Many of us feel like we know our favorite authors through their novels and from the various details of their lives they choose to share. In 1987, a 15-year-old boy named Andy felt that he knew science fiction and fantasy author Piers Anthony so well that he wanted to live with him. So, he packed up his bag, hopped a plane, and tried to figure out where his favorite author lived.[jump]
This past week’s episode of NPR’s This American Life includes an act “Just South of the Unicorns.” Reporter Logan Hill explains that he was a huge fan of Piers Anthony growing up, especially devouring his fantasy novels set in Xanth. In the days before blogging, Anthony communicated to his readers not just through his fiction, but in lengthy author’s notes placed inside his books. These notes contained, among other things, many of the mundane details of Anthony’s life. One detail that particularly stuck in young Hill’s brain was a passing mention of a teenaged boy who had run away from home and shown up on Anthony’s doorstep. So Hill was especially excited when he randomly ran into that teenager, now an adult.
Andy describes his troubled 10th grade year, when he was having trouble at home and had mentally checked out at school, secretly reading books by Anthony and Stephen King during class. Eventually, he becomes more swept up in Anthony’s ordinary life as described in his notes than in the tales of ogres and unicorns, and decides to escape his uncomfortable life and go live with Anthony instead. He uses clues from the world of Xanth and the author notes to figure out where Anthony lives (“Just South of the Unicorns”), and takes his first-ever plane trip to Florida. He does make it to Anthony’s house, and while everything doesn’t go quite as he hoped, it turns out to be a fulfilling journey.
It’s an interesting story about the relationship between authors and fans, and how mundane fantasies can sometimes be more powerful than magical ones. It’s also an ultimately uplifting look at how Anthony, through his books and his advice, helped a young man through a particularly challenging time in his life.
Show Me the Way [This American Life]