Lessons From the Awful Writing of A Spell for Chameleon

I don't know what's happening here, but it looks way more interesting than anything I read.

Stories are told in the halls of Mythcreants of the day Chris did battle with Eragon’s first chapter and emerged bloody* but victorious. It has been a difficult search, but I have found a nemesis of near equal awfulness, so that I may also be lauded a hero of the literary battleground. That’s right, it’s time to look at chapter one of A Spell for Chameleon, the first book of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Xanth is a sprawling behemoth of 39 novels, with more still on the way.

Join me as I delve deep into the pit that is A Spell for Chameleon’s first chapter, and in so doing discover important lessons for writers everywhere.

Start Your Book With Something That Matters

A small lizard perched on a brown stone. Feeling threatened by the approach of human beings along the path, it metamorphosed into a stingray beetle, then into a stench-puffer, then into a fiery salamander.

Bink smiled. These conversions weren’t real. It had assumed the forms of obnoxious little monsters, but not their essence. It could not sting, stink, or burn. It was a chameleon, using its magic to mimic creatures of genuine threat.

Yet as it shifted into the form of a basilisk it glared at him with such ferocity that Bink’s mirth abated. If its malice could strike him, he would be horribly dead.

Sooo, we start with three paragraphs about a lizard sitting on a rock. This lizard gets introduced even before Bink, the protagonist. And yet, the lizard doesn’t do anything. It’s kind of neat that this lizard can make itself look like other animals, but it isn’t using that power to accomplish anything.*

I’ve seen lots of authors make the mistake of starting with exposition or worldbuilding rather than immediate conflict, but usually it’s in the name of establishing some vital element. This lizard doesn’t even tell us much about the world. I guess Anthony just really liked the symmetry of starting his story with a chameleon.

That’s all well and good, but if your title reference only sits on a rock, then it’s worthless. In order for the lizard to be effective, it needed to be tied into plot somehow, preferably through conflict. If Bink had been hunting the lizard, thereby searching for an animal that can look like anything, Anthony could have had his symbolism and forwarded the plot at the same time. Instead we have three wasted paragraphs.

Don’t Make Your Protagonist Sound High

[The lizard gets eaten by a hawk. So much for that.]

This realization continued to percolate through Bink’s emotion. The chameleon was harmless—but most of untamed Xanth was not. Was this some twisted omen, a small suggestion of a dire fate awaiting him? Omens were serious business; they always came true, but usually were misinterpreted until too late. Was Bink fated to die brutally—or was some enemy of his?

The first few pages of a story need to anchor us in something we can understand. This is especially true in weird fantasy settings, where everything is strange and magical. A main character with understandable motivations is a great way to ground the reader and keep them from getting lost. Instead, Bink’s POV is a mess.

First, realization is “percolating” through Bink’s emotion. People realize things via conscious thought, not emotions. Then Bink engages in some circular logic, thinking that omens can be interpreted to mean whatever ended up happening. This nonsensical contemplation sounds like something you’d say after a hit from a joint, followed by a long “maaaaaaaan.”

At best, these are the thoughts of someone wandering aimlessly through the forest, a boring way to start a story. As it turns out, that’s not even true. We’re about to learn that he came out here with a very specific purpose.

Don’t Be a Sexist Creep

[Some description about how all the plants and animals have low-level magic abilities.]

Bink looked at the girl beside him as she stepped through a slanting sunbeam. He was no plant, but he too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of her made him aware of this. Sabrina was absolutely beautiful—and her beauty was completely natural. Other girls managed to enhance their appearance by cosmetics or padding or specialized spells, but beside Sabrina all other females looked somewhat artificial. She was no enemy!

The opening description of Sabrina as a “girl” made me think she was a young child, and then all the lustful description was super creepy. Thankfully, we learn later that both Sabrina and Bink are nearly 25, but there’s no way to tell that from this paragraph. In this case, simply describing Sabrina as a “young woman” would have fixed the problem. 

Of course, almost every line about Sabrina is still sexist even when applied to an adult. First of all, sex is a want, not a need.* Describing Bink’s “needs” here makes it sound like Sabrina is obligated to provide him with sex. Next, we have a standard obsession with “natural beauty,” and some nice shaming of all those other girls who have to use “cosmetics” or “padding” to look good. Fools, why didn’t they choose to be born beautiful?* And then we’re told Sabrina makes other girls look “artificial.” Does that mean they all look like robots? That’s what I’m going with.

Beyond the sexism, Bink’s POV is even more unhinged. Anthony spent almost an entire page describing animals, plants, and Bink’s inner thoughts before mentioning Sabrina. This violates the rule of establishing the most important elements first and makes it seem like Bink didn’t know she was there. Then he describes her appearance like it’s new and amazing to him, even though we’ll soon find out they’ve known each other a long time. Anthony tries to cover this with “even the most casual inspection,” but there’s no reason for Bink to inspect her.

Then there’s the line declaring Sabrina is no enemy, which is meant to relate back to the omens Bink was thinking about. It fails for three reasons. One, Anthony put a paragraph of plant description between them, which weakens the connection. Two, all the description of Sabrina’s attractiveness makes it sound like Bink thinks someone so hot could never be evil. Three, we’re about to find out that Bink knows Sabrina well, so he had no reason to think she was an enemy in the first place.

I haven’t yet figured out what Bink is on, but I think I want some. 

Avoid an Exposition Overdose

They came to Lookout Rock. This was not a particularly lofty promontory, but its situational magic made it seem more elevated than it was, so that they could look down on a quarter slice of Xanth. This was a land of multicolored vegetation, small pretty lakes, and deceptively quiet fields of flowers, ferns, and crops. Even as Bink watched, one of the lakes expanded slightly, making itself seem cooler and deeper, a better place for a swim.

[This goes on for six more paragraphs, with long descriptions of trees and lakes, Bink considering Xanth’s animal life, and no mention of Sabrina at all.]

We’re supposed to believe that Bink is up at this romantic spot with a woman he’s obviously obsessed over, and his thoughts are focused on the local terrain? Nuh uh, I don’t buy it, even if Sabrina wasn’t so hot that she made other women into robots.

This page of description is meant to establish how absolutely everything in Xanth is overflowing with magic, from the plants and animals down to the bodies of water.* This is important for us to know, since it’ll feature heavily in this book and others. But if Anthony wanted readers to absorb the information, he needed to introduce it in an interesting way, not a full-page exposition dump.

For example, what if Bink and Sabrina are lost, and they wander past that lake that’s making itself look more appealing? The lake lures them in with predatory intent, and we get to see how magical the wilds are while at the same time getting excited over whether the main characters will get eaten.

Don’t Imply Your Protagonist Is a Centaur (Unless They’re a Centaur)

In the midst of all this description, one bit really stands out.

…As a child he [Bink] had driven parents and friends almost to distraction with his “Why is the sun yellow?” “Why do ogres crunch bones?” “Why can’t sea monsters cast spells?” and similarly infantile prattle. No wonder he had soon been hustled away to centaur school…

Oh my god is Bink a centaur? I really want him to be a centaur. And it could be true, too. At this point we know nothing about what Bink looks like, and this is a wacky fantasy setting where anything can happen. We only have one line about a lizard being afraid of humans to imply Bink’s species, and that lizard could have been scared of Sabrina. Plus, Bink being a centaur might explain his bizarre thought patterns. Who knows how centaurs think?

I’m calling it: Bink is a centaur.

Okay, so I checked the wiki and Bink is not a centaur. It’s too bad, because if he were a centaur, this would be a good way to let us know. Since characters aren’t likely to go around casually thinking about what species they are, a clever writer might instead drop a reference to the protagonist’s school for centaurs. Instead, Anthony probably means a school taught by centaurs. In a fantasy setting, it’s perfectly reasonable for the reader to wonder what species the protagonist is; you can’t count on them assuming human.  

Get to the Damned Point

Anthony’s description of the magical wilderness goes on for an entire page, where we learn all about the fantastic world of Xanth in the driest way possible, before something interesting finally happens. Sabrina speaks!

“What did you wish to talk to me about, Bink?” Sabrina inquired demurely.

As if she didn’t know. But as his mind formed the necessary words, his mouth balked. He knew what her answer had to be. No one could remain in Xanth after his twenty-fifth birthday unless he demonstrated a magic talent. Bink’s own critical birthday was barely a month away. He was no child now. How could she marry a man who was so soon to be exiled?

Why hadn’t he thought of that before bringing her out here? He could only embarrass himself! Now he had to say something to her, or suffer further embarrassment, making it awkward for her as well. “I just wanted to see your—your—”

“See my what?” she inquired with an arch lift of eyebrow.

He felt the heat starting up his neck. “Your holograph,” he blurted. There was much more of her he longed to see, and to touch, but that could come only after marriage. She was that sort of girl, and it was part of her appeal. The girls who had it didn’t need to put it on casual display.

Well, not quite true. He thought of Aurora, who certainly had it, yet who—

Hey, we’re finally getting somewhere. Bink is about to be exiled because he doesn’t have a magical talent,* and he’s brought the love of his life to a secluded part of the forest so he can propose to her before it’s too late. But now he’s overcome with internalized shame over his perceived inadequacies.

By golly, I think we’ve finally found the plot. Too bad about those wasted pages that came before, but I suppose we can’t have everything. This bit has conflict, tension, and worldbuilding that’s actually important because it tells us about the magical talents everyone but Bink has. We’ll need to know that later. In fact, two lovebirds about to be forced apart by unfair cultural rules is a great premise for a story.

But then it gets marred by a steaming load of misogynistic language. It wasn’t enough to shame all the “other girls” for using cosmetics, now Bink is going to shame them for being sluts, too. Not like Sabrina, who’s of course pure and innocent. Because heaven forbid women have sex before they meet their true love/obsessive protagonist. 

Even the wording is bad. How exactly do those other girls flaunt something they don’t have? And while we’re on the subject, “holograph” is a terrible name for a fantasy power. Sounds too much like something out of Star Trek.*

Understand What Your Protagonist Is Thinking

“Bink, there is a way,” Sabrina said.

He glanced sidelong at her, then quickly away, confused. She couldn’t be suggesting—

“The Good Magician Humfrey,” she continued blithely.

“What?” He had been on quite a different track, no credit to his willful mind.

“Humfrey knows a hundred spells. Maybe one of them—I’m sure he could find out what your talent is. Then everything would be all right.”

Oh. “But he charges a year’s service for a single spell,” Bink protested. “I have only a month.”

First, I’m calling poor form on “protested.” Most of the time you shouldn’t use fancy dialogue tags unless they really add something. “Said” and the occasional “asked” will usually do the trick nicely. In this case, it’s actually obvious from Bink’s words that he’s protesting. The fancy dialogue tag adds nothing.

In this section, we continue the theme of Bink’s internal thought process being all over the place. First, he was so uninterested in Sabrina he seemed to forget she was there. Then she was so hot he knew she could never be his enemy. Then he spent several paragraphs thinking about anything but her. Now he thinks having sex will somehow solve his exile problem. At least, that’s how I’m interpreting that sudden line cut off.

The result is a point of view that feels disconnected from reality, which is why I won’t stop joking that Bink sounds like he’s high. To avoid this confusion, Anthony should have weaved Bink’s feelings for Sabrina together with the setting description. This would have been easy if, say, the magical wilderness somehow put Sabrina in danger.

But hey, at least we have a direction for the plot now and a potential cost. Hopefully, they’ll soon be off to this Humfrey fellow, and we can get on with things.

Understand How the Human Body Works

[Bink and Sabrina discuss going to see Humfrey for a couple paragraphs.]

Bink stared down at his hands, pondering. His right hand was normal, but he had lost the middle finger of his left hand in a childhood accident. It had not even been the result of inimical magic; he had been playing with a cleaver, holding down a stalk of coilgrass while he chopped, pretending it was the tail of a dragon. After all, a boy could not start to practice too early for the serious side of life. The grass had twitched out of his grip as he swung, and he had grabbed for it, and the cleaver had come down hard on his extended finger.

Hang on, what the hell happened? Picture the above scenario in your mind. Bink loses his grip on the coilgrass and reaches out for it. How on Earth* could he have reached out in such a way that exposed his middle finger and only his middle finger to the cleaver? Unless he tried to grab the coilgrass by flipping it off, there’s no way the injury could have happened the way Bink describes it.

Unlike all the talk about trees and rocks, this bit of exposition actually matters to Bink’s character, or at least it should. But instead of absorbing how this trauma shaped him, I’m stuck trying to figure out the physics of how it happened and coming up blank.

It’s starting to feel like A Spell for Chameleon was written by an alien who’d only ever heard of humans by description. Hey, ET, do your research next time!

No Seriously, Don’t Be a Sexist Creep

[Bink thinks about how his finger couldn’t be reattached. Then debates going to see Humphrey some more, and then we see Sabrina’s “holograph,” a magical talent for shaping colored smoke into temporary sculptures, in this case a blue-dressed girl. This power is described as useless. Finally, Bink seems to commit to going to see Humphrey.]

“Oh!” Sabrina exclaimed, clapping her hands to her pert derriere. The holograph dissolved, the blue-dressed girl distorting grotesquely before she vanished. “I’m on fire!”

Bink stepped toward her, alarmed. But even as he moved, there was loud juvenile laughter. Sabrina whirled furiously. “Numbo, you stop that!” she cried. She was one of those girls who was as appealing in anger as in joy. “It’s not funny.”

It was, of course, Numbo who had given her a magical hotseat, a fiery pain in the posterior. Talk about a useless talent! Bink, his fists clenched so tightly that his thumb jammed into the stub of his missing finger, strode toward the grinning youth standing behind Lookout Rock. Numbo was fifteen, cocky and annoying; he needed a lesson.

Numbo is using his powers to essentially grope Sabrina. That’s sexual assault, and it’s treated like a joke. Anthony goes out of his way to describe how Sabrina is hot even when being attacked, first by his description of her butt and then by just saying she’s still pretty while angry. She also whirls around furiously and shouts that it’s “not funny,” which is the way she might react if Numbo had dropped some rotten eggs on her head.

And Bink isn’t even a little worried about her. He doesn’t check to see if she’s okay or even think about it. Sure, he’s angry at Numbo, but angry in a “you messed with something that’s mine” way. Bink is angry because his day was disrupted, the same way he’d be angry if someone gave his car a flat tire.

All together now: women are people and should be written as such. Don’t write protagonists who treat women like objects unless you’re really interested in challenging those harmful beliefs. Sexual assault isn’t funny, and it doesn’t somehow become funny because you add magic. Don’t use sexual assault to power your comedy routine. This scene is just gross, and it would be poison even if the rest of the chapter were good.

Don’t Introduce Your Magic Like a Grocery List

But Bink’s foot struck a loose rock, which turned his ankle long enough to cost him his balance. It didn’t hurt, but it interrupted his forward progress. His hand swung forward—and his fingers touched an invisible wall. There was another shout of laughter. Bink hadn’t crashed headlong into the wall, thanks to the providential stone under his foot, but evidently someone thought he had.

“You too, Chilk,” Sabrina said. That was Chilk’s talent: the wall. It was a kind of compliment to Sabrina’s talent; instead of being visible without substance, it had substance without visibility. It was only six feet square; and, like so many talents, it was strictly temporary—but it was hard as steel in the first few moments.

This invisible wall is the third magic power we’ve been introduced to. Before this, Sabrina’s power was dismissed as useless, and we’ve already covered why Numbo’s introduction is awful. It feels like Anthony is listing off powers that he wrote down ahead of time: “Okay, I gotta find time for an invisible wall in here somewhere.” 

We’re stuck with this dull parade of abilities because the first chapter lacks meaningful conflict. Sabrina first shows off her power while standing undisturbed in the woods. Even when magical, molesting teens attack, the action is watered down by description reassuring us that Sabrina is still hot.

And when there’s finally a bit of action, it’s interrupted by an awkward description of a stone. Why doesn’t Bink slam headlong into that invisible wall?* That would have made quite the impression. Sabrina’s power of shaped smoke could have been introduced when she used it to blind the creeper who was trying to set her on fire. Something like this…


Bink’s lowered shoulder slammed into an invisible barrier and he bounced back, the momentum of his charge transformed into sharp pain. The transparent wall’s creator howled with laughter somewhere in the trees. Sabrina’s melodious voice rang out, shaping brightly colored smoke into a thick shroud around them. The distraction bought Bink just enough time to roll aside as a wave of orange flames scythed into the spot where he’d fallen.

Don’t Make the Village Kids Sound Like Monsters

[Bink chases the “pranksters” around for a while and feels impotent for having no magic, but eventually Sabrina insists they go home. For some reason Bink reconsiders going to see Humphrey. More description of magic trees. And then a long paragraph of history about an evil warlock who turned a dude named Justin into a magic tree.

Justin the Tree’s special power is to talk without a mouth, and he apparently gives good advice, so Bink and Sabrina decided to go ask him about what Bink should do, perhaps to give Bink yet another chance to change his mind. When they reach Justin, this happens.]

But the voice of the tree came again, a bit misplaced in relation to Bink and Sabrina—evidence of poor concentration. “Friends, please fetch the King quickly. These ruffians have an axe or something, and they’ve been eating locoberries.”

“An axe!” Sabrina exclaimed in sheer horror.

“The King is out of town,” Bink muttered. “Anyway, he’s senile.”

And he hasn’t summoned more than a summer shower in years,” Sabrina agreed. “Kids didn’t dare make so much mischief when he had his full magic.”

“We certainly didn’t,” Bink said. “Remember the hurricane flanked by six tornadoes he summoned to put down the last wiggle spawning? He was a real Storm King then. He—”

There was the ringing sound of metal biting into wood. A scream of sheer agony erupted from the air. Bink and Sabrina jumped.

What the hell is happening in this town? It seems there’s a berry around that teenagers eat on purpose and it turns them into homicidal murderers that only a hurricane-summoning king can control. Seriously, Bink and Sabrina’s first instinct upon encountering these “ruffians” is to go for the king, though apparently he’s useless now. Do parents not take any interest in what their kids are doing? What kind of nightmare dystopia is this town?

So I know from reading ahead that Bink’s village is not meant to be a dystopian nightmare. Plus the way he and Sabrina stop to consider what things were like when they were teenagers* suggests they don’t think this is a big deal, even though in the previous line Sabrina reacted with “sheer horror.” The impression of terribly dangerous teenaged murderers isn’t done on purpose; it’s just that Anthony is way too casual with his descriptions of violence.

From the first page, this chapter has a very choppy feel. First we started with no conflict whatsoever; in fact, nothing was happening at all. Then suddenly we jump to the village kids committing sexual assault and then threatening murder on the local sentient tree. That’s some narrative whiplash right there. Don’t worry, it’s about to get worse.

[Bink charges over to stop the crazy tree murderers, but they’ve already fled. He finds out from Justin that they were a group of teens named Jama, Zink, and Potipher. Jama summons swords, Zink does something with illusions, and Potipher creates deadly poison gas. Bink’s had a run-in with them before, where they nearly killed him with their magic. Bink recalls his reaction to that incident.]

He had blamed Jama and Zink and Potipher. Bink had no magic, but, perhaps for that reason, he was the huskiest boy in the village. He had had to fight as long as he could remember. He was not especially well coordinated, but he had a lot of raw power. He had gone after Jama privately and demonstrated convincingly that the fist was swifter than the magic sword. Then Zink, and finally Potipher; Bink had hurled him into his own gas cloud, forcing him to dissolve it very suddenly. Those three had not sniggered at Bink thereafter; in fact, they tended to avoid him…

Without meaning to, Anthony has painted the picture of a town beset by hordes of murderous teenagers. From this description and what we’ve already seen, I’m assuming there’s a high body count. What else could there be when teens attack with magic swords and poison gas? It sounds like anyone not lucky enough to have strong defensive magic is toast.

I think this is just supposed to read as teenagers giving each other a hard time, but it doesn’t work for a few reasons. First, these kids are pretty damned lethal, and death isn’t very common in teenaged roughhousing. Second, Bink and Sabrina are nearly 25. That big a difference in age would make it unlikely they’d even interact much with the town’s teenagers, let alone be targets of harassment. Third, if Bink has such a reputation as a badass, why is he still a target for bullies? Bullies are usually really good at picking on targets who can’t fight back. 

Instead, this feels like an organized campaign of mayhem. Really, this place sounds so terrible that if I were Bink, I’d be eager for exile.

Don’t Offer Excitement and Then Pull It Back

[Bink goes to find some medicinal “sponge” plants for Justin’s injury. There’s even more boring exposition about the world, but then Bink realizes it’s getting late.]

Dusk was intensifying. Dismal shapes were rising out of the forest, hovering as if seeking prey. Eyeless and formless, they nevertheless conducted themselves with a disquieting awareness, orienting on Bink—or seeming to. More magic was unexplained than was safely catalogued. A will-o’-the-wisp caught Bink’s nervous eye. He started to follow the half-glimpsed light, then abruptly caught himself. The lure of the wisp was sheer mischief. It would lead him into the wilderness and lose him there, prey to the hostile magic of the unknown. One of Bink’s childhood friends had followed the wisp and never returned. Warning enough!

Night transformed Xanth. Regions like this one that were innocent by day became horrors as the sun sneaked down. Specters and shades came out, questing for their ghastly satisfactions, and occasionally a zombie ripped free of its grave and marched clumsily about. No sensible person slept outdoors, and every house in the village had repulsion spells against the supernatural…

Yes, now we’re talking. Bink’s out past dark, and the forest is super dangerous around here at night. There’s specters and shades and zombies, oh my! No doubt we’re about to get an exciting chase through the woods as Bink flees to safety, undead grasping at his heels.

…Bink did not dare use the shortcut back to Justin Tree; he would have to go the long way, following the looping but magically protected trails. This was not timidity but necessity.

Or I guess he could just take a longer route home. No reason to actually use these undead-infested forests the book spent a long paragraph establishing, no sir. I can only imagine this is foreshadowing for later, when Bink actually will be in danger, but why not give that foreshadowing some extra teeth?

Instead, this chapter continues to waffle between no conflict at all and bands of murderous teens. But even the murderous teens don’t provide much conflict. They all flee when Bink goes after them, and their motivations are nonsensical. Why not make use of this haunted forest instead, which could have provided interesting conflict and built up the world at the same time?

Picture this: Bink and Sabrina sneak out into the woods for a good old-fashioned make-out session away from prying eyes. But for Bink, this is something more. He means to propose to Sabrina, and this might be his last chance. But his doubts and self-loathing are too strong and he can’t do it. Then the lovebirds realize they’ve stayed out too late, and they have to either sneak or fight their way back through the haunted forest. At the end, their shared danger makes them even more into each other, but they can’t be together because Bink will be exiled soon. Such drama! 

Or we could keep going with the book as written, I guess. That sure sounds like fun.


The next couple pages are a flashback to a time when teenaged Bink tried to grow a magic nymph that’s somewhere between a slave and a sex doll. It’s unclear how much intelligence the nymphs have, but they will flee if some part of the ritual is performed incorrectly.

I’ve finally hit my limit and will not put any of that text in my article because it’s disgusting. This is apparently a common practice in Xanth, and just describing it makes me sick to my stomach. Fortunately, we learn that Bink never actually got a nymph because his mother freaked out and didn’t want her son to have his very own rape slave.

Any relief we might have felt is swept away when Bink’s father has a “man to man” talk with Bink. In this talk we see Bink’s mother portrayed as overprotective and unreasonable, but they have to do what she says because women, amiright?

Finally, because there is no God, Bink’s father puts Bink off the idea of growing a nymph by telling Bink about this super hot yet “soft spoken”* girl named Sabrina who’s just moved into town. Bink can go hit on her instead!

After reading this section, I feel a little bad for saying the Wheel of Time was sexist. It totally is, but at least Robert Jordan made some modicum of effort to show the women in his world as empowered, even if he wasn’t very good at it. Piers Anthony’s views on women when he wrote this chapter do not bear thinking about.

End Your Chapter With a Hook

A light ahead brought Bink back to the present. Someone was standing by Justin Tree, holding a magic lamp. “It is all right, Bink,” Justin’s voice said in the air beside him. “Sabrina brought help, but it wasn’t needed. Did you get the sponge?”

“I got it,” Bink said.

So his little adventure had been no adventure at all. Just like his life. As Sabrina helped him pack the sponge around Justin’s wound, Bink realized that he had decided. He could not go on this way, a nonentity; he would go to see the Good Magician Humfrey and learn what his own magic talent was.

He glanced up. His eyes caught those of Sabrina, glowing by the light of the lamp. She smiled. She was even more lovely now than she had been when he first met her, so many years ago, when they had both been adolescents, and she had always been true to him. There was no question: Bink’s father had been correct about the advantages—and frustrations—of a real live girl. Now it was up to Bink to do what he had to do—to become a real live man.

This hurts me, but I’ve got to give A Spell for Chameleon a small amount of praise. In a better story, this could have been an effective ending to the first chapter. It’s got Bink and Sabrina together in a moment that affirms their relationship despite the troubles they’ve been through, and more importantly, it ends with a hook. Bink’s overcome the problems in the first chapter, and now he’s off to see Humfrey the Magician. What will happen next? We’ve got to read to find out!

Of course, the rest of the chapter ruins any good that might have come from this ending. For one thing, Bink has gone back and forth about going to see Humfrey three or four times now, so at this point his decision is extremely suspect. Is he really going to see the magician, or will he just change his mind next chapter? And it’s odd that he suddenly feels like his “little adventure” was for nothing. What adventure did he think he was on? He walked on magically protected paths through the woods.

Also, what’s up with that “someone” holding a lamp. Is it Sabrina? Someone from town?* I don’t know. There’s a mystery figure there holding a lamp while Bink and Sabrina work. If the “someone” is meant to be a nameless villager, Anthony should have clarified because now it’s just confusing.

But of course, the real problem with this ending is that interactions between Bink and Sabrina are damaged beyond repair by the book’s misogyny. No scene of them together can be free of that corruption. Even now, he’s thinking about how she’s worth her “frustrations.” What frustrations are those exactly? She’s been nothing but accommodating to him this whole chapter. I guess her having free will is frustrating to him. When Bink decides he’s going to go see Humfrey so he can be with Sabrina, I can only hope he gets lost in a bog somewhere and never bothers her again.

The Chapter Overall

While Chameleon isn’t quite as bad as Eragon in terms of wordcraft mistakes, it’s still really awful, and the unending stream of sexism, which I’m told gets worse, makes it hard to get all the way through. Not even the idea of Bink being a centaur makes rampant misogyny okay.

From a technical perspective, Anthony squanders his first chapter on a meandering train of worldbuilding for a world that seems pretty nonsensical to start with.* It’s a very long first chapter, over 11,000 words, but instead of using that length to build a foundation for what is to come, Anthony drags it out from one boring location to another.

After 11,000 words, about the only thing I could tell you for sure about Bink is that he’s upset because he doesn’t have magic. I think he’s in love with Sabrina, but even that’s hard to tell when he drifts off into long speculations about nearby topography. Based on his actions, I’d have told you he was a young teenager, but he’s supposedly almost 25. I’d also tell you he’s extremely indecisive, but I can’t figure out if that’s an intentional trait or just bad writing.

Most of this chapter is unsalvageable, but there is one element we might be able to get some use out of. Earlier, I outlined what the story might have looked like if it had focused on Bink and Sabrina going through the woods together.* The opening paragraph for that story might have looked something like this:


Bink buried his face in Sabrina’s golden locks and tried to summon the courage to ask the question burning in his mind. But he couldn’t ask her for that kind of commitment, not when he was a man without prospects thanks to his lack of magic and looming exile. Courage deserting him, he lay back on the floor of the clearing and stared at leafy green branches stretching overhead as the sun dropped lower. Nestled in Bink’s arms, Sabrina turned and murmured, “Was there something you wanted to ask me?”

This way we introduce conflict in the first sentence and tie it into the relationship of our main characters. Of course, even that wouldn’t work for A Spell for Chameleon, because if you’ve read ahead then you know Sabrina isn’t even Bink’s real love interest. But still, we can dream.

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  1. Sheikh Jahbooty

    I’ve got to say, I really enjoy these kinds of essays. It’s like a literary version of Mystery Science Theater.

  2. Sibari

    I’m always happy when I see an new article for that series. Although I’m really curious about how it gets worse misogyny wise.

    But something’s bugging me: how is the fire spell thing sexual assault? If a guy got a harmful spell to the crotch for comedy, would you consider that sexual assault too? If the kid had hit Sabrina anywhere else, also for comedy, that would be “normal” assault?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      You’re right that sexual assault is highly sensitive to context. In a real world example, putting your hand on someone’s shoulder and leaving it there probably wouldn’t be considered assault of any kind.

      But doing the same thing except putting your hand on someone’s butt or crotch would clearly be fondling or groping them, which is a kind of sexual assault. It’s not about the amount of force used (although that happens too), it’s about the parts of our body that are culturally considered to be associated with sex.

      In this specific case, it doesn’t seem like Numo’s power actually causes burns, so if used on some unsexual part of the body, say Bink’s hair, it would probably not even be assault and just be a serious annoyance.

      As to the example of men getting hit in the crotch for comedy, that’s a little more of a gray area. In general though, because we don’t have a cultural tradition of men being sexually prayed on by having their junk grabbed by women, it wouldn’t be as big a deal.

      • Asaph Lantz

        Yeah, it it was Bink the guy had burned with his ass slap, it’s not a big deal. Most guys are used to that kind of roughhousing. But a teen guy grabbing an adult woman’s (any female’) ass is not okay unless the woman is okay with it. That’s just being civilized.
        Same as if it was a teen girl doing it to Bink. He might get embarrassed, but let’s be honest, he’d probably secretly like it, right? I mean, I’ve never minded a female of any age grabbing me…however, real men don’t to that stuff to women. They deserve respect for their bodies, which produce children after all.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        I’m glad it sounds like we all agree that women deserve respect, and that consent is theirs to give in regards to their bodies.

        I do want to unequivocally state that it’s important for men and boys to give consent as well. Men are also sexually assaulted, and this is a problem that tends to get skipped over or laughed at.

        • Asaph Lantz

          Yeah there’s a lot of guys, many that grew up without close buddies or no brothers, whatever reason, that don’t like being touched or anything. Some don’t even like hugs or handshakes. A lot of it is body language and having common sense. If a guy, say, isn’t comfortable around other guys to pee or change, he’s probably not the type that will be okay with bumslaps or humpings or any other horseplay.
          I say, you gotta never assume that people are open to stuff. Don’t get offended if a guy doesn’t reciprocate a handshake offered, maybe he’s a germ guy, right?
          For me, I don’t like sharing food. Like, if I have a sandwich and someone just grabs it to take a bite, I get grossed and mad. Usually folks understand stuff, but it’s good to give them a free pass for friendship sake, explain you don’t like it, instead of freaking.
          One thing I find, amoung guys, we can forget this stuff sometimes when there’s like one or two girls and more guys, you can easily get too comfy and start thinking they’re like the guys and you say little jabs or jokes, and they get uncomfortable. They get all distant and if you ask what’s up, they say they didn’t like how so-and-so joked about this-or-that. Like all things, there’s a learning curve. Folks gotta be assertive and call things out, whether you see it or experience it yourself, we gotta communicate more, you know!? Not get all mad or anything, but straight up say, hey, ease up. You might just get a thank you later for it. A lot of girls don’t like speaking up about feeling uncomfortable, they don’t like ruffling feathers. We gotta be looking out for them, and the sensitive guys too. It’s not their fault they are sensitive, I heard one stat that says up to 20% of folks, male and female, are hypersensitive to words, feelings, touch, etc. It’s not a weakness, they are more compassionate too.
          I gotta say, I really enjoy this Mythcreant site. There’s a lot of great stuff on here. Cheers from the hinterland!

  3. Bryony

    This really put the book I just read into perspective. I got pissed off at it because it kept having characters say things and then basically explaining that they just said it. (Eg, a character said they were 10 years older than another character. The next line says they were trying to emphasise that they were older. Yeah, thanks, I got that.)

    Suggestion for the different twist they should have had – he really was a centaur all along. However, he was unaware of the fact. Even after attending centaur school. All those mind-wandering drugs he takes removed his self-awareness so he didn’t notice. The book would be the story of him trying to understand why that clip clop noise keeps following him about the house.

    “Clip clop. Clip clop. It came from behind him. Maybe it was Sabrina wearing stilettos. Bink turned round; there it went again. Clip clop. Clip clop. It wasn’t Sabrina. There was no being he could perceive. It was merely the infernal curse that plagued him intensely when standing on hard floors or, to a lesser degree, on grass or mud. In water, it would vanish, only to be replaced by its evil cousin, the splish splosh. Bink whinnied his frustration and stamped the ground. CLIP! CLOP! What had he done to deserve this? Better eat some more mushrooms, that always made his days brighter.”

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Bwahahahaha! Head canon enthusiastically accepted.

    • 3Comrades

      I laughed for a good minute and a half, funniest thing I’ve read in awhile, A++

    • Cay Reet

      I so want to read that story now. I imagine everyone around him wonders why he’s always turning around and looking for something, since they know he’s a centaur, so the clip clop is perfectly normal.

  4. SunlessNick

    I’d suggest another important lesson is don’t name your protagonist Bink.

    It had not even been the result of inimical magic; he had been playing with a cleaver, holding down a stalk of coilgrass while he chopped, pretending it was the tail of a dragon.

    Do people normally hold down the tails of dragons and try to chop them off? It seems like an immensely dangerous practice, for little gain.

    Even when magical, molesting teens attack, the action is watered down by description reassuring us that Sabrina is still hot.

    Which is still described as if it’s a special quality of hers – like the makeup/robotics – like other women are a real turn off when they react poorly to being groped. Or set on fire.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      The copy of the book I have misspelled it as “Blink” at least once, so I’d say that is a valuable lesson.

  5. Hunter-Wolf

    Well, that’s an interesting analysis, i can see the flaws and problems here in Chameleon, from the lizard that’s changing it’s shape too many times it actually is attracting attention to itself rather than intimidating whoever it thinks is a danger to it (in our case Bink), but ironically it seems our dear lizard is as indecisive as our hero Bink himself.

    As much as i agree with most of the criticisms here, i think plenty of the sexism accusations you throw at the first chapter are a bit exaggerated (not that there aren’t any signs of sexism but only few can’t be excused), let me elaborate.

    You said sex is a want, not a need … hmmm .. no, just no, if sex was just a want humanity would have gone extinct a lot time ago, biological evolution alone works on the basis of each living being needing to propagate itself and whatever traits help them survive and achieve that at a much better rate or efficiency is what gets passed on, that’s not mentioning the psychological and biological reasons that indicate that sex is indeed an instinctive need that’s deeply encoded into our DNA not a luxury.

    Which takes us to the next point, you said that describing Bink’s “needs” here makes it sound like Sabrina is obligated to provide him with sex, but i see nothing indicating that at all, and while sex is indeed a need that doesn’t mean in any way shape or form that one side is obligated to give sex to the other without consent (the same way the bakery at the end of the street isn’t obligated to give you food if you can’t pay for it, that would be stealing if you do it without their consent), but since sex is such an impulsive need people came up with prostitution, for any man or woman who can’t get their needs elsewhere.

    Next, we have a standard obsession with “natural beauty” , hmmm .. i see nothing wrong here, you seem the one to be shaming Bink for liking a woman who keeps her appearance natural, a lot of men and women like people who don’t use cosmetics or change their natural appearance in any way and that is perfectly fine.

    Then we have the part where you mention the writer or Bink is shaming of all those other girls who have to use “cosmetics” or “padding” or “magic” to look good, he obviously isn’t shaming them because they weren’t born beautiful like you assumed, he -like many people- doesn’t like it when some people fake their appearance in front of other people just to look pretty and attractive, this is a form of lying, it’s vain and involves obvious deceit, i can understand in cases of people how have medical conditions or a deformity but not for the sake of beautifying or tricking other people (which is obviously the intent here, specially the glamour magic which can completely change your appearance).

    A modern day example of how much people like natural beauty would be Iskra Lawrance, a model who got fired from a modeling company because they thought her hips where too big and wanted to photoshop her images, now she is working for Aerie, an apparel, lingerie and swimsuit swimsuits company that refuses to photoshop any of the models who showcase their products, so all the models including Iskra have varying body types, have all the sorts of blemishes you would find on a real person yet Aerie’s campaigns were a huge success, the idea that all the models show their real bodies without them being edited or modified by photoshop to look unnaturally beautiful resonated so well with plenty of people specially those who experienced body shaming before, Which resulted in the company’s popularity exploding during the past two years,

    What i’m trying to say is that using magic to change your appearance and look beautiful in the story here doesn’t sound that different from altering your body using photoshop to make it unnaturally look beautiful and fit with some crazy nonsensical beauty standard both which involved a level of deceit and dishonesty, and don’t think i have anything against people who use makeup, not at all, makeup can be used to enhance your features without changing them, and it can be used to make you look like a completely different person, which again seems to be the case here in the story since it was equated with using padding and magic.

    Also about the part where Numbo used that heat spell (it’s obviously not fire or things would have been much more messy), the writer didn’t indicate either Sabrina or Bink found it funny in any way, so i’m not sure where you got the impression that the writer wanted us to think it’s funny or is trying to convince us it is, Sabrina explicitly screams that it isn’t funny and shouts at Numbo asking him to stop it and Bink clearly finds Numbo annoying and cocky (which he obviously is), what more challenge of this kind of attitude do you need, and of course Numbo the cocky annoying bully must find it funny, because he is a bully whom you really can’t expect to care about how other people feel or what they want, and again i don’t see any reason to assume that Bink is treating Sabriana as an object of his which got assaulted by someone else, he seemed genuinely worried about her when she screamed and went to check on her before seeing Numbo, it feels you are reading too much between the lines.

    As for the part about him wanting to create some magic creature to have sex with, well .. yeah .. that’s just creepy, that and some of the descriptions of Sabrina also do feel a little bit outdated.

    • Cay Reet

      First of all, sex is indeed a “want” and not a “need.” If it were a “need,” people would die if they didn’t get any. In modern times, we might be less aware of the difference, because our physical needs (food, shelter, sleep) are usually taken care of (at least in the first world countries). Fact is, the first thing a woman’s body shuts off in times of need (like famine) is sexual reproduction. If you don’t eat enough or your body isn’t healthy, you aren’t physically capable of reproduction, because your menstrual cylce will be stopped. Not to mention that you will be in no mood for sex, either. That is a clear sign for the fact that sex is a “want” and not a “need.” You will never stop eating and a mentally sane person will not stop sleeping and you will never prefer sleeping outside in cold weather when you have an indoors to be at, because having shelter and food and sleeping are “needs.” Sex is a strong “want,” but like entertainment, not a “need” we can’t live without.

      As far as natural beauty is concerned … this is not about the question whether a woman can’t look naturally beautiful. It’s about the unhealthy and questionable idea that a ‘good’ woman or a ‘real’ woman or a ‘worthy’ woman doesn’t need any help to look beautiful … which puts every woman who uses help like cosmetics (or in a magically inclined world cosmetic spells of a sort) to look more beautiful by regular standards in a negative light. As a such, the whole ‘naturally beautiful’ concept is sexist and only serves to put pressure on women who don’t wake up looking perfect (read: next to all women). In this chapter, Sabrina is set apart as the ‘perfect’ woman, because she’s naturally beautiful and doesn’t need any cosmetics like those other ‘unworthy’ women Bink knows. He, like many protagonists in YA novels, is turned off by women who visibly help their appearance along. That sends the message that as a woman you can basically give up any hope to be considered good, real, or worthy if nature didn’t give you the perfect look for your societies concept of beauty.

      And as the bullying is concerned: why would teenagers go around bullying someone much older than them? Bullies by definition go for the weakest link. If the bullies in this chapter were Bink’s and Sabrina’s age or older, it would be explainable, but since they’re a good deal younger, that’s just not realistic. They would find a much less dangerous victim around their own age or younger. Bink may not be able to do magic and Sabrina can’t do any battle-worthy magic, but if Bink – as a result of not being able to do magic and doing everything the physically hard way – is physically strong and a fully grown adult (centaur), he is a dangerous victim for their bullying … they wouldn’t choose him over someone else. The body of a fifteen-year-old is not fully grown and people who rely on magic usually aren’t physically very strong. One misplaced magic wall, one mis-aimed fireball and Bink would have them by their balls and could beat them up like no tomorrow. There’s no way a bully would risk that, especially not as latter parts of the chapter tell us he has won fights against people with more dangerous magical abilities already. That just doesn’t add up.

      • Hunter-Wolf

        It seems we agree to disagree about sex, but it seems also that we have different definitions for needs and wants, sex can’t be a want or be put with enrertainment because the existance of our entire species surely isn’t dependant on playing video games or writing the next Harry Potter fanfic, sex is need for our species as a whole to exist, propegate and evolve, you can’t just lob it with wants.

        And in case of sex -just like with sleeping and eating- there is a very strong built-in urge pushing us towards performing these activities which we usually supress due to beliefs (fasting and celibacy vows), morals and society (not stealing food or forcing yourself on others for sex), work (crunch hours) or other reasons, shelter doesn’t have that bulit-in biological urge and plenty of people can survive in the wilderness just fine with little to no shelter, also the release that comes with healthy normal sex is essential for the psychological and physiological health of every human, so to put shelter with needs and exclude sex makes no sense to me at all.

        As for natural beauty, not sure where you got the impression i’m implying that beauty has to equal prefection, not at all, the movement to embrace natural beauty and celebrate it is exactly the opposite of that, it’s the photoshop trends and beauty trends that involve cosmetics and padding that are trying to set a ridiculous standards for beauty that everyone should chase after mindlessly -to sell more products- ignoring the natural beauty they have, that can’t be good in any shape way or form, not forgetting the angle of the dishonesty involved in changing your appearance to trick other people (whether it’s with cosmetics or magic), that’s plain lying.

        The models of Aerie i spoke of all have very normal bodies that are far from perfect and use little to no make-up, they also have cellulite, beauty marks (none of which are photoshopped in their Aerie photoshoots) and some of them are quite curvey (something the fashion industry seems to frown at for some reason, seems the fashion bible dictates all models must be thin and skinny), so nobody here who champions natural beauty is asking anyone to wake up looking perfect, these are the ideas the fashion industry (which has countless sexist practices) want you to believe like when they show you a model on a magazine cover with perfectlly photoshopped body, perfect hair and full-makeup in bed as if she just woke up, that’s the image they propegate not the people who appreciate natural beauty, who -like Aerie- are actually empowering and helping people who suffered from body shaming -like Iskra herself- because they didn’t meet the stupid unnatural beauty standards set by the fashion and cosmetics industeries and instead asks them to love their bodies the way they are, you for some reason have it backwards, cause how in the seven earths would something so positive and empowering to women be sexist, i truly don’t see where are you geting that weird idea.

        As for Numbo, on a second thought maybe calling them bullies is the mistake here, maybe we need to look at them as miscreants and trouble makers, those annoying kids who run around spraying older people with water guns and throwing small fireworks at couples in a park .. etc etc.

        Although that would also be a bit weird since 15 seems to be a bit too old for this kind of childish attitude, i suppose having magic powers (specially with so much prank potential) would make 15 years olds act like annoying kids, if that’s the case and these pranks are just childish play aimed to annoy the adults which removes the sexual element completely, but it also makes Bink going over to beat Numbo a bit creepy, since he is no longer sexually harassing Sabrina but rather thinks what he did is funny because he is mentally a child pulling pranks on adults something kids find really funny even if tge adults don’t feel the same way.

        Or it could just be bad writing!

        • Cay Reet

          About sex, again: a need is something your body can’t live without. A want is something which might feel just as strong to you, but isn’t going to kill you, if you don’t get any.
          Sex is necessary for the species to survive, but not for the individual. As pointed out, if a woman is either sick or in a bad shape overall, she won’t propagate. This is logical – a child born by a sick mother or by a starving one will come into a situation which will most likely kill it, too. A pregnant woman who gets very sick or is starved might lose their fetus as a result.
          A need is an individual thing, a thing you need to have to survive as an individual. Everything else is a want. There are people who have no sex drive and never in their lives want to have sex – they’re called asexual. There is a species of ferrets (or something similar) which die, if they don’t have sex during their mating time. For them, sex is a need, not a want.

          There is a difference between natural beauty as a such and the way it is depicted in a lot of novels, movies, or TV series, especially recently, and I am referring to the way it is depicted.
          It’s great, if a model company/fashion label decides have a large number of different looking models. It really is, since our current definition of ‘beauty’ is horribly narrow. Showing different body types and clothing sizes in a shot is a wonderful thing.
          But this is about how ‘natural beauty’ is rated in the media – as necessity for being a perfect woman. Before this trend came up, it was acceptable that women would be using cosmetics to get closer to the ideal. Cosmetics have been around since Ancient Egypt or even longer – and they are around even in insolated cultures not influenced by any ‘western’ beauty ideals. Since this trend came up, it has become a bad thing for a woman to visibly use cosmetics, because they all have to be naturally beautiful to meet the standards. Doing a successful ‘natural’ makeup is very difficult for the amateur, on the other hand, so most women trying to do this at home will fail at it. Therefore, they can’t be naturally beautiful as they, essentially, should be. That is the sexist thing, because nothing like this exists for men. Women are rated for their looks and with the obsession for natural beauty which such novels, movies, and TV shows propagate it has become even harder for them to meet the standards.

          The whole bullying/pranking probably is merely down to bad writing. With the ability to hack off your middle finger without injuring the other ones, everything is possible.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Cay Reet’s already covered just about everything I might have said, but one additional note: even if we did categorize reproductive sex as a need because it continues the species (which as Cay Reet points out is wrong), that’s clearly not the kind of sex Bink is interested in. He don’t want no babies, he just wants to get his rocks off.

          • Hunter-Wolf

            -My point is, if you will consider shelter a need (despite it being something many can survive just fine without) then sex is much more worthy of being a need, scale was never an issue here, sex is a matter of life an death for our speices, drives evolution forward and has bulit-in biological urges, all that makes it as important as food/water or sleep regardless of scale, also existance of exceptions doesn’t change or reduce the importance of a need, plenty of psychological and medical conditions reduce or remove ones appetite for food like Anorxeia, others reduce or remove the urge to sleep like Insomnia, heck plenty of hikers and soldiers can survive days or weeks in the wilderness with zero shelter, none of the exceptions change how important these needs are regardless of what scale (society/individual) we are talking about.

            And Oren, the built-in biological drive/urge people has for sex works regardless of their intents, it doesn’t matter why Binks himself wants to have sex as long as he does so, nature is pretty straightforward.

            -As for Beauty, OK … you have a point that before these new trends appeared natural beauty meant something different, but in the end we as writers or avid readers of literature also need to stay up to date with how definitions change, fluctuate and evolve, the huge positive response to what Aerie is doing redefines what people consider as natural raw beauty and also empowers women in a lot of different ways instead of what it used to mean before.

          • Cay Reet

            Hunter-Wolf, about shelter: Shelter means any means to protect yourself, from a cave over a tent to a few sticks and leaves which create a tent of sorts. Shelter doesn’t just refer to a building like a house. And whoever lives in the wilderness will seek shelter of one kind or other during the night (or whenever they sleep, in a desert, you would try to rest during the day). No nomadic people in this world don’t at least put up some sort of tent at night to sleep in. Therefore, shelter from the elements, however it is realized, is a basic need of mankind. Even having companions ranks higher than sex for most people in this world (excluding a few who like living completely on their own, but they usually also have a low sex drive).

            Sex is not a need, no matter how you twist it. It’s a necessity for our kind and we enjoy having it, because nature invented orgasms at some point. The urge to have sex varies greatly within people, but everyone does have to regularly fulfil a need.

            When it comes to natural beauty: keep a look on how media on the whole, not just one company, defines natural beauty and you will see it’s harming women rather than empowering them. As I said before, I’m all for broadening the definition of beauty again and I appreciate it if the natural state of a woman’s body is considered beautiful, but the concept of natural beauty those novels, movies, and TV series propagate is anything but that.
            Sabrina is defined as the ‘more beautiful one’ because she has no need of any cosmetics to look beautiful. You don’t even have to go far enough to speak of photoshop, the idea of natural beauty as such media puts it out is that a woman won’t even use a lipstick, a concealer, or a mascara. They are born with the perfect skin, the rosy lips, the full lashes, and so on. Every woman who is not, can’t be a beautiful woman. This goes completely against your example of showing a wide range of women and not hiding their physical flaws.
            The roots for this lie in fairy tales, by the way. In those, the good people are naturally beautiful and the evil people are either ugly or vain and helping their beauty along.

        • William A. Hainline

          Sex is not, nor has it ever been, an individual “need.” A need, as Cay Reet has informed you, is something that you will die without. A “want,” however strong, is something you would like to have — and Nature has made us desire sex to a great degree! — but can live without. I say this as a (mostly) asexual person. That is, I am a man, a 41-year-old human male whose sex-drive has been decimated by having to take various medications over the years for various conditions; I no longer possess a “sex-drive”; I no longer have a “want” for sex, and I get along just fine. No needs have been ignored. I have food, shelter, and clothing, and a healthy social life. I am content. Doing just fine, actually. No needs being ignored. No “wants” being ignored. I simply don’t think about — or really want — sex with anyone 95% of the time. It’s a medical thing. Hence, your observation about sex being a “need” is completely and totally wrong. If it were a “need,” then by removing my “need” for it would’ve killed me. It hasn’t. I’m just as vibrant as the day I was born.

          Now, onto the whole issue of natural beauty: No one is “faking” being beautiful by using cosmetics and makeup. That’s a really dumb accusation to make against someone. Do you shower at night? If so, do you use shampoo or a body-wash? Well, then you’re cheating, too: You’re using cleaning products designed to heighten your body’s natural state of cleanliness, your body’s natural smell, and your body’s natural sense of attractiveness on a pheromonal level. Cheating, just like all those women who use makeup. Do you wash your face with Clearasil scrub? You do? Well, you’re cheating there, too, because Nature didn’t design those microbeads that are in that stuff. Do you eat any diet foods, take any supplements, or use any workout equipment? Cheating, cheating, cheating — that stuff doesn’t exist in Nature, buddy, so by using it, you’re gaming the system just like everybody else is with their subversion of “natural beauty.” And don’t get me started on using condoms or birth control when you have sex. . . we all know THAT wasn’t manufactured by Gaia herself. Also, let me ask this question: Do you think people with “Natural Beauty” got that way because of sheer random chance of evolution, or because of careful mating choices made by their ancestors? If the latter is so, then those people have engaged in something called “Eugenics,” which means that they were, basically (though crudely) genetically engineered to be pretty. The ultimate HACK, genetic engineering! So tell me again how wonderful they are, how virtuous art the Natural Beauties you aspire to anoint above the heads of the cosmetics-using rabble.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Hey William, putting on my admin hat for a moment. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and the perspective you bring to this discussion. I wanted you to know that while most of your comment about was excellent and exactly the sort of thing we want here on Mythcreants, the last paragraph was too much of a personal attack and so I have removed it.

            I hope you’ll keep commenting with us because you clearly have some great stuff to say.

        • Mythcreants Fan no. 98758402

          I disagree with your statement ‘healthy normal sex is essential for the psychological and physiological health of every human.’ Children don’t need sex to be healthy and indeed should not be having sex, asexual have no desire for sex and some people don’t have sex because of their religion and they aren’t clearly unhealthy

          • Cay Reet

            Which is exactly why sex is a want and not a need. If it were a need, it would be necessary for our health. Since it’s a want, we can live without it, even if we enjoy having it. Or we won’t die just because we have no interest whatsoever in it.

        • J. M.

          Why are women who use cosmetics to change their appearance lying? First of all, how is it “tricking people” to make yourself look nicer for a dinner party, or an important meeting? People that aren’t conventionally attractive do get discriminated against, so it isn’t lying to want to avoid that. Second of all, sometimes people just like to dress up in cosmetics and wear makeup. Sometimes people like to dye their hair, because they like their new look. There is nothing wrong with wearing or not wearing makeup. Also, if my “tricking people”, you mean getting sex, well everybody makes themselves look nicer when they are meeting other people, and as long as the sex is consenual, there is nothing wrong with that. If a long-term relationship results, that is the result of the people liking each other’s company, not their looks, and, in a relationship like that, it doesn’t matter what people look like. If people make themselves become attractive to get some casual sex, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as the sex is consensual.

    • Kat

      Bink looked at the newspaper beside him as it sat next to a frying pan. He was no pack of bacon, but he too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of the newspaper made him aware of this. The newspaper was absolutely chewy – and its chewiness was completely natural. Other papers managed to enhance their appearance with colour ink or wax or specialized binding, but beside the newspaper all other paper looked somewhat artificial. It was no enemy!

  6. YonYonYon

    All these special magics and talents made me think that this is My Little Pony fanfic, but with centaurs. It would be indeed shameful for an adult pony centaur to not have his Cutie Mark on his flank

  7. Ell

    I love these essays! I sat for a good minute flipping off the air trying to figure out how one would grab for something with just a middle finger.

    The character names seem very off to me? Justin, Zink and Potipher clash quite badly in style, and Bink and Numbo sound like clown names.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      My work here is done!

    • River

      If he reached for it with his hand at an angle and the grass caught on just his middle finger (which would have been possible) and pushed it up into the cleaver, then it is possible for him to lose just his middle finger.

  8. Bronze Dog

    I remember enjoying the Xanth series when I was young and stupid, and probably coming up with my own rationalizations for the skeevy bits. I had the idea that the magic of Xanth enforces an outdated social status quo, hence the medieval stasis and fairy tale tropes. I also thought some of it was parodying those social norms by stating them as empirical fact in much the manner that characters often misunderstood physical phenomena. But yeah, it’s seeming like that was all my thought processes, not the author’s.

    Glad I grew up.

    Re: Makeup: It’d be more sane to complain about makeup being an issue because women are constantly told it’s their duty to look pretty by certain narrow standards. Instead, we get people who complain about the sin of women altering their appearance, equating it to a malicious lie.

    Re: Sex as a want, not a need: It’s certainly something that should be said more often. Way too many men are bombarded with the message that they shouldn’t even try to control their “need” and that women exist to fulfill it.

    I remember a creep on [email protected] who was going on and on about his “needs” with a woman I was politely chatting with. We ended up evacuating to another map and reporting the guy, since ignore didn’t make avatars invisible.

  9. 3Comrades

    I just wanted to say in reply to wearing make-up being deceitful. It is not. The truth is that women are judged harsher than men by their looks. Most men I talk to don’t know what “real beauty” looks like, and in fact believe a woman is not wearing make-up when she is wearing quite a bit. I don’t know how it is being deceiving. They aren’t trying to fool you, because it isn’t for you. Women want to be beautiful because we are told day in and out that it is our only valuable or worthwhile trait. You can be a world-class scientist and all anyone will notice is you don’t look perfect, all most ever seem to care about is looks.

    People call women ugly for not being perfect, and we have our careers, our esteems, and just general protection from hecklers who give us hell for not being pretty to think about. Bink cares more about Sabrina’s looks than any part of her. That is why we wear make-up. Why we ask if “this makes us look fat” because guys like that instill that our self worth is in the mirror. That makes him a lousy partner for any woman except one that only cares about his looks as well.

    The truth is most guys don’t get that women’s faces are just a little rounder with rarely any chin hair and have no idea what a natural woman’s face looks like piling it under ugly then not ugly and finally Fake, not realizing it’s normal, a bit of make up, and make up stylization (like dying your hair green, no one is saying her hair is really green, she just likes looking that way)

    We shave our legs, is that us lying that we don’t grow hair? Or is it because so many people have a visceral reaction to our natural bodies? What about people who style their hair putting mud, or gel in to make it look different? Are they lying too? Bras hoist up boobs, they aren’t naturally like that, so I guess you prefer they sag and swing, huh? It just seems egotistical that a woman is wearing make up to fool you when usually it is expected for jobs (and normal to be told off at work for not wearing it) and is worn for self esteem, it’s rarely for you, and even if it is, it’s because she wants to look nice for you. She’s “putting in the effort”. Feel happy a girl wants to dress up for you instead of shaming her on how she does it.

    • Cay Reet

      And the whole idea of women who naturally look like most women do with a lot of skillfully applied makeup as the new standard just makes things even harder.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah, now it’s like “you must look made up but no one can know you’re made up.” Because impossible double standards are fun! Thanks patriarchy.

    • Bronze Dog

      Yeah. It’s a tangled up mess. I’ve heard about magazines photoshopping models’ faces beyond removing blemishes: Increasing the size of their eyes, for example. It doesn’t help when the bar of “true beauty” gets raised into physiological impossibility.

      It gets absurd when I see people complaining about how horribly disfigured or morbidly obese the perfectly normal, healthy looking female speaker is once she starts complaining about problems the jerks of the world don’t want fixed. And, of course, there’s always the contingent who say she looks “manish” to add in transphobia.

      I’m glad the places I visit online have taken up the practice of applying the banhammer to people who won’t correct that behavior.

      • 3Comrades

        I admit I’m a bit sensitive about it because I hate make-up so much, I know a lot of other women adore it and I think that’s great but it’s a necessity to make friends/do well at work. It doesn’t seem fair that something I can’t give up even though I want to, is also a judge for honesty.

        But speaking on being made up, there are tons of “No makeup” makeup tutorials on youtube that I found helpful. It’s what most people think of with “no make up” but actually can be quite a ton.

  10. Richard

    “And while we’re on the subject, “holograph” is a terrible name for a fantasy power. Sounds too much like something out of Star Trek.*

    * Which is ironic, since this book came out well before TNG, when the first holograms were mentioned in Trek.”

    Nitpicking here…

    The first appearance of a holodeck in Star Trek was in the animated series episode “The Practical Joker”, which first aired in September, 1974. “A Spell for Chameleon” was published in 1977.

    Now whether or not you believe the animated Trek to be canonical is a whole nother kettle of fish…..

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      You’re correct, but I think I squeak by on a technicality because in the Practical Joker, the room in question was called the “Recreation Room.” I don’t think they ever mentioned “Holodeck” or “Hologram.”

    • River

      How do you know that the term “holograph” was created in that world just for her talent, or similar talents before hers? Her talent is literally a “hollow graph”. Hollow for no substance and graph for picture. A three-dimensional picture without substance that can be anything she wants would be a holograph. It does not have to be related to technology, they’re simply using words that they know to make a word for her talent. How do you think the technology holograph was named? Because it’s a three-dimensional picture. Although in Star Trek the holographs/holograms can have substance depending on the settings.

      • Arkayjiya

        Because that’s not relevant.

        The point made about holograph is less about internal consistency and more about the impression left on the reader. Most readers will feel that dissociation. I’m not sure how much of that was predictable though seeing how old the book is.

        • River

          I’m sure if someone chooses to read the Xanth series, they have the brain capacity for imagination. Yes, some might think of Star Trek first when they see the word “holograph”, but they need to think of Xanth as a different thing because it is a different world.

  11. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    Amazing article! I love these posts!
    Maybe for another article, you could do a bit of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. The book is supposedly really popular, but when I read the first chapter the writing felt all wrong.

    • Bel

      Totally agreed. It was like her editors told her that no story was complete without a ripoff of THG so she just shoved it in there without any thought to narrative flow or relevance.

  12. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    When will you be doing another post like this? These are so entertaining to read, and they give me so much insight for my own writing.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Hey Sophie, glad you enjoyed the article. When I or Chris do another one is hard to predict, because we need to find a book with a first chapter that is bad enough to critique, but also popular enough so we’re not just picking on some self published author from Amazon. All I can say is that we want to do more and we will keep looking!

      • Sophie the Jedi Knight

        Thanks for answering me! I’ll be looking forward to the next post!

  13. Dave L

    Piers Anthony wrote the novelization of the 1990 version of Total Recall.

    When Cohaagen plans to erase and rewrite the minds of Quaid and Melina he says to her: Uh-uh, Princess. We’re having you fixed. You’re gonna be respectful, compliant, and appreciative… the way a woman should be.

    Anthony carefully explains that to a woman like Melina, this would be horrible.

    The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie was more subtle than the novelization!

  14. Faith C

    This honestly sounds like a NaNoWriMo draft…written by a person who really needs to reconsider his life philosophies.

  15. John

    I thought this was parody. Your critique based on 21st century sensibilities is risible. Spell for a chameleon is a fantastic book. It won the British fantasy award at the time. It sold millions of copies and spawned a lengthy series.

    Your obnoxious fixation on sexism has no place in any kind of literary criticism.

    FYI perhaps the main character is sexist. So what. Next you’ll critique huckleberry Finn for being too childish, and Conan has too much toxic masculinity.

    Or just maybe the rules of this society don’t conform to yours. Have you read and of the great works of Muslim society – lots of sexism there.

    Go back to writing this kind of dreck on old Facebook posts and leave the literary criticism to people who understand POV need not be one’s own or a product of PC culture.

    • Cay Reet

      Conan was toxically masucline even before the expression was invented. Huckleberry Finn these days is usually criticised for being racist, not childish (because nothing about Huck’s story is childish, despite having a child as the main lead).

      Just because something sells a lot of copies doesn’t make it good. By that measurement, books like Fifty Shades are marvellous masterpieces of literature. And winning an award when it was published doesn’t mean the book still holds up to standards decades later. A lot of books don’t hold up to standards after a while (see Conan and Huckleberry).

      I don’t know if you’ve ever seen posts on it before, but a lot of classic literature from every culture is called out on sexism, racism, and other negative content. You can, at the same time, admit that a story did well and criticise it for failing at another topic.

      In addition, these posts are not reviews, but lessons on writing. By using bad examples, these posts teach us about what to avoid doing and how to do it better. Sexism is still far too alive in our time not to make it a topic for ‘avoid that at all costs’ in such a post.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I’ve removed a comment for deliberately insulting another commentor. That’s a violation of our comments policy and not allowed.

  16. Tifa

    Oh, my goddess.
    It boggles my mind that someone actually wrote this book, and more. I’m not sure why it’s so surprising to me, considering certain other “books”, but still…

    On that note, I’m assuming none of the author’s other books are likely any better…which is kind of too bad, because his Incarnations of Immortality series looked slightly interesting [mainly because anthropomorphic personifications are one of my favourite things].

    I’ll stay far away from any of his books in the future, just in case, and get back to writing my own stories about anthropomorphic personifications [wow, that’s a mouthful–odd that no one’s thought to short-form it].

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I haven’t read any other books by this author but my understanding is they do not get better and sometimes they are worse.

      • Tifa

        Oh, no. >.<

        I'm so glad I discovered this site. It's no doubt saved my wall a lot of denting from thrown books.

    • Chris Winkle

      The Xanth series is pretty notorious for how bad it gets as it continues. The books are considered by many fans to be just a vehicle for lots and lots and lots of puns.

  17. Tifa

    Today while trying to find the motivation to do some actual work and instead thinking about morality and ethics, I noticed someone mentioning the Xanth series, described as something along the lines of: “Humourous, the kind for teens, with a gentle and wholesome depiction of sexuality.”

    I thought like telling them about this article, but decided not to. I was too busy feeling nauseated.

  18. Emily

    I’ve been reading through all these articles, I love them.
    I just had to add this little gem that happens later in the series, if no one else has read that far.


    Later on in the series, Sabrina isn’t even the real love interest. The main love interest is a chick named, wait for it, Chameleon.

    You’ll never guess what Chameleon’s talent is. She’s a shapeshifter- oh but she is no ordinary shapeshifter.
    Chameleon can’t control her shifting, and she naturally shifts from three different appearances in relation to the lunar cycle. She also shifts in intelligence.

    In her cycle, dear old Chameleon starts out as very ugly, but incredibly intelligent.
    Then, she shifts to be average in both looks and brains, and then to being drop dead gorgeous but dumber than a rock. After being gorgeous, she goes back to being average in both respects, and then ugly and smart. Then, the cycle repeats.

    She has three different names for each phase, even though her personality stays the same and they are not different personas. We have: Fanchon (ugly and very smart), Dee (average intelligence and average looks), and
    Wynne (radiantly beautiful and stupid).

    Her shapeshifting cycle is also linked to her menstrual cycle, according to the Wiki.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah I read about that and it certainly sounds like something. Super weird that we spent 11,000 words getting to know Sabrina and she’s not even the real love interest.

  19. Anon of Nymous

    Looking at the comments, you could have handled Hunter-Wolf’s comment and criticism a lot better. As a fan on your work, I’ve noticed that you sometimes let you’re politics get in there way of your otherwise excellent writing, and it REALLY got in the way here, as you managed to start a fight where there was none

    Whatever you may think of Hunter-Wolf, there is a place for agreeing to disagree. I am not taking a position on his points here, just noting an observation.

  20. V

    “Anthony squanders his first chapter on a meandering train of worldbuilding for a world that seems pretty nonsensical to start with.* It’s a very long first chapter, over 11,000 words, but instead of using that length to build a foundation for what is to come”
    No that’s actually a pretty good foundation for Xanth.
    Xanth is 60% novelty, 25% puns, and the rest is broken up into plot, character, and rather crude humor.

    For example panties are literally Magical objects that cause any man but a husband to zone out and stare if he sees a woman wearing a pair.
    There’s a fairly high amount of material that depends on sexist cultural tropes to function, and consent is not really a thing. Any sexual assault stuff is played for laughs barring outright rape, and I’m actually having to question my memory on whether that’s actually barred considering how standard the “reverse rape” trope is in making an appearance.

    Oh and he does get powers that people randomly come up with and suggest, so odds are he did just get them off a list.

  21. Lyrica

    “Oh ! I’m on fire !” naturally say every person who is being set on fire…

  22. Alicia

    I’ve been reading through the ‘lessons from bad writing’ posts, and this is the first time that I thought ‘hey, I liked that author!’ I read *lots* of Piers Anthony as a teenager, and while I really liked his books, I thought he was kind of perv-y. I re-read one of his books as an adult and while I still liked it, I was also like, ‘yep, it’s perv-y.’

    The sad thing was, in the 80s pretty much all fantasy and science fiction was written with the male reader in mind (though not all was as problematic in the representation of women as Anthony is). It makes me sad because I really enjoyed his books as a teenage girl, but what messages did I take away from them?

    I don’t remember reading this book, but I’m pretty sure I read the one about the woman who goes from being hot but dumb to smart but ugly depending on her cycle. Piers Anthony, if you’re reading this, you owe me for all the therapy bills to get those negative stereotypes out of my head!

  23. Anne

    I was a big fan of these books in the 80s-early 90s. I was late teens early 20s. I glossed over the sexism because I read a lot of cheap fantasy, so that was the norm back then (try John Norman’s Gor books).* It was his Bio of a Space Tyrant which excused pedophilia that made me quit reading. That said I rather liked the slow beginning. I don’t like the rewrite at all though. I wouldn’t read that book.

    *side note: I was a lit major back then & did a lot of feminist literary theory papers, but I only ever read Piers in the summer an winter breaks as a brain vacation.

  24. Joseph

    I binged a bunch of these books on a road trip when I was 14-15 and didn’t notice all of the wierdness then. They are short enough that I can pound through a few in a day without breaking a sweat, and… wow.

    While the later books are not nearly as ‘sexist’ per se, featuring many decently written female characters, the punny comedy and fetish-fuel aspects are paradoxicaly both cranked to the nth degree. The land of punny dialogue and magical aquifers of date-rape drugs.

    I did not notice how much of it involved teenagers, children, and non-humans at the time, largely because I was still younger than the characters, and it felt like I was getting away with something. Past the first few, the books became proto-YA books, and those in those demographics I know who have read them certainly seem to enjoy them, I suspect for the same reasons, which I think explains some of this, but damn.

    Also, looking at the timeline, I think one of the Xanth books may have accidentally invented vore. No really. I suspect some of the weirder fetishes were either invented or popularized because of kids and teens reading the Xanth series.

    From what else I have read on the subject, Anthony is a self professed ‘dirty old man’. There is no (literary) accusation you could make against him that he would not wear as a badge of pride. In the court of public opinion, he is not fit to stand trial.

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