Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Golem in the Gears


Golem in the Gears (1986)
Grundy Golem is a tiny man, who began his existence as a small doll made of clay, wood and cloth, animated magically by Good Magician Humfrey.  But he was changed into a living being by Demon X(A/N)th, at the end of “The Source of Magic”.  (So Grundy is technically no longer a golem, but everyone still calls him that. And he remains tiny.)  He has appeared in several previous stories.

At the end of “Crewel Lye”, Stanley Steamer, the youthened Gap Dragon, had disappeared as the result of a monster banishment spell.  He had been living at Castle Roogna, as Princess Ivy’s pet, and Ivy (now 8 years old) misses him.

Grundy Golem feels small, useless and insignificant.  He seizes the opportunity to be useful, and offers to go and find Stanley Steamer.  So he goes to ask Good Magician Humfrey how to do this. (Humfrey was accidentally youthened to a baby in “Dragon on a Pedestal”.  He now has an apparent age of 12 years.  Grundy tells him a method whereby he can be instantly any age he wants.)  Humfrey gives Grundy his Answer: Ride the Monster under the Bed to the Ivory Tower.

Monsters under the Bed (or Bed Monsters) are a species of creature that live under children’s beds, and try to grab their ankles as they get into bed.  The only one Grundy knows is Snortimer, the monster under Ivy’s bed. Ivy is willing to accept Snortimer’s absence.  Also she has heard of the Ivory Tower: that’s where her pun-pal Rapunzel lives.  So Grundy will ride on Snortimer’s back. But Bed Monsters cannot stand the light of day (which will require travelling at night), and it will be necessary to take the bed with them.  Bink (now about 60 years old) and Chester Centaur offer to go with them, with Chester carrying the bed on his back.

They don’t know where the Ivory Tower is, so they decide to go and ask Stella Steamer, the female Gap Dragon who is filling in for Stanley in the Gap.  They encounter several hazards on the way, but Bink seems not to be worried about the dangers and difficulties; they seem to be escaping them by coincidences occurring. (This is Bink’s hidden talent manifesting, although it seems to be a bit different from previously stated: often seeming coincidences result in good fortune for Bink and his friends, even when magic is not threatening to harm him. And later, Bink’s talent brings good fortune to his friends even when he is not physically present.)  They meet the ghost horses, Pook, Peek and their foal Puck, and Pook shows them the tunnel system down into the Gap.

But when they get there, Stella doesn’t know where the Ivory Tower is, but she suggests they ask the Monster of the Sea.  Bink and Chester must return home, as their wives are expecting them back. So, Stella carries the bed to the east coast.

The Monster of the Sea has a reputation of eating damsels in distress, so Grundy creates a mock damsel of driftwood, and calls out in the voice of a damsel in distress.  And finally the Monster comes.  But the Monster has been misunderstood; he rescues damsels in distress, he doesn’t eat them.  He knows about the Ivory Tower; it is a lighthouse on the coast, which is inhabited by the dreaded Sea Hag.  The Sea Hag is a Sorceress with the talent of Immortality; when she dies, she takes the body of another living creature, preferably a young woman.  Rapunzel must be the Sea Hag’s next victim. This means she is a damsel in distress, so the Monster is willing to help rescue her.  He carries Grundy, Snortimer and the bed to the Ivory Tower.

When Rapunzel, in the Tower, hears Grundy’s voice, she thinks it is the Sea Hag returning, (she calls the Sea Hag “Mother Sweetness”,) and lets down her hair to let Grundy and Snortimer climb up.  She is pleased to meet friends of her pun-pal Ivy.  She reveals that she is a descendant of Jordan the Barbarian and Bluebell Elf (refer to “Crewel Lye”), so she has both human and elf ancestry.  She can change her size, from elf-size to human size, and any size in between, and a little beyond these limits.  This means she can make herself the same size as Grundy, who is smaller than an elf.

But when Grundy tells her the true nature of the Sea Hag, she doesn’t believe it.

Then the Sea Hag arrives.  She tries to kill Grundy.  In answer to Grundy’s taunting questions, she lets slip her intention to take over Rapunzel’s body.  Grundy, Rapunzel and Snortimer escape from the Tower.  But then the Sea Hag throws herself from the Tower, killing herself.  They know that the Sea Hag’s spirit can take the body of any creature, to attack them and try and get Rapunzel back.  (Intelligent beings like Rapunzel can only be taken over if they agree to it; the Sea Hag is relying on being able to persuade her.)

Rapunzel knows where Stanley Steamer is; she has heard of the presence of a dragon in the community of Fauns and Nymphs at Lake Ogre-Chobee.  Rapunzel (human-size) and Snortimer carry the bed a short distance into the jungle.  But it would take ages to travel to Lake Ogre-Chobee like this.

Grundy and Rapunzel are becoming fond of each other.  But Grundy believes that Rapunzel should find a partner of her own kind, either a human or an elf.  And he thinks there is no possible female companion for him, the only one of his kind, a living golem.

Several creatures in sequence attack Grundy, and they realise it is the Sea Hag occupying their bodies.  Then, by seeming coincidence, Jordan and Threnody (refer to “Crewel Lye”) turn up (Bink had suggested they travel in this region), and Jordan kills the latest attacking creature, a chimaera.  After this, Threnody uses her shape-shifting ability to turn herself into a sphinx, and carries them towards Lake Ogre-Chobee.

Then they get stuck in the Ever-Glades: this seems to go on forever.  Threnody changes into a swift to fly and look around, but is attacked by a falcon – they realise that it has been taken over by the Sea Hag.  Jordan shoots the falcon with an arrow and kills it, but Threnody is injured, and takes a while to recover.

Then Arnolde the centaur turns up.  He is experimenting with reverse wood, which converts his magical Centaur Aisle (refer the story “Centaur Aisle”) into a Mundane aisle, which nullifies magic in the area immediately around Arnolde.  Bink had suggested the Ever-Glades as a suitable place to test this. So Arnolde nullifies the magical affect of the Ever-Glades on them, and continues on with them, allowing the group to leave the Ever-Glades. Then Arnolde departs.

They arrive at the Fauns and Nymphs Retreat, and find Stanley Steamer.  When some goblins arrive to capture the fauns and nymphs, Stanley scares them off.  Grundy and company realise that Stanley is preventing predators from attacking the vulnerable fauns and nymphs, and can’t leave.

Then the community is attacked by B’s.  These are like bees, but come from a B-Have, and their stings affect the way their victims behave. (B-Have is pronounced like “behave”, but with the emphasis on the first syllable. It is the B’s equivalent of a beehive.) And Grundy learns that the Sea Hag has taken over the body of the Queen B.  He sneaks into the B-Have and captures the Queen, but she escapes.

They discover that Snortimer is able to fight off attackers of the fauns and nymphs, and is quite happy to remain in this community. This frees up Stanley to return to Ivy.

So Grundy, Rapunzel and Stanley head back toward Castle Roogna.  Grundy still thinks Rapunzel should try joining an elf community, so they go to the elm of a tribe of elves which is on the way.  The elf prince Gimlet escorts Rapunzel into the tree, but then the elves poison Stanley (he is ill but not dead), and throw Grundy into an underground cell.  This is uncharacteristic of elf behaviour, and Grundy wonders what has gone wrong.  He escapes and climbs a long hidden shaft within the tree, and finds the Prince’s room.  The Prince is trying to persuade Rapunzel to marry him, but she is in love with Grundy.  Then Grundy realises that the Sea Hag has taken over the Prince’s body.  (It is not clear whether the Elf Prince gave his permission for the Sea Hag to possess him.) The elf guards arrive, and decide that the disagreement between Grundy and the Prince must be settled by trial by combat.

The trial is held using a system of ropes hanging from the tree, and platforms on poles.  The contestants swing between the platforms on the ropes and cut the ropes with knives to try and confine their opponent to a single platform. Then they must dump their opponent down a funnel through a hole which exits to somewhere else, from which no one returns.  But in the struggle both Grundy and the Sea Hag (in the Prince’s body) fall through the hole.

They find themselves in the underground cavern of Demon X(A/N)th.  This Demon is the source of the magic of the land of Xanth, whom Bink and his companions (including Grundy) had encountered in “The Source of Magic”. He is one of the Senior Demons, associated with the planets and the forces of the universe, who are constantly in competition with each other to gain status.

The Demon challenges Grundy to provide a strategy whereby the Demon can improve his status with the other Demons.  If Grundy fails, he will be held in suspended animation indefinitely in the Brain Coral’s pool.  If he succeeds, he will be returned to the surface, and to Rapunzel.