Authors: Piers Anthony
Letters to Jenny
Edited by Alan Riggs
by Alan Riggs
A few words about the words that follow:
Whenever possible the letters in this volume have been preserved in their original form. The words have been altered only when necessary to preserve the privacy and peace of mind of the families involved. Where Piers felt that additional comments would help clarify the letters, he has added brief notes at the end of chapters.
A few words about the story that follows:
Do not be deceived. This is not just a collection of correspondence, of interest only to literati and biographers. Taken by itself, each letter is a brief glimpse into the thoughts of one man, a snapshot of the lives of two people, a few frames featuring the bit players in some vast motion picture. Taken as a whole, they become scenes in a touching and compelling story, a story which speaks softly and strongly to those well-guarded parts within us that still reach out in hope.
When I first reviewed these letters for Piers I was struck by the power and sensitivity of that story. More than once, I cried as the narrative unfolded. Months later, as I read through the letters again in preparing this volume, I was again surprised by the essential unity of this account. You see, I had begun with some idea that it was necessary to decide which story these letters should tell: “The Famous Author and the Adoring Fan”; “The Young Girl Struck Down Tragically and Fighting to Recover”; “The Old Man Trying to Help the Youth in Trouble”? But that decision was not mine to make. As with all the best stories, this one defined itself. The beginning is unadorned. The ending hasn’t happened yet. And the story is the story of Piers and Jenny.
Consider yourself introduced.
A story begins.
Dear Mr. Anthony
Let me get right to the point: I need your help.
I’m at my wit’s end and am grabbing at straws, so decided to write to you in hopes that you might take a few moments of your time for my daughter Jennifer.
Jennifer is twelve years old, and, along with the rest of the family has very much enjoyed your Xanth series. Unfortunately, at the moment, she is in no condition to be able to enjoy your latest offering. On December 9th 1988 while walking home from school she was struck by a drunk driver, and she has been in a coma ever since.
She is responding to very little, although she will, occasionally and inconsistently, wiggle the big toe of her right foot, lift her head and/or track with her eyes, upon request. We’ve managed to elicit some minor response from her (a widening of the eyes and a heavy sigh) by showing her pictures of our cats and reading a note from one of her friends, but aside from that, she will more often than not merely lie in her bed, staring off into space, either refusing or unable to cooperate with us or her therapists. We know that she can hear us, but just how much she is able to perceive is in question. There is SOME perception there since she seems to remember her cats and her friends, as evidenced by her reactions to the photographs and the reading of the note from her friend, and by the movements performed, however sporadically, on request.
As I’ve already mentioned, she’s read and enjoyed all but one of your Xanth books, and the rest of us, my brother and I in particular, have read them all with great relish. Some of your creatures and creations have even managed to insinuate themselves into our everyday conversation: “Mom, how do you spell [whatever]?” “Do I look like a spelling bee? Go look it up in the dictionary!” and “Jennifer, look at this plant! I just watered it yesterday, and yet it’s wilted as if to die!” “Agent Orange must have done it, Mother …” (I later found out that our big orange cat, Peanut, decided that the planter remarkably resembled a kitty-litter pan and chose that spot to relieve himself! Agent Orange, indeed!) or “Mother, may I have a pair of those new shoes like Carrie’s got?” “Not till pay day—if that’s not soon enough for you, go pick them off the Lady Slipper bush in the back garden!” Of course, we have our own Gap Chasm (a drainage ditch that runs the length of our back property) and a Gap Dragon (a nasty stray tom who’ll attack anything that moves) to inhabit it. And many’s the time that I’ve sworn it must be a Forget Spell on Jenny’s school books that caused her to forget just how much homework had been assigned, or a Forget Whorl that somehow got trapped in her room, since she just could never remember it long enough to keep it tidy. On the other hand, Jennifer maintains that the television is a hypnogourd because her daddy exhibits a vacant stare while gazing into it, and the only way to break his attention away from it is to step directly in front of the screen. The Bed Monster is blamed for anything that’s gotten lost in her room (”He took it because he got jealous that I’m not spending enough time with him, Mother”), and I’ve been accused of taking lessons from Grundy Golem after having hurled a particularly nasty epithet at someone or something that’s made me cross. There are many other examples, but I believe that these more than illustrate my point.
We’ve been trying everything imaginable to stir something within her, to help her come out of this coma. Anything that might elicit some response, however slight, would be a blessing. I believe that a letter or note from you, the author of her favorite books, just might get a reaction from Jennifer. Sayings and characters from your books have become familiar friends in our household, and to me it seems only logical that a word to Jenny from you would be something to which she could relate and possibly respond. Mr. Anthony, my gratitude would know no bounds if you could find it within your heart to write something to my daughter. I realize that your time is exceedingly limited, and I would not ask this of you if I did not believe that it just might make a difference.
Before undertaking the writing of this letter, I spoke with a friend of mine, another author (Andrea Alton, whose book Demon of Undoing was recently released by BAEN BOOKS), to get an author’s perspective on the request I wished to make of you. She encouraged me not only to write you, but went so far as to suggest that I ask you to name a Xanth character after Jenny, telling me that naming a character after someone isn’t difficult to do since the character itself does not have to resemble that person in the slightest. Just the fact that a character has been named after one would be honor enough. And the last thing she said was that the worst you could do would be to say, “No.” I was hesitant at first to make so bold, but, as Andrea told me, there was no harm in asking, and should you decide to do Jennifer the honor, I’m certain that it would be one of the high points in her life.