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Letters to Jenny

Letters to Jenny

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by Piers Anthony

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In February 1989, science fiction writer Piers Anthony, author of the Xanth series, received a moving letter. It came from a woman whose daughter, Jenny, was in a coma as a result of severe injuries caused by a drunk driver. She asked Anthony to write to Jenny, an avid fan of his, in the hope that a letter from him would evoke some response. Her request resulted in a


In February 1989, science fiction writer Piers Anthony, author of the Xanth series, received a moving letter. It came from a woman whose daughter, Jenny, was in a coma as a result of severe injuries caused by a drunk driver. She asked Anthony to write to Jenny, an avid fan of his, in the hope that a letter from him would evoke some response. Her request resulted in a series of warm, supportive, and humorous letters written weekly from Anthony to Jenny. These were read to the patient by her mother.
The original letters Anthony wrote between February 1989 and 1990, reproduced here along with Anthony’s comments, reveal the author’s wit, humanism, and social conscience.
Jenny has come out of her coma, but is still confined to a wheelchair. Anthony also named a character in his next Xanth novel after Jenny, whose limited but definite physical responses to his letters indicated how important they were to her.

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Letters to Jenny

By Piers Anthony, Alan Riggs


Copyright © 1993 Piers Anthony Jacob
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5765-6


February 1989

Dear Mr. Anthony,

Let me get right to the point: I need your help.

I'm at my wit's end and am grabbing at straws, so decided to write to you in hopes that you might take a few moments of your time for my daughter Jennifer.

Jennifer is twelve years old, and, along with the rest of the family has very much enjoyed your Xanth series. Unfortunately, at the moment, she is in no condition to be able to enjoy your latest offering. On December 9th 1988 while walking home from school she was struck by a drunk driver, and she has been in a coma ever since.

She is responding to very little, although she will, occasionally and inconsistently, wiggle the big toe of her right foot, lift her head and/or track with her eyes, upon request. We've managed to elicit some minor response from her (a widening of the eyes and a heavy sigh) by showing her pictures of our cats and reading a note from one of her friends, but aside from that, she will more often than not merely lie in her bed, staring off into space, either refusing or unable to cooperate with us or her therapists. We know that she can hear us, but just how much she is able to perceive is in question. There is SOME perception there since she seems to remember her cats and her friends, as evidenced by her reactions to the photographs and the reading of the note from her friend, and by the movements performed, however sporadically, on request.

As I've already mentioned, she's read and enjoyed all but one of your Xanth books, and the rest of us, my brother and I in particular, have read them all with great relish. Some of your creatures and creations have even managed to insinuate themselves into our everyday conversation: "Mom, how do you spell [whatever]?" "Do I look like a spelling bee? Go look it up in the dictionary!" and "Jennifer, look at this plant! I just watered it yesterday, and yet it's wilted as if to die!" "Agent Orange must have done it, Mother ..." (I later found out that our big orange cat, Peanut, decided that the planter remarkably resembled a kitty-litter pan and chose that spot to relieve himself! Agent Orange, indeed!) or "Mother, may I have a pair of those new shoes like Carrie's got?" "Not till pay day—if that's not soon enough for you, go pick them off the Lady Slipper bush in the back garden!" Of course, we have our own Gap Chasm (a drainage ditch that runs the length of our back property) and a Gap Dragon (a nasty stray tom who'll attack anything that moves) to inhabit it. And many's the time that I've sworn it must be a Forget Spell on Jenny's school books that caused her to forget just how much homework had been assigned, or a Forget Whorl that somehow got trapped in her room, since she just could never remember it long enough to keep it tidy. On the other hand, Jennifer maintains that the television is a hypnogourd because her daddy exhibits a vacant stare while gazing into it, and the only way to break his attention away from it is to step directly in front of the screen. The Bed Monster is blamed for anything that's gotten lost in her room ("He took it because he got jealous that I'm not spending enough time with him, Mother"), and I've been accused of taking lessons from Grundy Golem after having hurled a particularly nasty epithet at someone or something that's made me cross. There are many other examples, but I believe that these more than illustrate my point.

We've been trying everything imaginable to stir something within her, to help her come out of this coma. Anything that might elicit some response, however slight, would be a blessing. I believe that a letter or note from you, the author of her favorite books, just might get a reaction from Jennifer. Sayings and characters from your books have become familiar friends in our household, and to me it seems only logical that a word to Jenny from you would be something to which she could relate and possibly respond. Mr. Anthony, my gratitude would know no bounds if you could find it within your heart to write something to my daughter. I realize that your time is exceedingly limited, and I would not ask this of you if I did not believe that it just might make a difference.

Before undertaking the writing of this letter, I spoke with a friend of mine, another author (Andrea Alton, whose book Demon of Undoing was recently released by BAEN BOOKS), to get an author's perspective on the request I wished to make of you. She encouraged me not only to write you, but went so far as to suggest that I ask you to name a Xanth character after Jenny, telling me that naming a character after someone isn't difficult to do since the character itself does not have to resemble that person in the slightest. Just the fact that a character has been named after one would be honor enough. And the last thing she said was that the worst you could do would be to say, "No." I was hesitant at first to make so bold, but, as Andrea told me, there was no harm in asking, and should you decide to do Jennifer the honor, I'm certain that it would be one of the high points in her life.

The latter is purely secondary to my original request, however.

Jennifer is currently at Cumberland Hospital in their Acute Care section. If you are able to write to her, please send it to our home address. We will take it to the hospital, read it to her ourselves and reiterate just WHO the letter is from.

Thank you, Mr. Anthony, for having spent the time to read my letter, and I ask you, please, to give serious consideration to my request.

FeBlueberry 27, 1989

Dear Jenny,

Your mother told me that you were in an accident, and are in the hospital. She asked me to write to you, because though you and I have never met, you know of me and like my books. I am Piers Anthony, the author of the Xanth series of fantasy novels.

Let me tell you some things about myself that you may not know. I liked writing the Xanth novels, because they are really set in the state where I live, Florida, with some magic added. They became very popular, and the publisher paid me a lot of money, and I used it to buy a tree farm, because I like trees and want to have more of them in the world. We built a house on that tree farm, and now we live in it, and our horses graze among the pine trees. Today a man was mowing between the rows of pines, so that the grass can grow better for the horses. I went out to see how it was going, and I saw that some small wild trees were getting mowed down, because they don't belong among the pines. Even some small pine trees were crooked, and got pushed down too. I hate to see that, but there's not much way to run a tree farm except to keep the wrong trees out. There are blueberry bushes growing wild between the rows, and they will get mowed down too. I wish that didn't have to be, because I like blueberries. Your mother can tell you how much I like blueberries, because I named this month after them. I walked among the bushes this afternoon, and I thought of you, because I had just read your mother's letter. I think you were mowed down through no fault of your own, and I'm sorry that it happened. I like trees, but I also like people, and I don't like to see any of them hurt. I have two daughters, Penny and Cheryl; they are both in college now, as perhaps you will be some day. I remember how it was when they were babies, and when they were just starting school, and when they were your age, and when they grew up and became young ladies. Now they are away, and it is quiet here. It has been said that a child is someone who passes through your life and disappears into an adult. That is sad, in a way, because to my mind there is nothing more precious than a little girl; but also happy in a way, because it means they can finally make their own lives. But what is worst is when they don't make it through, because something terrible happens along the way.

You were struck by a car, and now you are in the hospital. I learned of a young man who liked my novels, just as you do, who was writing a novel of his own. He was struck by a car and killed, at the age of sixteen. His folks sent his partly-done novel to me, and I finished it, and this year it will be published. It is called Through the Ice. It was a terrible thing that happened to him, and a terrible thing that happened to you. But you are alive, and I hope you will get better. I hope that some day you will be able to read that novel, even though it will make you sad because of what happened to him.

I understand that you read the Xanths except for the last one, Heaven Cent. Let me tell about that one, because then I can tell you something that may interest you. In that novel, nine year old Prince Dolph sets out to find the Good Magician Humfrey, who disappeared in the last novel. His parents say he has to travel with an adult—you know how parents are!—so he goes with Marrow Bones, the walking skeleton. He has many adventures, and meets two nice girls. He agrees to marry both of them, when he grows up in seven years. For some reason his parents don't understand about that; they think he should marry only one of them. (I told you how parents are!) So they ground him until he decides between the girls. But it is even more complicated than that, because the girl he really likes, Nada Naga, who can turn into a snake, is not the child of eight he thought, but a young woman of fourteen. What a disaster! That's the same age as his big sister Ivy. The other girl, Electra, is your age, twelve; she was put to sleep for most of a thousand years when she took a bite of the wrong apple, until Prince Dolph woke her, and now she will die if she doesn't marry him. What is he to do? I think you will like Electra, and understand her problem.

Well, the next novel, Man From Mundania, which will be published this OctOgre, doesn't answer that question, because it's about Ivy when she is seventeen, and shows how she shocks everybody by wanting to marry a man from—no, it's too horrible, so I won't say more about that. Oh, he's a nice young man, but I mean who in her right mind would get serious about a Mundanian? But the novel after that, Xanth #13, will be Isle of View, and in that one Prince Dolph will come of age and have to make his choice. Nada is the one he likes, despite her age, but he doesn't want Electra to die. So the two girls, who are now young women, try to settle it on their own by going on a quest. Maybe something will happen to one of them, and then Dolph can marry the other. But they are both nice girls, and they like each other, so they really don't want anything bad to happen. They encounter Che, a little winged centaur who is lost, and try to help him find his mother, who is Chex Centaur, whom you may remember. I'm sure there will be many adventures, but I don't know what they are because I haven't written that novel yet. I should be working on it in a couple of months, though.

Now here is where you come in. I realize that this is a long letter, and you probably fell asleep after the first paragraph, but now you have to wake up, because I'm going to put you in that story. Well, not you exactly, but your name. I'll have a girl your age named Jenny. She probably won't look anything like you, and she may not be human; she may be an elf girl. Do you read ELFQUEST? Then you know about elves. Someone like that, maybe. I'll find out when I get there. I suppose she could be an ogre girl—oh, all right, not that, if you feel that way. Anyway, if you would like to have some say in the matter, tell your mother, and she will write to me. But don't worry, she'll be a nice girl. Maybe some day you will get to read about her, and you'll tell everyone "She's named after me!" and no one will believe you. Then you can turn to the Author's Note at the end, where it will tell who Jenny is named after, and show them, and then they'll say "Who cares?" which will mean they are secretly jealous.

All right, now you can sleep, after you pet the Monster Under the Bed. I'll bet you didn't know he got lonely, and moved under your hospital bed. No, don't ask the nurses; they're grown up, and can't see him. If they did see him, they'd probably just give him a loathsome shot in the rump. He wouldn't like that. Maybe Mare Imbri will bring you a sweet dream, and you'll have a harpy night.

But puns aside, my best to you, honey. Get well soon. Here's a Harpy Holiday card for you, a bit out of season, but you know how harpies are.

Dear Mr. Anthony,

Thank you so very much!!! We received your card and letter to Jennifer on March 2nd, though today was the first time since its arrival that we've had the opportunity to travel the 53 miles to go see her (a blizzard, then freezing rain, icy roads and all that sort of wretchedness), so it wasn't until this afternoon that we read to her your words. I wish I could give you news of a miraculous spontaneous recovery; however, I CAN give a report of the next best thing: your letter brought a great widening of her eyes and a smile to her lips (a first since the accident), and when asked how she'd like to be represented in your story it was VERY clear that she greatly preferred an Elven persona to all others. The "Harpy Holidays" card is very beautiful, and I believe that Jennifer was able to at least partially perceive it when we held it up in front of her eyes. We hung it in a prominent position on the wall of her hospital room where she would be able to readily view it whenever she should so desire.

You appear to have a great deal of insight, and on many levels, Mr. Anthony. Yes, Jenny does very much like ELFQUEST, and has worn those books dog-eared from all the reading and rereading of them. And, I also thought that it was clever of you to include the portion reading, in part: "... if you would like to have some say in the matter, tell your mother, and she will write to me ..." It gives her a bit of incentive to try to communicate more, as well as imbuing her with a sense of having a bit of control over her own circumstances.

We've made "flash cards" for her with the words "YES" and "NO" printed on them in LARGE letters, and she differentiated between the two today (another first!). When she gets worked up and excited she begins to perspire and to shake with what appears to be a form of sensory overload, whereupon she becomes totally confused, and we have to give her a breather to let her get a grip on the situation and to be able to make the connection between what we're asking her to do and how to respond. She did respond consistently (four times in a row) to the questions, "Would you like to be an Elf in Mr. Anthony's book?" (she glanced to the "YES" card) and "Would you rather be something other than an Elf in Mr. Anthony's book?" (she glanced toward the "NO" card). After doing that four times she started to shake and perspire, so I told her that it was time for her to take a little break, and that I was going to the cafeteria to grab a cup of tea while she recovered somewhat, and would be back shortly.

The rest of the afternoon spent with Jenny was a pure delight. She wriggled her right big toe for us so much that I thought it was going to fly right off her little foot, and as I'd mentioned earlier, she did several things today that she's never done before, one of the most impressive being that she actually squeezed my fingers, and then let go on request. This she did four times before I called her daddy in to see it, then she did again while he watched, whereupon we called for the nurse to witness this minor miracle, and she not only squeezed my fingers in front of the nurse, and let go on request, but she squeezed the nurse's fingers, too. The nurse was singularly impressed with Jenny's "showing off"! She was one happy and responsive little pumpkin today, and I firmly believe that your letter had a great deal to do with it. I certainly hope and pray that her progress continues in this vein, and I've left a request for the nurses to read your letter to her periodically, and to question her on her preferences whenever they think it would benefit her mood or willingness to work on coming up out of the fog.

You told Jennifer a few things about yourself, so I'd like to tell you a few things about Jenny. Though academically a bit on the stubborn side, she is extremely talented in the area of art. She is rather accomplished for a child of twelve, and her drawings are alive with movement and wordless poetry of the kind rarely found in what passes nowadays for art. She attended a school for gifted and talented children, and while her math grades left quite a bit to be desired, her reading and her art classes were A + work. My daughter's art teacher told me candidly that Jenny was by far one of the most creative art students she'd ever had the occasion to teach, and strongly recommended that should she express the desire to do so, we allow her to attend art classes in addition to the ones at school.


Excerpted from Letters to Jenny by Piers Anthony, Alan Riggs. Copyright © 1993 Piers Anthony Jacob. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Piers Anthony is one of the world’s most popular fantasy writers, and a New York Times–bestselling author twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans. In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other bestselling works. He lives in Inverness, Florida.

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Letters to Jenny 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Skylinesend More than 1 year ago
A little boring. This book is a collection of one side of a years worth of correspondence between the author and a girl that was struck by a drunk driver while walking. Reading this reminded me why I don't like Piers Anthony as a person. While I have never met him, he comes across as pompous and arrogant.