Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Faun & Games


Faun & Games (1997)
Like many fauns and nymphs, Forrest Faun has a symbiotic relationship with a tree, in his case, a sandalwood tree.

Demoness Mentia meets Forrest, and tells him a nearby tree is wilting.  Forrest discovers that it is the clog tree belonging to his friend Branch Faun, who seems to have gone missing.  He follows Branch’s footprints, and realises that he had been chasing a nymph (as fauns do), but they had both slipped and fallen into the Void, from which there is no return.

But without its faun, the tree will become essentially mundane.  Forrest wonders how he can get another faun to come and adopt the tree.  Mentia suggests he go and ask Good Magician Humfrey.  She can’t guide him herself, so she will send a friend.

But the Magician requires a year’s Service or equivalent in exchange for answering a Question, and Forrest can’t be away from his tree that long.  He goes to see Com Passion, a lovable female machine of the same type as Com Pewter.  Com Passion gives him two discs, which will slow down time for the two trees, but he must be back in a month’s time.

Demoness Sire (D. Sire = desire) shows up to guide Forrest to the Good Magician.  She owes Mentia half a favour. They reach the Gap Chasm, and Forrest doesn’t know how to cross.  He finds a dog caught in briers and rescues it, and treats its scratches with balm.  This is Woofer, the Baldwin family’s dog. (The Baldwin family, plus their three pets, including Woofer, appeared in “Yon Ill Wind”. They had visited Xanth from Mundania in that story.)

Then Forrest sees two figures flying over the Chasm.  They arrive; they are Sean Baldwin and his girlfriend, the winged elf, Willow.  (Willow, originally from Xanth, had gone with the Baldwin family when they returned to Mundania at the end of “Yon Ill Wind”, but Sean and Willow had since returned to Xanth for a visit, bringing Woofer with them.)  Sean had been surprised to discover he could fly without wings.  Sean and Willow are grateful to Forrest for helping Woofer, and Willow blows a whistle. A woman called Chlorine arrives, riding on the back of a donkey-headed dragon called Nimby.  (Chlorine and Nimby appeared in “Yon Ill Wind”.)

When Chlorine hears Forrest’s story, she offers him a lift on Nimby’s back; Nimby takes Chlorine and Forrest down the side of the Chasm, across the bottom, and up the other side.  Forrest continues on and arrives at the Good Magician’s Castle.

But the Good Magician refuses to listen to his Question, and just tells him that Mare Imbri will soon arrive to clarify things.  Wira, Humfrey’s daughter-in-law, conducts Forrest to a room where he can communicate with Imbri.  And Forrest becomes aware of a voice speaking in his mind; it is Imbri.

Imbri had originally been a night mare, that is, a female horse who delivers the bad dreams of the realm of night.  At the end of “Night Mare”, Imbri’s body had been lost in the Void.  But Imbri had been given a half-soul by Chem Centaur (in “Ogre, Ogre”); her connection to Chem had enabled Imbri to survive in spirit form, although she is without a body, and invisible.  And she had become a day mare, bringing pleasant daydreams to people instead of bad dreams.

Imbri can communicate with people in the form of a dream.  To Forrest she appears as a ghostly image of a human woman, and he imagines he can hear her talking.  She tells him how she had asked the Good Magician a Question. She is not quite satisfied with her life, and wishes to “gallop in some other pasture”.  The Good Magician will grant her wish after she performs her Service, which is to take Forrest to a place called Ptero.  She had been there before, to take daydreams to people. On Ptero are counterparts of all Xanth’s characters, and also others who could potentially exist in Xanth.  Forrest and Imbri must have to go to Ptero to find the faun that Forrest is looking for.

Forrest and Imbri now travel together to Castle Roogna.  Here they meet twin Princesses Dawn and Eve, who are 6 years old, and their mother Princess Electra.  Electra conducts them to the Tapestry room, where they meet Princess Ida.  Ida has a tiny moon orbiting her head: this moon is Ptero.  (The moon had appeared, orbiting Ida’s head, in “Roc and a Hard Place”, and it had been named “Ptero” by Karen Baldwin in “Yon Ill Wind”.) The Good Magician has provided Forrest with a bottle containing a spell.  Ida instructs Forrest to sniff the contents of this bottle, and this releases his soul to travel to Ptero, while his body stays behind. Imbri, who is already in soul form, guides him there.

As Forrest (in soul-form) and Imbri approach Ptero, the moon appears to become a full-sized world, and they land on it.  Forrest’s soul takes on the shape of his physical body, which feels like his normal body and is solid on this world.  He discovers he has brought his knapsack with all its contents with him, apparently formed from part of his soul.  Imbri is visible, in her form as a horse, but is rather hazy (she is not very dense, as her half soul occupies the volume of a horse), so changes to the form of a small woman, which enables her to talk normally.  They encounter various people, and discover that to obtain a service (such as information about this world, or guidance to a location) they must provide a service in exchange.

They learn that the colour of the air indicates the direction: blue for north, red for south, yellow for east (referred to as “From”) and green for west (referred to as “To”).  Travelling east makes a person younger, and travelling west makes them older, so their range is limited by their life span.   (“Time is geography.”)   Both Forrest and Imbri are about 200 years old, so are not significantly restricted.

Locations in Ptero tend to be divided into regions according to species.  The place they have landed is the equine region (with centaurs, unicorns, etc).  They meet a winged centaur called Cathryn, who could guide them to the faun region.  However, she doesn’t think there is anything she needs, so they can’t exchange a service.

Forrest consults a list provided by the Good Magician; the first entry is “Dear Horn”.  And Cathryn realises this is something she wants; blowing the dear horn will locate a person’s True Love.  Imbri, as a dream horse, is able to detect a flickering glow in the direction of the horn; it is to the north, and slightly to the east.  So they set off to find it.  They eventually reach the boundary of the equine region, and have to cross a comic strip; this is a strip of land with various obnoxious puns, entering it is a rather nasty experience.  (This is the first of many that characters in the Xanth series will encounter.  They are present in Ptero, marking the boundaries between regions, but can be found in Xanth as well.)  They enter the ogre region.  The further they have journeyed to the east, the younger Cathryn has become, so by this stage she has become a young child.  They come to a castle occupied by an ogre.

Ogres can be dangerous creatures, but Forrest volunteers to go to the door to meet the ogre. The ogre’s name is Orgy, he speaks in the typical inane rhymes of ogres.  After conversing with Orgy for a while, Forrest realises that Orgy is no longer speaking in rhyme.  Orgy says that no ogres rhyme; it is just the perception of other people; when they come to know and respect ogres, they are no longer prejudiced, and perceive them as speaking normally.  However he still admits that ogres are strong, ugly and stupid.

[The author is obviously introducing this new rule in order to give us a message about prejudice.  But I am not happy with this explanation.  It is well established that in general ogres speak in rhyme. Many of the examples in the series make no sense if this is not so.  In fact, speaking in rhyme is supposed to be part of an ogre’s magical nature.  Okra Ogress, in “The Color of Her Panties”, does not speak in rhyme, but admittedly she is more intelligent than most ogres.  The only conclusion I can come to is that in general ogres speak in rhyme, but some do not; it seems to be related to how intelligent the ogre is.  However, a bit later, Orgy spoils his own argument by stating that he deliberately speaks in rhyme when other people might hear him, thus reinforcing the stereotype.  The other ogres in the story behave in the same way.

As the series continues, the two conflicting rules persist.]

Forrest invites Imbri and Cathryn to come into the castle. Initially they perceive Orgy as speaking in inane rhymes, but then realise he is speaking normally.

Orgy describes how he had found the dear horn, and it had led him to this castle, which although unoccupied by other people, automatically provides him with food, and repairs the walls that he bashes down.  Having no further need for the horn, he threw it out the window.  If they can provide a service for him, he will tell them where he threw it.  They propose to find an ogress companion for him, who will admire his ogreish qualities.  Orgy says his friend Ogle Ogre might be able to lead them to such an ogress.  So Forrest, Imbri and Cathryn go off and locate Ogle, who leads them to an ogress called Olé.  Olé willingly comes to Orgy’s castle to be his companion, and Orgy tells them the location of the dear horn.

After finding the horn, they return to the region where Cathryn is an adult, and she blows the horn.  The echo, which only she can hear, comes from due east; this must be the direction of her True Love.  They travel as far as they can, before Cathryn becomes too young to continue, so Forrest and Imbri continue on without her, and find a young male winged centaur called Contrary. He is initially unwilling to come with them; he doesn’t want to grow up or have a female as a companion, but they persuade him.  So he comes with them to meet Cathryn and realises she is his True Love.

Forrest and Imbri ride on the centaurs’ backs as they fly as far west as they can before the centaurs become too old to continue.  The faun region is beyond their range.  Cathryn tells Forrest and Imbri that if they continue on, they will reach Ptero’s counterpart of Castle Roogna.  Dawn and Eve should be able to guide them to the faun region.

Cathryn’s talent is to conjure up blankets, although not the regular kind.  During their travels together, dragons had attacked them several times, but Cathryn had concealed them by conjuring, in turn, a security blanket, a blanket of fog, and a blanket of silence. To assist them in their mission, she gives them a canned blanket of obscurity, which they can invoke as needed.  It lasts an hour, after which they must reinvoke it.

So Forrest and Imbri continue on, but instead of reaching Castle Roogna, they come to Ptero’s counterpart of the Good Magician’s Castle.  They decide to enter, to ask for directions.  This requires them to pass the Challenges, and Forrest will have to provide a Service when he asks Humfrey his Question.  When he does, Humfrey assigns him the Service of adviser to Princesses Dawn and Eve, to enable them to save the territory from marginalization.  Sofia Socksorter, the current Designated Wife, directs them to the magic path to Castle Roogna.

They stay overnight at a rest station. Forrest and Imbri sleep next to each other, sharing a blanket.  But Forrest is disturbed, feeling sexual urges, lying next to a female human body.  In the past he has “celebrated” with nymphs many times, but doesn’t feel that he can do this casually with an intelligent creature like Imbri.

The next day they approach Castle Roogna.  They see a whole lot of lines criss-crossing the valley, enclosing the Castle.  This must be the “marginalization” that the Good Magician had referred to.  Forrest invokes the blanket of obscurity as a safeguard.  They continue on and enter the Castle.

Inside they meet Ptero’s counterparts of Ida, Electra, Dawn and Eve, Ivy and Grey.  But because they are so far in the “To” direction, they are all 12 years older than their counterparts on Xanth.  Dawn and Eve are 18, and very flirtatious; they continue to act amorously towards Forrest throughout their subsequent adventure together.  The occupants of the Castle explain to the visitors what has happened.  All the other humans of the territory have been captured by the margins; when enclosed by the lines, they turn ghostly, and cannot return.  (In King Dor’s absence, Ivy had become King.)  (For constitutional reasons, the ruler of Xanth – and therefore of its derivative world Ptero – is referred to as King, whether male or female.) Where the lines appear, there are actually invisible walls, which the remaining humans can’t cross.  Forrest figures out that he and Imbri had managed to cross because of the blanket of obscurity.

Dawn’s magic talent is to know anything about any living thing she touches.  Eve’s is to know anything about any inanimate object she touches.

Forrest, Imbri, Dawn and Eve go to investigate the lines, and Eve discovers that energy is being supplied to maintain the invisible walls.  It is coming from above, but the beam of energy bends, and is coming from Castle Roogna.  They figure out that it is coming from Ida’s moon.  The Ida of this world has a moon called Pyramid, consisting of 4 triangular sides. They must travel to Pyramid to find the source of the energy beam.

So Forrest, Imbri, Dawn and Eve go through a process similar to Forrest and Imbri’s previous experience.  Dawn, Eve and Forrest sniff the bottle Forrest had brought from Xanth. (Imbri doesn’t need to do this.) Dawn’s and Eve’s souls separate from their bodies; in Forrest and Imbri’s case, a small part separates from their souls; they all travel in soul form to Pyramid, where they form into the familiar shapes of their bodies.  Imbri has enough mass to form into her natural form of a mare.

Pyramid’s four faces have different colours: blue, red, and green, and the base is grey.  They land on the blue face; everything there is in shades of blue.  But they find themselves standing at an angle tilted from the perpendicular.  They find some squirrel-like creatures called lings, whose magic is to make the impossible possible.  At their request, the lings turn them blue, so they don’t stand out, change their orientation to be perpendicular to the ground, and ensure the obscurity blanket operates in this world.  The group learns that when a person does a favour for someone, the giver increases in size, and the receiver reduces in size.

They decide to head for the centre of the blue face; this is likely to be the source of the margins.  They come to an area occupied by cat people.  Forrest has invoked the blanket of obscurity, so the cat people do not notice them, but Dawn touches one of them, and finds out all she knows.  In the centre of the blue face is the Blue Wizard’s Castle; it is guarded by monsters.  The cat woman is afraid of the Wizard; he has given away so much he has become enormous.  The group conclude the Wizard has been stealing talents from Ptero and giving them away.  There must be Wizards on the other three faces doing the same thing.

They approach the Wizard’s Castle and find a nearby garbage dump; Dawn and Eve use their talents on the living and inanimate components of the garbage to find out all they can about the castle.  They work out the castle’s layout.  The lines are coming from the dungeon.

They need more information about the dungeon. Forrest figures that this world must also have a version of Ida. Maybe she can help them.

They meet a man called Todd Loren, originally from Mundania.  His talent is to create a gust of wind to lead someone to a particular place.  So he creates a gust to lead them to Ida.  So they eventually find her on an island in a lake, where the Blue Wizard had confined her.

The Ida of this world has a moon called Torus, which is in the shape of a doughnut. Ida says she doesn’t know the answer to their problem, but she is sure the Ida of Torus will know. They repeat the same process as before, and land on Torus.

They find their way to where Ida of Torus lives, on an island in a small sea.  Eve touches the water, using her talent to find out about it. The sea is called the Sarah Sea, and the island is called Niffin Island, which is inhabited by many magical creatures.  And Ida is on the island. Afterwards Eve comes and holds Forrest’s hand.

They cross to the island, and meet Ida and explain their mission.  This Ida has a moon called Cone; it is shaped like a cone.  The information they need is on Cone, but Ida is able to take a conic section to obtain the information.  But on Torus, if a person provides a favour to another, the giver incurs a burden of emotion; they start to like or love the receiver.  To avoid this, they exchange favours.

They realise at that point that Eve had fallen in love with Forrest when she provided the information about the Sarah Sea; this is why she was holding his hand.  And it is now too late for Forrest to provide a return favour.

But now Forrest must provide a return favour to Ida, in order to obtain her information.  Ida wants to know everything about the Sarah Sea, including the creatures of the depths.  Eve returns to the Sea, and gathers all the information and tells it to Forrest.  (She is already in love with him; it seems that her love cannot increase.)  Forrest passes this on to Ida.

Ida tells what she had learned from Cone: There are creatures called “margins” in the dungeons of the Wizards’ Castles of Pyramid. They are the ones generating the lines; they have been deceived about their purpose. If they are told the truth, they will stop generating the lines and the power of the Wizards will collapse.

But Forrest’s group will need the help of two additional people on Pyramid: Ghina (on the red face), whose talent is to put people to sleep; and Jfraya (on the green face), whose talent is to draw a door which opens.  (Ghina is the daughter of Pyramid’s versions of Graebo Giant and Gloha Goblin-Harpy.  Gloha and Graebo appeared in “Harpy Thyme”.  Graebo had originally been an invisible giant, but had been transformed into a winged goblin like Gloha.)

Dawn wants to do Forrest a favour, so she will love Forrest as much as Eve does.  Forrest’s only wish is to find a faun to care for the clog tree.  Dawn asks that they all join hands (with the girls touching Imbri, who is in horse form) so Dawn can find whether anyone knows anything useful.  She discovers something, and declares that she has now done Forrest a favour, and is also in love with him.  But she doesn’t tell him what the favour is.

It is time to return to Pyramid. The group hold hands and allow themselves to expand and become more diffuse. They float away from Torus, and move through the air back to where their bodies are waiting on Pyramid. Each of them merges back into their body. They tell Ida of Pyramid about their adventure.

Then they make their way to the red face, and find a colony of lings, which turn them red and adjust their orientation to that face.  They find their way to Ghina’s house.  She is an invisible winged goblin; she has inherited her invisibility from her father, and wears a red cloak so people can see her.  She agrees to come with them.  She takes them to her Uncle Kerby, an invisible giant, who carries them all to the green face.

But they can’t find any lings, so their orientation is wrong; they are at about 90 degrees to the perpendicular, so have to crawl along.  But they finally make it to Jfraya’s house, and she agrees to come with them.  She draws a door on the ground, which opens into a tunnel system; the tunnels are pre-existing, and had been created by goblins.  The group discovers they are able to comfortably walk along the tunnel walls.

They exit a short distance from the Green Wizard’s Castle, and wait till night.  Imbri stays behind; she has difficulty crawling, but will be able to communicate with them via dreamlets.  Ghina manages to fly, with difficulty.  Jfraya can walk normally, the others crawl.  Ghina puts the guardian monsters to sleep one by one.  Jfraya draws a door in the wall and they enter.  There they see a dozen small pyramids; these are the margins, the creatures causing the lines.  Imbri communicates with them; the Wizard had convinced them that they were confining evil people on Ptero. Imbri persuades them that this is not so, and they agree to stop in three days time, delaying so the other Wizards are not warned.

They will go to the Red Wizard’s Castle next.  Jfraya opens a door into tunnels which take them there directly.  They repeat the process there, asking the margins to stop in two and a half days, which would be at the same time as the green margins.  They pass through another tunnel to the Blue Wizard’s Castle, and ask the margins to stop in a day and a half.

The travel to the Grey Wizard’s Castle is going to be difficult, as there are no goblin tunnels leading there.  They locate some centaurs, who agree to carry them to the blue face’s boundary with the grey face. Four centaurs carry Imbri in a sling.

The ground on the grey face is covered with snow; they manage to walk by making trenches, and walking on the walls of the trench.  But they are running late.  When they enter the Castle, the Wizard (who is a woman) is ready for them.  However, she thinks that one of their party is missing, believing that Imbri is just an animal.  She orders a mermaid, Cerci, to start turning them into pigs.  But Imbri manages to communicate with the margins, who stop generating their lines.  The Wizard shrinks to the size of an elf, as all the talents she had gained are returned to their owners.

The Wizard negotiates.  She will return to her home village.  All the servants in the Castle wish to stay there, and Jfraya agrees to be their mistress.  The Wizard tells Ghina where she can find a winged goblin male on the blue face.

Forrest, Imbri, Dawn and Eve return to Ptero.  All the missing humans have returned.  They form a receiving line to meet and thank Forrest and Imbri individually.  Many of them are alternative children of well-known people in Xanth.  Two handsome princes, called Mourning and Knight, meet Dawn and Eve, and suddenly the girls are more interested in the princes than in Forrest.

This is followed by a banquet.  Then it is time for Forrest and Imbri to move on.  Two giants carry them to the edge of the faun region.

And in the faun region, Forrest meets Deanna Fauna, a female faun.  Forrest had never heard of such a thing.  But he soon discovers she is not interested in caring for a tree, or becoming real (that is, to become a resident of the “real world” of Xanth), or being stuck at a single age (given that on Ptero you can change your age by travelling east or west).  And she assures him that all the other fauns feel the same way.  It seems that Forrest’s mission has failed.

Forrest and Imbri return to Xanth.  Imbri, now appearing to him in her ghostly human form, accompanies him to his tree.  They are both disappointed; they believe that the adventure has spoiled them for regular existence.  They wish they had made love together when they’d had the opportunity on Ptero.

Imbri approaches the clog tree, and suddenly the tree is projecting a scene with its foliage: a nymph and a faun in a loving relationship. Then they realise that it is them: Imbri and Forrest.  The tree had picked up on Imbri’s daydream.  Forrest blows the dear horn, and discovers that Imbri is his True Love.  And he discovers a note in his knapsack: Dawn had written the word “Imbri”, when she realised the favour she could do for him.

The tree can provide substance to give Imbri a solid body, and Imbri can become the tree’s carer.  And Forrest and Imbri can become lovers. This is Imbri’s “new pasture”.