A Spell for Chameleon
|A Spell for Chameleon|
|Cover artist||Michael Whelan|
|Publisher||Ballantine Books & Del Rey|
|Publication date||September 1977|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|LC Classification||CPB Box no. 2227 vol. 15|
|Followed by||The Source of Magic|
A Spell for Chameleon is the first book of the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. The book won the 1977 British Fantasy Society Award (British August Derleth Fantasy Award) for the best novel of the year.
In this adventure, Bink is exiled to Mundania because he has (inadvertently) broken Xanth law by not having a magical talent. He returns to Xanth with Chameleon, a woman whose intelligence and beauty vary inversely depending on the time of the month, and the evil magician Trent who was exiled 20 years earlier for attempting to usurp the throne of Xanth.
A Spell for Chameleon
At the beginning of the novel Bink is facing imminent exile from the magical land of Xanth and separation from his fiancee Sabrina for his lack of a magic talent. All human residents of Xanth possess some unique form of magic that ranges from incredibly powerful (such as the current King Aeolus's ability to summon and control storms) to relatively useless (such as the ability to make a spot appear on a wall). In the hopes of discovering his talent Bink sets out to see the Good Magician Humfrey, a magician whose talent has to do with the gathering of information. While on his way Bink fights his way through the perilous wilderness of Xanth, having several run-ins with dangerous plants and animals but always being saved by apparent coincidence. On this journey he meets several people, among them Chester Centaur and Cherie Centaur and Crombie The Soldier. Of particular interest are three different women he meets: Wynne who is pretty but stupid, Dee an average girl and the sorceress Iris whose power is the creation of illusions. Wynne and Dee are actually different aspects of the same woman, Chameleon, although Bink does not realise this at the time. Chameleon's intelligence and beauty vary inversely according to the time of the month and she has been unable to find a man who is willing to be with her through all 3 phases. When she meets Bink she falls in love with him and begins to follow him. Although Iris possesses magic of the same calibre as the Storm King she is barred from the throne because she is a woman. After saving Bink from an illusory trap, Iris offers him the chance to remain in Xanth as a figurehead king: Iris will use her power to make it appear as if Bink has magician calibre magic. Loyal to Xanth and realising that he would be nothing more than a slave, Bink refuses her offer and continues on his journey. Bink finally arrives at the Good Magician's castle and fights his way past three challenges to gain an audience with him. Humfrey is able to determine that Bink possesses magician-caliber magic but is prevented from fathoming its exact nature. Realizing that some powerful force is at work, Humfrey decides to leave well enough alone and sends Bink on his way with a signed note to the King saying that Bink does indeed possess magic.
Bink returns to the North Village to plead his case before the King but is exiled anyway due to the King's senility and jealousy of Humfrey. Bink heads north to the isthmus that connects Xanth to Mundania and is allowed to pass through the magical shield that separates the two regions. The shield was designed to kill any life form, magical or not, that passes through it. As soon as he leaves Xanth he is captured by the Evil Magician Trent the Transformer, who was exiled 20 years ago for attempting to overthrow the Storm King. Trent is trying to invade Xanth with his Mundane army to usurp the throne but has always been prevented from entering by the magical shield that Bink just passed through. He believes that Bink can help him get into Xanth by providing information on the location of the source of the magical barrier (the Shieldstone), and attempts to coerce this information from him. Trent has prepared a special elixir that can temporarily nullify magic and has a special catapult that can hurl this elixir into the land of Xanth. All that Trent needs now are the exact coordinates of the Shieldstone. Bink refuses to co-operate and is thrown into a pit with a woman from Xanth that has followed him there named Fanchon. In actuality this is Chameleon in the last of her guises, hideously ugly and extremely intelligent, but Bink does not know this yet. Chameleon had gone to see the Good Magician Humfrey immediately after Bink, and Humfrey told her that if she went to Mundania and stayed there long enough, she would eventually settle permanently into her Dee phase (which possesses average beauty and average intelligence). Hearing that Bink was to be exiled, Chameleon followed him in the hope of making a life with him in Mundania, free of her curse. Bink and Fanchon escape to the sea but are pursued by Trent's forces. Eventually, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon are all swept into Xanth via a whirlpool but Trent's forces are left behind.
Washing up on a beach far from any human settlement the trio declare a truce until they can safely make their way out of the wilderness. While travelling, the group discovers Castle Roogna, a castle built 800 years ago by one of the early Kings of Xanth but abandoned 400 years later. Here, Bink finally learns that Fanchon, Wynne, and Dee are all the same person but resists the temptation to take advantage of her while she is in her stupid/beautiful phase. Castle Roogna is haunted by relatively benign ghosts and zombies and is an area of heightened magical power. The castle in fact seems to possess some form of awareness and had actually used its control of the surrounding area to herd the trio onto its grounds. It had detected the presence of two magician-caliber talents in the group (Bink and Trent) and lured them there in the hopes that one of them could become king and restore the castle to its former glory. Over the course of the journey the trio has gotten to know each other quite well and Bink has discovered that he actually likes the evil magician, who has matured considerably during his exile. Trent now has a strict sense of honour and refuses to renege on his word; nevertheless, he still wants the throne and is determined to do anything necessary to attain it. Trent promised Castle Roogna that he would return when he was King to restore the place to glory, so the castle finally allowed the trio to leave.
The group eventually exits the wilderness, but is then discovered by the sorceress Iris. Iris offers to marry Trent and help him become King and Trent accepts her offer. Bink, who still refuses to betray Xanth, challenges Trent to a duel: if Bink loses then he will stay out of Trent's way, but if he wins, then Trent will cease his efforts to gain the throne. Fearing that this was his last chance to do so, Bink declares his love for Chameleon and the two of them make love in the forest. But the duel has already started, and Iris tells Trent of their location. Trent finds them both soon thereafter, but then calls for a restart of the duel since Iris had interfered. In the course of the next duel Trent deduces Bink's unknown talent: he cannot be harmed by magic. Because Bink is still vulnerable to non-magical harm his talent has gone to great lengths to conceal itself over the years, making it appear he is only saved from magical harm by a series of coincidences. Trent is an excellent swordsman, however, and manages to defeat Bink without magic. He is about to kill Bink when Chameleon dives in front of the sword. She is seriously wounded and Bink launches a counterattack against Trent, but to no avail. Trent cannot bring himself to kill Bink, however, and instead offers to help save Chameleon. Trent transforms Bink into a bird so that he can fly to Good Magician Humfrey's castle and retrieve a healing elixir.
Bink manages to obtain healing elixir from Humfrey, but the Good Magician is obligated to inform the authorities of Trent's return. Upon arriving at the royal palace, they discover that the Storm King has died. All the officials of Xanth, including the Council of Elders (which includes Bink's father Roland), are then dispatched to deal with Trent. The Council captures Trent and heals Chameleon, and then put Trent on trial for violating his sentence of exile. The Council reviews Trent's recent actions using scrying magic, and at first Bink is worried that they will execute him for his scheming to take the throne. But the Council is moved by Trent's displays of honour and mercy, and they decide that he will be spared execution on two conditions: 1) he must marry, and 2) he must accept the kingship of Xanth. The Storm King was allowed to remain King well past his prime because there was no suitable successor and by forcing Trent to marry (and presumably produce magician-caliber offspring), the Council hopes to prevent that state of affairs from occurring again. Trent's first act as King is to deactivate the magical barrier between Xanth and Mundania and to abolish the requirement that all human citizens of Xanth must prove that they have a magical talent. To note, Trent had discovered that the magical shield was causing harm to the humans in Xanth because, over time, the magic of Xanth changed humans into other creatures, and the only way to prevent that was to allow periodic inflows of pure blood humans from Mundania. Trent's army, who consisted of Mundanes who wished to immigrate to Xanth, begin to settle peacefully in various regions of the magical land. Bink then breaks up with Sabrina (who he had discovered was not right for him anyway) and marries Chameleon, as he has realised that he wants "variety" in a girl, and only Chameleon with her never-ending change in looks and intelligence will give him what his heart desires. Trent and Iris take up residence in Castle Roogna and set to work making it the new centre of government. Bink and Chameleon obtain a cottage just outside the Castle and Bink is given the title of Official Researcher of Xanth. King Trent gives Bink his first task: to discover the source of magic in Xanth, setting up the plot for the next book, The Source of Magic.
Self-discovery: During the course of the book, Bink figures out what he really wants in a wife. Throughout the book Bink encounters different types of women; the extremely beautiful and extremely stupid Wynne, average Dee, extremely ugly and extremely intelligent Fanchon, and the illusory Iris. When Bink encounters Iris, he is intrigued at first. She seems to be everything he wants in a woman. She's beautiful and intelligent. However, Bink realises it is all an illusion and is not enough. He comes to realise that what he really wants is variety, which he finds in Chameleon, who is in fact Wynne, Dee, and Fanchon. He also discovers the value of someone loving him for who he is.
A Spell for Chameleon film
A Spell for Chameleon was scheduled to be made into a movie directed by Chris Palmer in 2008. However, Piers Anthony announced in his 'Dismember 2008' newsletter that Warner Brothers let their film option for Chameleon expire, suspecting the current economic climate made it too difficult for them to finance the film.
Explanation of the novel's title
The title refers to one of the characters, Chameleon, who constantly changes along a wide spectrum, her intelligence being inversely proportional to her beauty. When she is beautiful, she is innocently stupid. When she is ugly, she is incredibly intelligent. Chameleon searches for a spell to stop her involuntary transformations which follow the phases of the moon, seeking a medium position, of average looks and average intelligence.