With news that a group of brave souls are going to attempt to adapt it into a TV series, the world was forcibly reminded last week that Piers Anthony is still cranking out Xanth books (number 41 was just released).
Just about everyone who has ever been a fantasy fan has an opinion on the series. (Many of these opinions will center on Anthony’s extravagant use of puns.) But one fact is inarguable: the realm of Xanth has perhaps the greatest logline in all of fantasy—every citizen of that imagined realm has exactly one magical talent. Talents never repeat, although some very similar ones exist, and they vary tremendously in power—and usefulness. If the talent is powerful and useful enough, you’re classed as a magician or sorceress, and are thus are eligible to rule as monarch. But given his love of puns and the constant need to generate new characters (and thus new talents), it’s not surprising Anthony has given a few of his creations some seriously useless talents. Here are 10 of the absolute worst.
Bink (The Source of Magic)
Talent: Magical Invulnerability
Yes, Bink is a Magician-class talent, and on paper, “magical invulnerability” sounds pretty good. But there are two reasons this talent stinks: one, it’s a passive talent Bink doesn’t control; the ability is almost sentient and works in mysterious, often baffling ways—and sometimes not in Bink’s best interests. And two, once his talent is known, it can be circumvented, rendering it useless.
Chameleon (A Spell for Chameleon)
Again, on paper “shapeshifting” sounds cool, but Chameleon also lacks control over her talent as she shifts from an ugly-but-smart version of herself to a beautiful-but-dumb version and back again over the course of a lunar cycle. This not only confuses everyone who meets her and plays havoc with her relationships, it’s more or less a dozen or so infuriatingly sexist beliefs wrapped into one.
Checkers (Faun and Games)
Talent: Good at Board Games
You read that correctly. A centaur is named Checkers because he is good at board games. and this qualifies as a magical talent, and we just ran out of italics.
Amanda and Adnama (Yon Ill Wind)
Talent: Changing Hair Color
These twin sisters share complementary, relatively useless talents: one can change her own hair color, the other can change other people’s hair color. You know who else can do that? Her name is Clairol.
Crater (Jumper Cable)
Talent: Misplaces the “Rs” in Words
This is not a joke. He named his business the Bra and Girll, and now we are dead inside.
Hazel (Pet Peeve)
Talent: Can Change Her Eye Color
Again, a weirdly useless talent. One can argue Anthony needs these “spot on the wall” talents to emphasize the truly cool ones, but it does make us wonder if evolution doesn’t operate in Xanth, slowly grinding out the most useless talents.
Millie (Castle Roogna)
Talent: Sex Appeal
To be fair, we can see the potential of magical sex appeal, as well as the opportunity to use it for the purposes of dark drama. Instead, Millie winds up representing much of what’s downright weird about Anthony’s depictions of women, sexuality, and sex in these novels—novels ostensibly aimed at younger readers.
Petting Sue (Air Apparent)
Talent: Attracts Cute Animals for Petting
Again, not kidding. What’s really kind of amazing is that Anthony often has characters simply say something like (this is an actual line from the book): “I’m Petting Sue. My talent is to attract young animals who like to be petted.” Well, that says it all, I guess.
Punny (Swell Foop)
Talent: Makes Puns
MAKES PUNS. This is either Anthony’s greatest triumph—inserting a pun-making character into a book series built almost entirely on puns—or a genius-level metafiction. We suspect the latter, as Punny is widely disliked by everyone around her because of her propensity for puns.
Sofia Socksorter (Cube Route)
Talent: Sorts Socks
Well, to be fair, she describes her talent a bit more broadly: “I have a certain way with socks.” A certain way, you see. It doesn’t matter. Any magical talent that has to do with socks, of all things, is a terrible, terrible magical talent. But, er, if she wants to come sort my socks, I won’t complain. (Please sort my socks.)
What’s your least-favorite Xanth talent?