Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Dragon on a Pedestal

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Dragon on a Pedestal (1983)
Dor and Irene became King and Queen when Trent and Iris retired.  They now have a three-year-old daughter called Ivy.

Dor and Irene have been invited to the Zombie Master’s castle, ostensibly for the debut of Hiatus and Lacuna, the Zombie Master and Millie’s 16-year-old twins. (This is New Castle Zombie; Humfrey’s Castle is now on the site of the original Castle Zombie, as described in the book “Castle Roogna”.)  However, it is actually a meeting of the Magicians for an important announcement from Good Magician Humfrey.

Humfrey arrives on a magic carpet with his son Hugo.  Hugo is eight, backward, and his talent is to conjure fruit, but the fruit turns up rotten.  Humfrey’s announcement is this: The forget spell on the Gap Chasm is breaking up and forming forget whorls, drifting out of the Gap, and causing people to lose their memory.  The Gap Dragon has left the Gap and is roaming around.  They have to do something about these problems. And then Humfrey and Hugo leave.

The Gap Dragon attacks Castle Zombie.  The zombies defend the castle, and Irene grows plants to attack the dragon, and the dragon leaves.  However, in the confusion, Ivy goes missing, and wanders off into the jungle.

Irene flies to Magician Humfrey’s Castle on a bird-of-paradise plant, to ask how to find Ivy.

Irene’s talent is growing plants. She has always been able to grow them rapidly, and give them commands to some extent.  But now she can grow them almost instantly.  This improvement occurred when Irene was pregnant with Ivy. Ivy’s talent is Enhancement, so maybe Ivy’s presence is responsible for the improvement.  [Interesting point: in these early books, human pregnancy is mentioned a couple of times.  In later books, babies are delivered by storks.]  And now Irene’s talent is at Magician level.  This talent is useful for growing plants for food, or clothing or weapons, etc; all of this becomes handy for this adventure.  A lot of Xanth plants have strange attributes: some of them behave like the animals they are named after.

But at the Good Magician’s Castle, the Gorgon (the Good Magician’s wife) tells Irene what has happened to Humfrey, playing back the sequence in a magic mirror.  Humfrey and Hugo had gone to the Fountain of Youth to replenish the Magician’s supply. The Gap Dragon attacked.  Hugo splashed both the dragon and Humfrey with Fountain of Youth water: the dragon became younger and smaller, and Humfrey reverted to a baby.  The Gorgon had used the emergency conjuration spell to bring baby Humfrey back to the castle, but Hugo is missing.  So the two mothers now have to search separately for their two children.

Back at the Zombie Master’s castle, the party has broken up into search parties to find Ivy.  Irene joins Chem Centaur and Grundy Golem.  At Dor’s insistence, they take a zombie called Zora with them, to take word back to Castle Zombie if needed.

Ivy is wandering in the jungle, seeing various things.  She meets a yak, who is very talkative, but the yak departs when he encounters a forget-whorl.  Later she meets the youthened Gap Dragon.  Not being aware she should be frightened of him, she admires him, saying how wonderful and friendly he is, how strong he is and how hard and shiny his scales are, and how hot his steam is.  And her talent of Enhancement makes it so. She gives him the name Stanley Steamer.  Ivy and the dragon continue on together, but are then caught in a witch’s trap – one which could keep them frozen in time for nearly a century.

Irene, Chem and Grundy are captured by the witch Xanthippe, who has hypnotic powers. (Zora is with them, but the witch’s powers don’t work on her.)  The witch wants Irene to marry and breed with her son Xavier, even though Irene is already married.  She tells Irene she has Ivy captive.  But Xavier is not keen to do what his mother says.  Xanthippe releases the group when Irene offers to do the other thing Xanthippe wants: fetch the Seeds of Doubt, Dissension and War from the Tree of Seeds, which is guarded by the Simurgh (a huge bird), on Mount Parnassus.  Xanthippe also wants one of the Simurgh’s feathers, which is able to heal wounds.  Xavier and his hippogryph Xap go with them; Zora rides with Xavier on the hippogryph, who flies most of the way.

Meanwhile, Ivy and the dragon escape the trap, because of Ivy’s talent of Enhancement; Ivy is in fact a Sorceress, although she is not aware of the fact.  They encounter Hugo, who is also wandering in the jungle.  Ivy’s talent has the effect of making Hugo more handsome and smarter, and the fruit he conjures is ripe.  In a similar way to Irene’s plants, Hugo’s fruit is useful for all sorts of purposes: food, weapons, etc.

During Irene and her companions’ adventure, Zora Zombie saves their lives several times, suffering injuries that they would otherwise have experienced.  They learn her story: when she was a living woman, her true love had been false, and she had committed suicide.  Her family had brought her body to the Zombie Master, who had made her into a zombie.  Irene and her companions are grateful and sympathetic to her, and Zora’s body responds to their care and love by becoming less decayed.

On Mount Parnassus they are attacked by the Python (a giant snake) and the Maenads (the wild women of wine), but they manage to escape.  They meet the Muses at their temple.  Irene, Xavier and Grundy climb to the peak.  They see the Simurgh and the Tree of Seeds, which has the seeds of all possible kinds of plants. (The Simurgh is the wisest creature in the universe, and has seen the universe created and destroyed three times.)    The Simurgh gives Irene the feather and the seeds she asks for, then bounces on the tree, making a huge number of seeds fly off: Irene can take all the seeds she can catch and hold in her skirt.

[The author borrows from a lot of elements of Greek mythology in this story: Parnassus, Python, Maenads, Muses.  The Simurgh is from Iranian mythology.]

Ivy, Hugo and the Gap Dragon meet Glory Goblin (the younger sister of Goldy, from “Ogre, Ogre”).   She is in love with Hardy Harpy, one of the rare male harpies, but she knows her father, Gorbage, won’t allow them to marry.  So she has run away to find Hardy.  The goblins and the harpies live on opposite sides of the Gap, and with the forget spell and the dragon, this has kept them somewhat at peace with each other (since the war 800 years ago in “Castle Roogna”).  Together the group locates Hardy.  But then the goblins catch them and put Hardy on trial and condemn him to death.  But the group, including Glory and Hardy, escape.

Irene’s party returns from Mount Parnassus:  They meet the Gorgon; she has been affected by a forget-whorl, and forgotten to keep her veil on, and has been turning people to stone.  Again Zora saves Irene by intercepting the Gorgon’s stare; however the effect is to repair Zora’s body, so she appears more recently dead.  Xavier realises he cares for Zora, and he and Zora depart on Xap.  Irene reminds the Gorgon to put her veil on.

A new goblin/harpy war is starting up.  But Irene and her companions manage to intervene, to stop the war.

They discover a wiggle swarm in progress.  (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.  A wiggle swarm occurred previously in “A Spell for Chameleon”.)  Creatures from all over come to defeat the wiggles. And Ivy, Hugo and the Gap Dragon play an important part in defeating them.

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