Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Man from Mundania


Man from Mundania (1989)
Three years have passed since “Heaven Cent”. Dolph’s betrothal situation with Nada and Electra has not changed. Ivy is now 17, and Nada is the same age. Dolph is 12. Electra is 15 (not counting the more than 800 years she was in an enchanted sleep), but she looks 12. (Dolph at this time is grounded, until he decides which girl to marry. However, he is allowed on some trips, supervised by Ivy, if he is essential to the purpose of the trip.)

Ivy, Nada and Electra have become good friends. They now take a trip, accompanied by the dragon Stanley Steamer, to the cave of Com-Pewter, an evil machine, who can change reality in his vicinity, and tries to confine people to his cave.  [Com-Pewter’s name appears in later books as “Com Pewter” – without the hyphen.  His name is often abbreviated to “Pewter”.]  Ivy wants to recover a magic mirror which Com-Pewter had stolen from them. After some conversation with the machine, and recovering the mirror, Electra uses her electric shock talent to enable them to escape.

Good Magician Humfrey is still missing. Ivy invokes the Heaven Cent (a copper coin which sends the invoker to the place they are needed), expecting to be transported to where the Good Magician is.

Grey Murphy is an 18-year-old young man, living in Mundania. He is attending college, and finds life tedious. He sends away for some computer software which promises to improve his life. When the program, called “Sending”, is installed, it responds to his spoken words by displaying sentences on its screen. It provides a list of girlfriends for Grey to choose. And when he chooses one, Grey discovers that girl living in the apartment opposite. But she doesn’t prove satisfactory, so he chooses another. And discovers that now, the second girl is living opposite him. Thus a series of girls, chosen by the program, appear in the opposite apartment, finally ending with Ivy.

Grey and Ivy can only communicate while near the computer, and when the computer is on, otherwise their words sound like gibberish to each other. Apparently the program is translating between Xanthian and Mundanian. Ivy realises that Sending is an emissary of Com-Pewter, which Sending confirms. Ivy tells Grey that she is a princess from a fantastic land called Xanth. Grey thinks she is delusional. And Ivy wonders why the Heaven Cent sent her here? Could Murphy’s curse still be in operation from 800 years ago? (Magician Murphy and his curse are described in Electra’s backstory in “Heaven Cent”.)  Is it just coincidence that Grey’s last name is Murphy?

Ivy decides to take Grey to Xanth to show she is telling the truth. They travel to No Name Key (which Dolph had visited previously in the story “Heaven Cent”), and they meet Turn Key, who allows them to enter the large gourd which provides physical access into the dream realm (also called “the gourd” or “the gourd realm”) of Xanth.

They see various strange sights (the gourd realm is stranger than Xanth proper), and climb a high mountain to a replica of Castle Roogna. But Grey thinks this is all caused by the technological tricks of an amusement park, and some of the magic which Ivy hopes will convince him doesn’t seem to work. Finally they arrive in Xanth proper.

Then they are captured by a nasty tribe of goblins, the Goblinate of the Golden Horde. These goblins capture travellers and cook them and eat them, but before they put them in the pot, they torment them. They strand Ivy on an island in a lake supplied by a hate spring. Contact with this water supposedly causes people to hate each other so much they hurt and even kill each other. But Grey doesn’t believe this, and wades through the water and rescues her. They are unaffected. Ivy is so overwhelmed, she asks Grey to marry her, and Grey accepts. They escape on a centaur called Donkey, whom the goblins had captured.

They reach the Gap Chasm, and meet Stanley Steamer, who has now returned to the Gap to take up his role as the Gap Dragon, after a period living in Castle Roogna as Ivy’s pet.  By this stage Grey is having trouble explaining away all the magic he sees, so he believes everything Ivy has told him.

They arrive at Castle Roogna. The King and Queen announce that Ivy, as a Princess, can only marry a prince or a man with a significant magical talent.

Dolph wonders if Grey might have a talent, and they examine the Magic Tapestry, which shows the present or past of any location in Xanth.  They watch Grey’s and Ivy’s adventure in Xanth up till then, to see whether things that happened could be caused by his talent. In particular, had he affected the magic of the hate spring? They confirm that other travellers had succumbed to its power. But the results are inconclusive; the magic of the water could have just become weak.

They decide to visit Clio, the Muse of History, on Mount Parnassus, to see if she can tell whether Grey has a talent. Ivy, Grey, Nada and Electra fly there on the backs of the winged centaurs Cheiron and Chex Centaur, and Xap Hippogryph.

Clio knows future history. (She has already written the next few volumes, which, not surprisingly, have the same titles as the next few books of the Xanth series.) But she says it would be unethical to tell them what Grey’s talent is.  (But she has unwittingly given them the clue that Grey does have a talent.)

Leaving the Muses’ temple, the group run into conflict with the Maenads (the wild women of wine) and the Python (a huge snake). And in the process, Grey discovers his talent: he can nullify magic. And when he restores the magic, he can make it stronger than before – this is the Rebound effect.

But how can Grey have a talent if he is from Mundania? They must resolve this before the marriage can go ahead. Since Com-Pewter had been responsible for the Sending program, Grey and Ivy go to see him, this time chaperoned by Grundy and Rapunzel.

Com-Pewter shows a story on his screen in movie form. Toward the end of the events of “Castle Roogna”, 800 years ago, Magician Murphy and Sorceress Vadne had been confined to the Brain Coral’s pool, where they were held in suspended animation. But in the Time of No Magic (this occurred briefly at the end of “The Source of Magic”), the magic of the pool had stopped, and Murphy and Vadne had escaped. They had sought Com-Pewter’s help to escape from Xanth. But they had to promise that their future son would serve Com-Pewter. Watching these events on Com-Pewter’s screen, Grey realises that Murphy and Vadne are his parents. They had “summoned the stork” in Xanth, so this is how Grey had a magic talent.

Grey feels obliged to honour the pledge if he remains in Xanth. But Com-Pewter wants to rule Xanth, and Grey can’t be party to this. If he can’t find a way to nullify the commitment, he must leave Xanth. After experiencing Xanth, he can hardly bear to return to the tedium of drear Mundania. Com-Pewter gives him a month’s grace period. Ivy realises she would have a devastating choice: if Grey has to return to Mundania, will she stay in her beloved Xanth without Grey, or go with him to drear Mundania?

In the meantime, Grey must briefly visit Mundania to confirm with his parents whether Com-Pewter is telling the truth. Grey, Ivy and Electra ride the ghost horses Pook and Peek, and the centaur Donkey, to the isthmus in the north of Xanth, which leads to Mundania. Then Grey, Ivy and Electra continue on by themselves into Mundania.

But in Mundania, Electra ages rapidly, since she is actually nearly 900 years old. So they will have to make their visit quick, and get her back to Xanth.

Grey, Ivy and Electra visit Grey’s parents. King Dor has promised that Murphy and Vadne may return to Xanth and will be pardoned, if they swear allegiance to the current regime. And Murphy can cast his curse on Com-Pewter. So they all return.

Grey and Ivy discover a scene in the Tapestry, where gremlins were captured by the Goblinate. One of the gremlins had a paper with Magician Humfrey’s address. This is a magical address which updates itself with the Magician’s current location. So Grey, Ivy and Dolph go and visit the Goblinate, and administer justice/revenge, and obtain the address.

Grey, Ivy and Dolph follow the instructions of the address, which involves travelling through the gourd, and eventually find three coffins, presumably containing Humfrey and his wife and son. They open one coffin; Humfrey is inside, alive. Humfrey tells Grey that he must go to the Magician’s Castle and serve Humfrey until he returns.

So Grey and Ivy go the Magician’s Castle, with Marrow and Grace’l (the walking skeletons) as chaperones. They start cleaning and tidying the place. Then various creatures, thinking that Humfrey had returned, start coming with their Questions. Grey and Ivy do their best to answer them. But Com-Pewter’s deadline is running out. It doesn’t look as if Humfrey is returning. So will Grey have to leave Xanth?