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Novels by the Numbers: The Source of Magic by Piers Anthony (and the Entire Xanth Series)

An Attempt to Re-read and Review All the Books I’ve Ever Read

By Trent MilamPublished 7 years ago 6 min read

From the novel’s Goodreads Page:

The Source of Magic (Xanth #2) by Piers Anthony


Ordered by King Trent to determine the source of Xanth’s magic, Bink and his companions were harried by an unseen enemy determined to thwart them. When even their protector turned against them, Bink still managed to reach his goal and carry out the King’s orders…but the king did not expect Bink’s next act–to destroy utterly the magic of Xanth!

The Memory

Everyone has a first book that hooked them on reading and this was it for me. Although my first ever novel read was The Hobbit, Bilbo’s adventures didn’t really engage me to continue with the series and honestly The Lord of the Rings was pretty daunting to me at the age of eight.

Before this novel, my reading was sporadic and mostly revolved around chapter books and comics. My mom gave it to me in 1982. I was 12 and things were extremely difficult time for me then. My grandfather had died the year before, my parents were finalizing their divorce, and my mother and I were living in a small two bedroom apartment on the edges of Chesterfield County, Virginia.

Due to this expected level of stress in my life at that time, I experienced two unfortunate side-effects. First, my anxiety was off the charts, I had no idea what was happening in my life and had no methods of coping with the stress. Now, I don’t blame anyone specifically for the state of my pre-teen years, but the adage pertaining to divorce that "Children bounce back" is crap. We fucking don’t. Yes, this is a book review, but I want to set the stage of how I got a hold of this story.

So, the stressed kid starts to have problems at school. I already had issues with learning disabilities in math, so my situation escalated and spiraled out of control. Now that I had stresses at home and school, my health began to decline as a result.

From the age of 11 to 21, I would come down with a case of strep throat at least once a year. In the early years of the divorce, I had it every three or four months.

So, I’m 12 and am at home with my fourth case of strep in the past year. My mom was single and had to leave me at home while she went to work. I guess back then, this was normal? I can’t imagine something like that happening today.

I got the book when she came back from work on the second day. We had been to the doctor’s office earlier and she had left me at home to rest after taking some Tylenol. She came in with a bottle of the pink stuff and a book thicker than anything I’d read before.

“It’s good stuff! The pharmacist said it was bubble gum flavored!” she said.

No, mom, it fucking wasn’t. But thank you for taking care of me.

After she coaxed and cajoled me into swallowing my medicine, she handed me this book, “I thought you might like to read this, one of the characters is named Trent!”

Honestly, I was in such a daze from the infection, I barely registered her words. I might have thought something like, “Why did they write a book about me?”

I soon passed out and dreamed that little gnomes were coming out of the foot of my bed and they wanted to eat my feet.

I stayed at home for almost the entire week and I think by Thursday, I was so done with watching Phil Donahue and The Price Is Right, that I just picked up the book as something to do.

Honestly, I barely understood what I was reading. The vocabulary was beyond me and I couldn’t pronounce half of the words. But, my mom had shown me how to use a dictionary to look things up and she had gotten that and the full set of the World Encyclopedia from the divorce. So, whenever I came across a hard word that I couldn’t understand from the context of the sentence, I looked it up in the dictionary. And if I still didn’t get it by then, I’d look up things from its description in the encyclopedia.

It took me a month to finish that book, but by the time I finished, my vocabulary had significantly increased and I had learned basic research skills.

The Book

The Source of Magic is the second novel to the Xanth series. Xanth (zanth) is a magical realm that is suspiciously shaped like Florida. It exists as an alternate Florida where magic exists and sentient beings have the ability to do one single type of magic or sometimes a single spell. The protagonist of this story is a magic-less twentysomething named Bink who has to find the source of magic that powers the land of Xanth.

The Series

It’s my opinion that you could probably read the first five or so books in the series (if you really wanted to) and get the gist of the FORTY other books in the series. They mostly go like this: Sexually repressed young adult male/female/gender neutral/pan-racial being is sent on a quest by the King or a Magician named Humphrey (?). During their travels they meet another sexually repressed young adult male/female/gender neutral/pan racial being who is lost/outcast/stalking them they journey together and discover The Quest They Are On Has Deeper Meaning & Is More Complex Than They Thought.

They all decide that this new quest is more important than the one they were sent to accomplish and They Make A Great Mistake and Something Terrible Happens. Now either sexually repressed young adult male/female/gender neutral/pan racial being A/B/ or sometimes C is captured/lost/rejected and They Must Get Back Together To Complete The Quest. An Attempt is Made But They Still Fail.

At some point, the King or the Magician named Humphrey (poorly veiled personification of author as savior) swoops in to save our heroes and chastises them.

With Renewed Vigor and sometimes a New Magic Weapon, but definitely, Extra Information The King or The Magician Named Humphrey (?) Failed To Reveal So They Could Fail And Learn A Lesson, our protagonists redress their dilemma and Save The Day.

The Take

The Xanth series was YA Fantasy long before YA Fantasy was remotely a thing. However, it wasn’t intended as such. It was a light hearted bit of fantasy that was a digression for Piers Anthony since most of his previous work was "serious Sci-Fi" or Sci-fi-fantasy-erotica (see his Cluster and Pornucopia series… or not). Still, the Xanth series has a copious amount of gossamer veiled teen angst/sexual frustration on its own.

Should my mom have introduced me to his books at such a young age? Heck neither she or I knew what I was reading until much later. And after a time, I just realized that it was all just too repetitive. Even the author admitted it was simply a cash cow for the publishers (by book nine I think).

So, should you read this series? Maybe, but you need to thicken your head and be able to withstand A LOT of puns. Too many. So many puns, in fact, they became recurring characters.

If I could recommend one of the books from the series, I’d say go to a public library and randomly pick one, read it, and if you can bear it, try again. See how far you get. Sure, there’s an overall story world arc, but nothing that you haven’t seen before. It really isn’t the point of the series.

If you really like reading, go ahead and give it a try. If your reading time is limited, get something else.

Book Stats

ISBN 0345350588 (ISBN13: 9780345350589)

Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages

first published January 1, 1979, by Del Rey

This article also appeared on the author's website.


About the Creator

Trent Milam

When I’m not writing, I’m living the life with my wonderful wife of 18 years and my kids. When I’m not husbanding/parenting, I run longish distances, play PC games, practice the baritone ukulele, and annoy people on the internet.

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