“‘I feel like a child,’ he said.
She laughed once more, rocking him with the expression. ‘That’s the way I usually feel.’”
“Harpy Thyme: A Xanth Novel” by Piers Anthony
My father was a great book lover, something the he very clearly passed along to his daughter, and, growing up, the house was just filled with books, much like my room is filled with books now. Slowly, as I’m getting older, I’m getting around to reading some of those books whose covers I had gaze at longingly, sparking my imagination whenever I passed them by. I never read them at that point; I had my own books and my father was a farmer. He would take the books with him out into the barns, on the tractor, and read when he could, so they were often so battered and dirty that I was afraid if I touched them, they’d fall apart, and that would be a travesty. But I could always just look at the covers and dream, and know that I would get around to reading them one day.
One of these books was definitely Harpy Thyme. Dad adored the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony; I’m not as much of a fan, but I can certainly appreciate them. But the cover of Harpy Thyme was always one of my favourites. I think it’s funny that I finish this after a brief discussion on Lauralynn Elliot‘s blog on book covers (the new cover for her book, by the way, is gorgeous!). I am a victim of judging this book by its cover. I must have been about twelve or thirteen when we had it, considering it was published in 1994 (that seems to be a very impressionable age for me!), and I was pretty sure I was absolutely in love with the golden haired, winged girl on the front with the blissful expression on her face. To be honest, I’m still utterly enchanted by her, and so I was excited to finally getting to read about her.
I get to reading and the story is about young Gloha Goblin-Harpy, who is worried that, as a goblin-harpy hybrid, she will never be able to find the perfect husband, and therefor never find love or be invited into the Adult Conspiracy or get to summon the stork. Sometimes I absolutely love how sex and love and marriage is handled in Xanth; other times, it makes me want to take Anthony by the throat and throttle him. This book has a little bit of both, but, what got me for the longest time, was that this whole time, I’m picturing Gloha in my head as the bright, beautiful creature on the cover that I fell in love with when I was twelve, and then, all of a sudden, she’s described as having “goblin-dark skin.”
Wait. What? My image started to get conflicted, especially when another description comes in (more than halfway through the book) about her dark glossy hair and again the darker goblin skin. I was so thrown! My complete image of the main character was entirely different from the one I’d spent ages building up in my head. I was so disappointed! But that’s what I get for judging this book by its cover, and it makes me boggle over how sometimes, a cover can be so entirely different from the actual content of the book, even if Xanth books have usually been pretty darn true to each other.
Once I was able to re-align my perception of Gloha, though, I was able to enjoy the book again and, really, almost more than before! This might have been because this was closer to the end of the book, where the plot really started to take off. The problem I always have with Xanth novels is that so much of it is based on one series of adventures after the other, several of them ultimately not too terribly crucial to the main plot, and a good deal of them just excuses to put more puns in the book. I love Anthony’s puns; many of them make me laugh out loud, others make me groan the way a good pun should, but sometimes, it’s overkill. When you’re in the last four pages of the book and you’re not getting to the conclusion because Anthony has five more puns to use, it’s a little irritating. Some of his random encounters are sweet, though; he has a tendency to take people he knows who are either conflicted with an illness of some kind or have recently passed away, and give them a place in the magical Xanth where they can be happy.
The first half of the book drags almost excruciatingly through a series of events that seem mostly disconnected and just random adventures in the way of the main goal, but the second half was actually quite gripping and good. Anthony has a particular gift for telling a story within a story: one of my favourite parts of the book (and where I really started to feel a connection with the motley crew of adventurers helping Gloha out) was when they were forced to put on a play. Their play was funny, sweet, engaging, and clever, and from that point on, I was really rooting for everyone much more than I was before. I started to feel a spark of hope for something, and, by the end of the book, things had gone exactly the way I hoped they would, heartwarming and satisfying.
Xanth is really not for everyone. The pun are terrible (but I like terrible puns) and sometimes Anthony’s views on women (which seem tongue-in-cheek….God, I hope they’re tongue-in-cheek) just rubs me the wrong way. But I feel the ending of this book made it a little more worth it that I trudged through the other stuff just to get to it. I feel that way with a lot of Anthony books, actually. The endings are very satisfactory, but getting there is a bit of a struggle.
Meanwhile, perhaps the story of the golden-haired winged girl on the cover who turned out to not be Gloha at all still has a story to be written, and I should get right on that.
Books read: 35 out of 100.