Favorite Fictional Characters, #21: Dor
Piers Anthony is a strange duck. He's an enormously prolific fantasy/sci-fi engine, having cranked out well over a hundred books over a nearly sixty year career, with no signs of slowing even past his eightieth birthday. He is capable of inspired, imaginative creativity, funny and complex characters, and well-woven narratives, and yet he at times succumbs to silliness, shopworn tropes, and overt sexism. He's also pretty obviously a dirty old man, and his prose can veer into titillation verging on sort-core prurience. This latest is a tendency he indulges increasingly as he ages, making his later works virtually unreadable.
That said, there was a time, when Anthony was in his prime, that his work was as vibrant and original as any author in the F/SF genres. Later in the list I'll feature characters from his masterful Incarnations of Immortality series as well as his genre-bending Apprentice Adept series. His most famous series, and the one that showcases all of the brilliant and cringe-worthy traits discussed above, is his ongoing (40 volumes and counting) Xanth series. (So named, by the way, after the middle portion of his full name said fast...yeah, this is a weird dude.)
Xanth is a fantasy world shaped suspiciously like Florida, wherein there are all manner of magical creatures, plants, and phenomena. The human denizens of Xanth each have magical talents, from the run-of-the-mill (I can make a purple dot on the wall) to the powerful (I can transform people into other animals). The most powerful are considered Magician-class, and are essentially a ruling elite. Lest that concern you, this series is rooted far more in puns and goofiness than in gritty realpolitik. That said, it has some wonderful stories, especially in the first nine volumes, before Anthony became obsessed with things like the color of girls' underwear and the series became too creepy and self-referential to enjoy.
My favorite - and I do cherish the early Xanth novels - is Dor. Dor has the Magician-class talent of communicating with inanimate objects. He can talk with rocks, tables, swords, just about anything. It's enormously powerful magic, and he is considered the heir to the Throne. Dor, however, is a gentle, hesitant soul, wracked with insecurities and possessed of few human friends (do you want a buddy who could talk to your pants?). He has integrity and courage, and in the two books that recount his experiences (Castle Roogna, Centaur Aisle), Anthony is at his best. These are coming-of-age stories, and my affection for them likely stems from the fact that I consumed them at that time in my life. I understood Dor's struggles to prove himself, with largely verbal abilities in a world that overvalues the physical. Dor's adventures were very personal to me, and I rejoiced when he met success with the headstrong Princess Irene, and eventually ascended to the kingship of Xanth.
Dor was a good boy, and became a good king. I still like to believe that such things are possible in the world. (Though maybe not in Florida...)