid and I think I turned out okay… others’ opinions may vary. However, what this book did not have was anything beyond the thinnest of plots. All that holds it together are the puns and puns don’t make for a great adhesive. A friend of mine tells me that on the odd occasion she chooses to check a Xanth book out of the public library, she just flips through the pages looking for the puns instead of actually reading the story, and that may be the best way to approach these books. Too bad you actually have to listen to the story when it is an audiobook…
I had the distinct feeling Lee Ewing was trying just a little too hard to make this book sound exciting. He has a professional voice and is clear and easy to understand except for his frequent insistence on using “funny voices,” but his is the sort of voice you normally hear for a few seconds saying things like “…and now back to our story!” For a few seconds that can really get you in the mood, but a whole novel full of it at that pace is exhausting and distracting.
As for the funny voices, I suppose many of them are justifiable, being as they are for non-human characters, although I found Humphry’s voice annoying and frequently hard to understand. I realize that the Xanth stories are essentially the opposite of “Graphic novels,” being instead, “Verbal comic books,” but the cartoonish voices did nothing to enhance the listening experience.
All that said, Mister Ewing is not a bad reader. I have reviewed much worse. I was unable to find out just when this was recorded, but has the sound of something recorded in the early 1980’s which is likely, being that the book was first published in 1979. So maybe one needs merely approach this as a form of nostalgia.
So, we have a book that is part of a highly popular series, but is probably best read when you are young and is read in what I think is best described as a highly enthusiastic manner. Approach with care – puns can be caustic!