Jack L. Chalker was a prolific and fascinating author, best known for his Well World series of science fiction novels. I definitely remember the Well World series with fondness, but I also remember his lesser-known Dancing Gods novels.
These books are a queer duck mix of straight fantasy mixed with Christian mythology and parody of the fantasy genre. The story goes that after God finished with creation, all the stuff ‘left over’ got dumped into a corner of creation, where it formed another world, only without concrete rules. Wizards got together and wrote out a Book of Rules to stabilize everything. However, after they got finished making the important rules, they started making more and more trivial ones. This is how all the cliches and oddball behavior of so many fantasy characters is explained in the series.
Rules like: (and I’m paraphrasing since I don’t remember the exact rule) “Good looking men and women will, when not otherwise called for, dress as little as possible.” This is how bare-chested and bikini-clad heroes and heroines are explained. Other rules are how magic items are always of certain shapes and types and dragons are always guarding them. There are a lot of extremely silly rules and it gets pretty funny. There’s even one saying: “All fantasy novels must be trilogies.”
(I think my favorite is the magical sword named “Irving”.)
The struggles come from heaven and hell fighting with proxies in the Dancing Gods world. While constrained on Earth, rules are more lax on the Dancing Gods world. Demons are typically influencing events and heaven keeps out of it because they don’t cheat.
Jack’s specializes in having his characters go through transformations and having to adapt to them. This series is no exception. Joe and Marge (the main protagonists at the beginning) are transformed at least a half-dozen times. Joe starts out as a barbarian warrior and ends up as a fairy princess. Marge has a similar story.
The books are very entertaining and even occasionally veer into serious territory about responsibility to family, gender roles and the like. Chalker is too somber a writer to go with goofiness all the time like Mythadventures. Most of the humor comes from the self-aware humor involving fantasy and horror tropes. The characters are sort of ‘in on the joke’ but that’s explained by the Book of Rules.
Jack also like the characters to have to perform some kind of ‘impossible task’. They have to break into somewhere impossible to break into or destroy something that can’t be destroyed. Picture the vault break-in scene from the first Mission Impossible movie, only done with fantasy trappings. This is pretty standard, but also awfully entertaining when written well (as Chalker does.)