Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: A Spell for Chameleon


A Spell for Chameleon (1977)
In the land of Xanth it is the law that everyone must have a magical talent.  But Bink doesn’t have one, and he is approaching his 25th birthday, when he must demonstrate a magical talent or be exiled to Mundania.  He decides to go to Good Magician Humfrey, the Magician of Information, to ask whether he has a talent that he doesn’t know about.

The trip takes many days, and he meets various people and encounters various hazards along the way.

He meets Chester, a male centaur, who tells Bink to leave centaur territory.  But Bink stubbornly insists he is on a right of way, and they get into a fight.  A female centaur called Cherie rescues Bink, and then carries him part of the way.

Then he encounters the wide Gap Chasm.  Wynne, a beautiful but stupid girl, shows him the way down into it.  But then he has to run for his life from the Gap dragon.

Later he meets Iris, the Sorceress of Illusion.  She proposes to use her powers to make it seem he has a talent. Then he could become the King, and she, the power behind the throne.  But Bink rejects this offer.

Bink finds an injured soldier, Crombie, in a ditch, and heals him with magic water from the Spring of Life.  They travel on together.  They meet a plain-looking girl called Dee.  But Dee leaves them due to some of the comments made by the woman-hating Crombie.

Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle.  Humfrey determines that Bink has a strong magical talent, but there seems to be some magic preventing it from being identified.

Bink returns home, and then goes on trial before the King, to demonstrate his magical talent.  The King, who is known as the Storm King, is old; he previously had the power to generate storms, but now can hardly raise a gust of wind.  He does not accept the note from Magician Humfrey, and sentences Bink to exile.

Xanth is surrounded by a magical Shield which prevents living things from crossing. This is to prevent the waves of invasion of people from Mundania, which has resulted in violence and bloodshed in times past. A temporary gap is made in the Shield for Bink to leave Xanth. But outside the Shield, Bink is captured by soldiers under the command of Trent.  Trent, known as the Evil Magician, had tried to take the throne of Xanth 20 years previously, but had been defeated and exiled.  He has the magical talent of transforming any living thing into any other living thing.  He has now gathered an army, and is attempting to enter Xanth and take the throne again.  He wants Bink to tell him where the stone controlling the Shield is, so he can destroy it with a catapult, but Bink refuses.

Shortly afterwards, the soldiers capture another exile from Xanth, an ugly but smart woman called Fanchon.  Bink and Fanchon are imprisoned together.  But they manage to escape.  Somehow Bink, Fanchon and Trent end up back in Xanth, but without Trent’s men.  The three decide on a truce, while they help each other travel through the hazards of the Xanth wilderness.

They find an abandoned castle, Castle Roogna, which had been the King’s Castle many generations ago.  While staying there, Bink notices that Fanchon is becoming more attractive; in fact she looks a lot like Dee, whom he had previously met.  Fanchon confesses that her real name is Chameleon; over the period of a month, she changes from Wynne (beautiful and stupid), to Dee (average in both appearance and intelligence) and Fanchon (ugly and smart) and then back via Dee to Wynne.  The only way she can get rid of her magical nature is by living in Mundania, where she would always have the appearance of Dee.  Meanwhile, Bink is starting to think that Trent is not quite as evil as his reputation.

After some time in the castle, they travel on.

They discover a large gathering of creatures of all kinds.  The creatures have been brought together by Herman the Hermit, a centaur with the magic talent of summoning will-o’-the-wisps.  (Centaurs regard magic as obscene, and for this reason Herman had been exiled from his kind.)  Herman had brought the creatures together to eradicate a wiggle swarm.  Wiggles are small wormlike creatures that hover in the air, and then shoot off in a straight line, boring holes through everything in their path, which can kill any creature in their way.  The other creatures are killing the wiggles by crushing them between rocks, crunching them with their teeth, stomping them etc.  Trent, Bink and Chameleon join in.  Finally they defeat the wiggles, but many creatures, including Herman, have lost their lives.

Trent, Bink and Chameleon travel on.  But Trent still intends to take the throne, and Bink wants to stop him.  Bink challenges Trent to combat, in an attempt to prevent him taking the throne.