First reaction to this: “hm.”
To this day, I’m deeply torn over Xanth (despite liking Incarnations of Immortality better). I’ve never thought Piers Anthony a particularly good writer, and he has the depressing anti-ability to start each series on its high point and get worse with each book. And Xanth was always a fairly shallow farce that essentially repeats one joke—the literalization of puns—over and over.
That said, I did read it well past the age bracket the author talks about. I only discovered the books when I was thirteen, actually.
I’d had a near-fatal asthma attack and was hospitalized for a week, then isolated inside my air-filtered room for three months. In the hospital, I had exactly one book—Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, which I’d been given over the summer and was re-reading when I went into the hospital. (Another, uh, problematic text, though McCaffrey was a much better writer and less fratboyish about her issues in any case. I adored Lessa and re-read it countless times.)
While I was still hospitalized my dad bought a box of twenty-odd Xanth books to give me something else to read. I did, and I enjoyed them, despite not really caring for farce. But by “them,” I mean the editorialized version in my head more than what’s actually on the page. I completely agree with the horrorshow that is the Chameleon arc; I would skip over her scenes as much as possible on re-reading. Iris is written in repellent terms, yet I loved the character, and her daughter Irene after her, along with Trent, Vadne, Jonathan, and Murphy.
I’m not quite as harsh on it as the article writer (I don’t think the downplaying of the critical importance of magic in-world is really in good faith), but fundamentally, I can’t disagree. The Xanth I loved wasn’t the Xanth that Piers Anthony wrote, so much as a mentally corrected Xanth with its intolerable aspects excised or ignored, and its good parts vastly amplified.