Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Geis of the Gargoyle


Geis of the Gargoyle (1994)
Demoness Mentia (D. Mentia = dementia) introduces herself to Gary Gargoyle (sometimes referred to as Gary Gar).  She is the alter ego of Demoness Metria, but had become so disgusted with Metria marrying, getting a soul and falling in love (in “Harpy Thyme”) that she had split off.  Also, Mentia is a little crazy.

Gary responds by telling her how his family had been under the obligation of honour (or geis) for centuries to purify the water of the Swan Knee River entering Xanth from Mundania.  But recently it has become very polluted.

Mentia suggests he ask Good Magician Humfrey if there is an easier way to do the job. She will guide him to the Good Magician’s Castle.  So he dams the river, and sets off with her.  Currently there is a drought, but he will need to be back when the rains come.

They stop at the winged centaurs’ home, where they meet Chex, who flicks Gary with her tail to make him light enough to fly over the Gap Chasm with his stone wings.  (This is the magic of winged centaurs: they flick themselves with their tails, to make themselves light enough to fly.)  So Gary and Mentia successfully cross the Chasm, and arrive at the Good Magician’s Castle. Mentia departs. Near the castle, Gary meets a warrior woman called Hannah Barbarian.

Inside the castle, Gary meets the Gorgon (the Good Magician’s current “Designated Wife”). She tells him that the Good Magician realises that Gary can’t spare a year away from his river, so instead of the usual year’s Service in the castle, the Good Magician has arranged a different Service.  He has to tutor a human child.  He will be transformed into a human by Magician Trent for the duration of the Service.  But since he won’t have the usual protection of his stone body, he will have the Sorceress Iris with him to protect him; she can scare away monsters with her illusions.

Having accepted this, he asks the Good Magician his Question: “How can I more readily purify the water?”  Humfrey’s Answer is: “Get a philter.”  Then he adds, “Ask Hiatus.”

[The author has done something a bit strange here, with his use of the word “philter”. It is not a typical pun, since the meaning of “philter” – a magic potion – has no significance in the story. It is effectively just a misspelling of the word “filter”.]

Outside the castle Gary meets Mentia again.  Mentia offers to take him to the Brain Coral’s underground pool where Trent and Iris are in suspended animation.  They ride a figgle (which is like a diggle – a large digging creature that can phase through rock, encountered in previous stories – but who expects to be rewarded with a fig).

Gary enters the pool and finds Trent. (The occupants of the Brain Coral’s Pool are usually asleep, but from time to time wake up and interact with the other occupants.) (As mentioned in “Harpy Thyme”, Trent had been youthened to his twenties.)   Trent locates Iris who is 93.  He tells them that the child whom Gary is to tutor is Surprise, the 6-year-old daughter of Grundy and Rapunzel, who has a seemingly endless series of different talents.  Trent transforms Gary into a human man, and gives Iris youth potion, so she youthens to an apparent age of 23.  Gary and Iris exit the pool and take the Brain Coral’s freight elevator to the surface.

Mentia appears and guides them to Grundy and Rapunzel’s home.  Rapunzel is quite happy to hand Surprise over; the little girl is out of control, constantly performing different kinds of magic and causing chaos.  In addition to the magic of her talents, she has also inherited her mother’s ability to be any size.  Surprise continues to perform her chaotic magic while on this adventure.

Now they must go to the Zombie Master’s Castle to find Hiatus, the son of the Zombie Master and Millie.  Iris wishes they had a flying carpet, and before they can stop her, Surprise conjures one up.  So they use it to fly to the Castle.  Inside they meet Millie.  She tells them Hiatus is unhappy and lacks ambition.  She calls him in and Hiatus (now a man nearing 40) tells them his story.

Hiatus’s talent is to grow temporary organs on various surfaces, such as eyes, ears or noses, on windows, treetrunks or rocks. This has not always been popular with other people.  Once when he was a child of 11, his mother had yelled at him and sent him out of the house.  He had ridden his zombie dragon, Doofus, as far as he could, into the forest.  Then he had sent the dragon home.  Then he had met Desiree Dryad. She had looked after him and fed him, and pointed out the path he should take home.  But when she heard his views on the wife he might have some day (that she would do all the housework), she told him to look at her and said, “When you are a man, you will never see a girl as fair.”

Ever since, Hiatus has not been able to get interested in any other girls.  He keeps longing to see the dryad again, but can’t find his way back to her.  As a dryad, Desiree had to stay close to her tree. This had been near the Region of Madness.  But the Region of Madness had expanded, so the area was full of weirdness, and difficult to search.

Gary decides that maybe the Good Magician had meant that Desiree would tell them how to find the philter, so Hiatus joins them as they head off to find her.  Mentia appears, to find out what is happening; she joins them and helps look after Surprise.  They arrive in the Region of Madness. Their magic talents don’t work as expected, but the environment of madness causes Mentia to be less crazy than usual.  They find their way to Desiree’s tree, which appears to be sick, and the dryad herself appears to be haggard.  They have been affected by the madness.

Iris uses her talent of illusion to make the dryad and her tree appear beautiful again.  Hiatus tells Desiree he wants to marry her.  But Desiree never intended that; she had only been teaching him a lesson.  But she will do anything to save her tree, so if he succeeds in saving it, she will marry him.

Desiree tells them the philter is in the ruins, but she can’t remember where the ruins are. She directs them to where there is a giant, who may be able to tell them.  So they continue on and find Jethro, an invisible giant, who had fallen down, and is now resting, in no hurry to get up.  He tells them to follow his footprints to the ruins.

The Region of Madness has been expanding: this seems to have started at the Time of No Magic.  (This occurred briefly at the end of “The Source of Magic”.)  This also seems to explain various other magical effects: such as, giants growing bigger than previously.  Could there have been a spell holding the madness back, which failed at the Time of No Magic?  Maybe this also accounts for the increase in water pollution.

They continue on, and eventually come to an area with many large stones.  They seem to be the ruins of an ancient city.  But they can’t find the philter.

Because of Gary’s association with stone, with an effort he can examine a stone and discover what the stone was able to see in the past. By choosing an appropriate stone, he can work out what its view of the city would have been.  And by describing the view to Iris, she can create an illusion of that view of the city.  They repeat this on several appropriately placed stones, and build up an illusion of the whole city.  They learn that this is the ancient city of Stone Hinge.

Part of the illusion contains the image of a train.  Mentia and Surprise get on board, and the rest follow.  Against all logic, the train starts moving.  It seems that the madness has given substance to the illusion.  Eventually the train arrives at a station.  They are greeted by two people: one is Hanna the Handmaiden, who looks just like Hannah Barbarian, whom Gary had met outside the Good Magician’s Castle; the other is Desi the Desolate, who looks just like Desiree Dryad.

Hanna takes them all to a palace.  There are various creatures doing work around the palace.  Iris tells Gary that the palace and the creatures are illusions, but not of her making.  But the illusions are different from Iris’s, as they are tangible.  Hanna and Desi are also illusions, agents of the unknown illusionist. This person must have created them from the images in Gary’s and Hiatus’s minds.

All of this seems to be a recreation of the ancient civilisation 3 thousand years in the past.  (This is 2000 years before the official beginning of Xanth’s history, which starts with the First Wave.)  There had been humans living in Xanth, but their numbers were diminishing as they drank at love springs and interbred with other creatures. Hanna and Desi are acting as if it is 3000 years in the past, and Gary’s group are the last remaining humans of that time.  The travellers go along with it for the time being.  In fact, as the waves of madness come, they find themselves reliving the lives of those people of ancient times.

The ancient group of people were preparing a magical spell to create an Interface, to counter two problems: the diminishing of numbers of humans due to interbreeding, but also the invasion of human barbarians from Mundania, causing violence and bloodshed.  They were creating a protective field around Xanth, to discourage people from entering from Mundania, but to also permit migration to a small extent from the north-west of the land.  Gary and his companions re-enact the casting of this spell.  At this time they also meet Gayle Goyle, a female gargoyle – a real creature, not an illusion, who is purifying the city’s water supply.

Then they realise that there had been something missing from the spell.  There was supposed to be a filter, or philter, to purify the water coming into Xanth. This problem had been solved by giving gargoyles the role of filtering the water.

But now the group has the chance to perform the spell again, and to include the philter this time.  This will properly filter Xanth’s water supply and reduce the Region of Madness to its proper limits.  But where is the philter?  The unknown illusionist does not want them to find it, and Hanna and Desi, as his agents, do all they can to oppose them.