Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Swell Foop


Swell Foop (2001)
Cynthia the winged centaur goes to Good Magician Humfrey, to ask him whether her children will be winged centaurs when she marries Che (also a winged centaur), given that she had begun life as a human (refer to “Harpy Thyme”).

But the Good Magician is required to give a specific difficult Service to the first querent of the day, and is reluctant to give this Service to Cynthia, especially given the simple nature of Cynthia’s Question.  Effectively he answers her Question without her having asked it.  But Cynthia insists on performing the Service, and learns what it is: The Demon E(A/R)th has disappeared, and must be rescued before his magic of Gravity fades, destroying the planet Earth and taking Xanth with it.  The Good Magician can provide no more information.

[Apart from this single use of a Demon’s name in the mathematical formula format, all references to Demons’ names in this book are in plain text.  From this book onwards, the author has virtually abandoned the mathematical formula format of Demons’ names.]

Che Centaur is tutoring Sim, the son of the Simurgh.  (The Simurgh is a huge bird who is the wisest creature in the universe.)  Roxanne Roc is nearby, as she is Sim’s nanny.  (These roles were assigned to Che and Roxanne at the end of “Roc and a Hard Place”.)  Cynthia arrives and tells them of the Service she must perform.  Sim says they should consult his mother, the Simurgh.  So Roxanne carries them all to the mountain range of Qaf, where the Simurgh lives. (At other times, characters have visited the Simurgh at Mount Parnassus, but Mount Parnassus is only her summer retreat.)

The Simurgh tells them that the Demon Earth must have been captured by another Demon.  Therefore they will need to obtain the Swell Foop.  In order to do this they must locate the Six Rings of Xanth. And the locations of the Rings are only known to certain zombies. The Simurgh assigns Sim to be involved in the mission.

Roxanne carries the group to Castle Zombie.  They meet with the Zombie Master and his wife Millie.  The Zombie Master and Millie will be retiring soon, and their jobs will be taken over by Justin and Breanna. The Zombie Master assigns Justin and Breanna to the mission.  (For previous details about Breanna and Justin refer “Zombie Lover” and “Xone of Contention”.)  Breanna is now 18, and Justin has an apparent age of 21; they are about to be married, but it seems the mission will cause their wedding to be delayed.

Breanna calls all the local zombies together, but they don’t know anything about the Rings.  Then the group goes to Xeth the Zombie King’s palace, which is somewhat apart from Castle Zombie.  Xeth knows the location of one Ring, and Queen Zyzzyva knows another.  Xeth sends out messengers to find the zombies that know the locations of the other Rings.

The six zombies gather, and are paired with members of the mission team.

The Ring of Fire
Breanna chooses King Xeth and they head off.  Xeth tells Breanna they are looking for the Ring of Fire, which controls all demonic creatures, including Com Pewter’s kind.  They need to go to Demon Professor Grossclout in the demon realm.  Breanna calls Demoness Metria, who takes them to Professor Grossclout, where he is teaching a class of demons.  Grossclout doesn’t know where the Ring is exactly, but gives them permission to search the premises.  As the designated Ring Holder, Breanna should be able to sense in which direction it is.  After some searching, they find it, in a washroom, disguised as a dirt ring.

The Ring of Earth
Zyzzyva invites Che Centaur to go with her, to locate the Ring of Earth, which the Good Magician has, and which gives dominion over all landbound creatures.  She gets on his back and he flies to the Good Magician’s Castle.  Unfortunately they have to go through the usual Challenges, although Che doesn’t think they should have to, being there on business.  But Humfrey doesn’t know where the Ring is; they will have to search the Castle.  So Che, Zyzzyva, Dara (the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife) and Wira (the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law) all search.  They finally find it under a pile of Humfrey’s dirty socks.

The Ring of Idea
Justin selects a zombie, whose name in Unpun, who knows the location of the Ring of Idea.  When he was alive, Unpun had kept company with a woman called Punny.  Punny’s talent had been to create puns; Unpun’s was to make them disappear.  But after he died and became a zombie, he could no longer abolish puns; he also lost his sense of humour, and could no longer stand the presence of puns, so could no longer keep company with Punny.  Punny had gone, in soul form, to Ptero. It is her job to safeguard the Ring of Idea.  The Holder of the Ring will have the power to bring Unpun back to life.  But because Unpun can’t stand puns, he is reluctant to guide Justin to where Punny is.

Ptero is a tiny moon that orbits Princess Ida’s head.  It is possible for people from Xanth to travel to it, usually by having their soul separate from their body and travelling there in spirit form.  On the moon, their spirit takes the form of their body, and the moon appears to be a full-size world.  Ptero has counterparts of all Xanth’s characters, and also others who could potentially exist in Xanth.

So they have to go to see Princess Ida at Castle Roogna in order to go to Ptero. They get a ride with the pookas (ghost horses) Pook and Peek.  When they get there, Ida tells Justin and Unpun to lie down, and sniff the contents of a vial.  But before they do, Unpun begs Ida to come with them.  Ida has always assumed she can’t travel to Ptero (since it is orbiting her own head), but now realises that her body would stay behind, and her soul can travel there.  So Ida joins them, and their souls travel to Ptero.

Unpun tells them that Punny is located in the Pun-kin Patch of a Comic Strip.  They get a ride with the three centaurs Cassaunova, Cassaundra, and Cattarh.  They arrive at the pun-kin patch, where they find Punny.  She gives Justin the Ring; he invokes it, and returns Unpun to life.  But this process has only applied the soul of the Ring to Unpun’s soul; Justin will have to repeat the process back in Xanth.

They all return to Xanth, including Punny, whose body is in an adjacent room in Castle Roogna.  Justin locates the actual Ring of Idea under the pallet Punny had been lying on.  Justin repeats the invocation, and brings Unpun’s actual body back to life.

The Ring of Water
Cynthia selects a zombie mermaid called Zilche, who knows the location of the Ring of Water, which provides power over water creatures.  Zilche can’t speak very clearly (this is often the case with zombies), and Cynthia thinks she says, “The pool’s the thing,” which Cynthia takes to mean that the Ring is in the Brain Coral’s pool, a place where Cynthia had spent many years in suspended animation (refer “Harpy Thyme”).  Cynthia puts the mermaid onto her back, and flies to the pool.  There she meets Jackson, a merman who is an old friend, whose job it is to maintain an inventory of the pool.  But Jackson insists there is no ring here.  He asks Zilche to repeat the location, and interprets her to say, “The play’s the thing.”  The Ring is with the curse fiends, who are always performing plays.  Zilche and Jackson have come to like each other, so Zilche wants to return to the pool after they find the Ring.

So Cynthia flies with Zilche to Gateway Castle at Lake Ogre-Chobee.  But the guard there does not permit them to enter.  Cynthia remembers how Che’s mother Chex had travelled with a curse fiend called Dame Latia (in “Vale of the Vole”). She mentions her name.  The guard ushers them into Latia’s presence.

Latia tells her that, in the aftermath of the “Vale of the Vole” adventure, her status had risen, and she was made Magistrate, effectively the ruler of the curse fiends – with a title of Crone, now a title of respect rather than being derogatory.

Latia orders her people to search for the Ring.  In the meantime, Latia, Cynthia and Zilche will watch one of the curse fiends’ plays.

The play is called “Charades”; the actors present a series of concepts, and the audience have to guess what each represents.  Zilche turns out to be good at guessing; Cynthia has no patience with it, and wanders off to do her own searching.  And she finds the Ring – disguised as a toilet seat!  She looks out a window that gives her a view under the lake, and tests the Ring by calling for a big sea monster to appear – and a huge water serpent does appear.

Cynthia says goodbye to Latia, takes Zilche back to the Brain Coral’s Pool, and returns to Castle Zombie.

The Ring of Air
Sim finds himself paired with Garnishee, a zombie harpy, who knows the location of the Ring of Air, which commands creatures of the air.  It is at Castle Maidragon.  So the two of them fly there.  Garnishee is a typical harpy, rude and foul-mouthed.  They arrive and meet Becka – initially in dragon form, who then transforms into a 16-year-old girl.  Now Garnishee tells them the Ring is in the Forbidden Chamber.  Unfortunately that chamber contains the Random Factor, who casts a spell which does something unpredictable to the person who opens the door.

As Sim and Becka discuss how to do this, they realise that Garnishee is missing; she has gone off to open the door!  They race after her, and arrive just as she is opening the door.  The Random Factor gestures, and they all find themselves in a doorless chamber.  As they complain to each other about the situation, Sim realises they are using figures of speech: irony, exaggeration, personification etc.  They remain quiet, and the walls of the room fade.

But Sim goes to the door of the Forbidden Chamber and opens it again.  They find themselves in a forest near a tangle tree.  The tree captures them in its tentacles and starts hauling them towards its mouth.  But an ogre rescues them. There with the ogre is a nymph and a little boy with characteristics of both.  They learn that these are Smash Ogre, Tandy Nymph and their son Esk.  (These characters have appeared in previous stories: Smash and Tandy primarily in “Ogre, Ogre”.  Their son Esk had an adventure in “Vale of the Vole”.)  But they are a lot younger than they should be; Sim, Becka and Garnishee must have travelled back in time.  They repay the family by figuring out what Esk’s magic talent is.  Then they use reverse wood to return to their own time.

But they still have to open the door to get the Ring.  This time their consciousness is swapped between bodies: Sim in Becka’s, Becka in Garnishee’s and Garnishee in Sim’s.  But this time they have braced the door open; the Random Factor can do no more to them until the door is closed and opened again.  Sim (in Becka’s body) goes to the Random Factor, finds the Ring on the Factor’s finger, and transfers it to his own (actually Becka’s).  Since they are all creatures of the air, Sim is able to invoke the Ring, and swap them back to their own bodies.  Becka hands the Ring to Sim.

The Ring of Void
With all the members of the team returned to Castle Zombie, they realise that there is one Ring still be located, the Ring of Void, which controls all dream things.  There are 5 members of the team, but 6 Rings.  The remaining zombie is Palus Putredinus (Putre), a zombie night colt.

[Note: In real life, Palus Putredinis (Latin for “Marsh of Decay”) is a small lunar mare (“sea”) in the basin of Mare Imbrium on the Moon.]

Breanna decides she must go with Putre to the Night Stallion to ask who the Holder for the Ring of Void should be.  But Putre (who communicates via speech balloons) says he can’t go to the dream realm.  But Breanna gets on his back, and makes him head off, saying he can tell his story on the way.

After Mare Imbri became a day mare (at the end of the story “Night Mare”), she had a relationship with the Day Stallion, and the foal Putre was delivered.  But the Night Stallion, wary of rival males, killed the foal.  Imbri took the remains to the Zombie Master, who changed him into a zombie.  But if Putre returns to the dream realm, the Night Stallion will destroy him.

Putre takes Breanna into a hypno-gourd to the dream realm, and they encounter the Night Stallion.  Before the Stallion can destroy Putre, Breanna tells him their mission, and shows him her Ring of Fire.  Grossclout appears and backs Breanna up.

The Stallion declares that they should have assigned a sixth member to their team at the beginning.  Since they hadn’t, the person chosen would be the first person to refer to the Swell Foop.  The Stallion makes a search of people’s dreams; Putre adds his ability to search day dreams; and finally they hear a girl in Mundania accidentally say “swell foop” instead of “fell swoop”.  She is a 15-year-old girl called Jaylin in Hawaii.  The Night Stallion says he will ask the Day Stallion to send a day mare to tell the Baldwin family that Breanna is coming.  (The Baldwins had an adventure in Xanth in “Yon Ill Wind”.)

The zombie horse takes Breanna to the portal on Centaur Isle.  She passes through, arriving on No Name Key, and meets David Baldwin, now 17.  David drives her in his car to the Baldwin home in Miami, where she meets his sister Karen, now 12, and their parents Jim and Mary.  They arrange that Breanna and David will fly by plane to Hawaii.

Finally Breanna and David arrive at Jaylin’s home in Hawaii.  With a bit of magic from the Ring of Fire, they manage to convince Jaylin that Xanth is real and that Breanna comes from there.  They tell her about the mission, and persuade her to come.

Breanna, David and Jaylin fly back to Miami, and David drives them to No Name Key. Jaylin enters the portal with Breanna.  They meet the zombie horse Putre.  Breanna tells Jaylin to ride Putre to find the Ring, while she returns to Castle Zombie.

Putre takes Jaylin to a hypnogourd, through which they enter the dream realm.  They encounter some leprechauns, who tell them they must go to the Web, on the Internet.  They locate the gourd equivalent of the Gap Chasm; there is a huge net spread across it.  Putre carefully walks across the net.  They come to a huge spiderweb, where Putre becomes stuck.   And a huge spider approaches to eat them.  But Putre convinces it that Jaylin is the designated Holder of the Ring of Void.  The spider removes the Ring from its fang and gives it to Jaylin.  Using the power of the Ring, she gives Putre and herself the power of flight while in the gourd, and they fly to their entry point and depart the gourd.  They return to Castle Zombie.


The 6 Ring Holders take off their Rings, line them up, forming a tube, and sight through it.  This gives them the direction of the Swell Foop, which is to the north.  Breanna rides Cynthia, Justin rides Che (both winged centaurs are flying), Sim flies and Jaylin rides Putre on the ground below them.

As they come to the Elemental Regions, they use the powers of the Rings to pacify the winds of the Region of Air, the volcanoes of the Region of Earth and the fires of the Region of Fire.  In the Region of Water, Cynthia uses her Ring to tighten the surface of the water, so Putre can run across it.

They come to the Region of the Void.  The tube of Rings indicates the Swell Foop is within the Void.  Normally the Void is a location of no return, but Justin suggests that Jaylin’s Ring of Void should enable them to enter the Void and depart again safely.  Jaylin calls up the Night Stallion, who confirms this.  They enter the Void.

They encounter Branch Faun and Lady Slipper Nymph, who had been lost in the Void at the beginning of “Faun & Games”.  Jaylin conducts them out of the Void and then returns to the others.

The ground within the Void starts with a gentle slope, but then becomes steeper, and becomes a vertical pit in the centre.  They drop down into the pit, where they lose the sense of their bodies; apparently they are in a quantum state.  Putre discovers the body of his mother, Mare Imbri, which was lost in the Void at the end of “Night Mare”, although Imbri herself was saved as a soul.  (See my explanation under “Faun & Games”.)  He gives the body a fragment of his soul, and she comes alive.  She locates the Swell Foop for them, and they all, including Imbri, leave the Void.

They return to Castle Zombie.  Since there are now two Mare Imbris in Xanth, Imbri, accompanied by Putre, heads off to see her other self, and sort this situation out.  (It is confirmed later, in “Currant Events”, that the two Imbris have recombined: Imbri now has both body and soul.)

The Ring Holders now need to discover how the Swell Foop works.  It looks like a piece of rock with warts.  But they notice that the Rings fit onto the warts.  Demoness Metria arrives, curious about what is going on.  Since the Swell Foop is supposed to control Demons, they try the Rings in various positions, checking whether it has any effect on Metria.  Finally they discover a setting that makes Metria experience emotions.  Since neither lesser demons nor Senior Demons normally experience emotions, this would have a powerful effect on them.

They now need to talk to Demon Xanth.  Justin touches the Swell Foop, while focusing on the Demon, and invokes the emotion “desire to help us “. The 6 Ring Holders find themselves transported to the Nameless Castle, where they find Nimby (Demon Xanth) and his human wife Chlorine.

Chlorine (who normally speaks for Nimby) explains that Demon Earth has most likely been captured by a foreign Demon, that is, not one of the local Demons associated with the Solar System.  They will have to enlist the support of six of the local Demons.  Nimby will arrange a conference, where the Ring Holders must negotiate a Demon Contest.  Nimby himself cannot be involved since the Swell Foop is a Xanthly object, and so doesn’t affect him, which means the other Demons will not trust him.

At this point they hear a baby cry.  Chlorine goes and gets him; he is Nimbus, the son of Nimby and Chlorine.  She says he will have the talent of mixing metaphors.  But the visitors discover that being in his presence makes them say mixed metaphors, and when they do, the child glows, and creates an illusion depicting the mixed metaphor.  But Chlorine is not aware of these unusual occurrences.  She had wanted an ordinary child; but Nimby had made the child special, but hidden this fact from Chlorine.

The time for the conference arrives, and nine figures appear.  They appear human, but their heads have the appearance of their associated planets.  This includes one they have not heard of before: Nemesis.  (As the author notes in the Author’s Note, there is speculation that there may be an additional body way out in the Solar System, possibly a brown dwarf, which astronomers are calling Nemesis.)

Justin discusses the proposal with the Demons.  They must offer a contest to the captor Demon. It will be necessary for six of the Demons to associate closely with the Ring Holders.  This will filter the effect of the Swell Foop on the Demons.

Neptune and Nemesis offer themselves as stakes, against the foreign Demon’s single stake of Demon Earth; if they lose, the captor Demon will take possession of them and their powers and territories.  Nemesis’s associated power is Dark Matter.  Neptune’s is mass and energy.

Four of the remaining Demons merge with the Ring Holders:

  • Demon Mars with Che
  • Demon Jupiter with Sim
  • Demoness Venus with Breanna
  • Demoness Saturn with Cynthia.

The remaining Ring Holders, Justin and Jaylin, will be required to merge with Demon Earth and the enemy Demon.  The other Demons depart.

Justin uses the Swell Foop to locate Demon Earth.  It points in the direction of the Fornax galaxy, which is a region of contra-terrene matter (anti-matter).  They must go there; contra-terrene matter is lethal, but the Swell Foop will protect them.

The Demons transport the group across space to a castle interior in the Fornax Galaxy.  They come face-to-face with Demoness Fornax; it is she who had captured Demon Earth.

They work out the rules of the contest, to which Fornax agrees.  Each of the mortals must touch the Swell Foop, and receive a specific emotion, which will be a liability for the associated Demon.  The four mortals associated with the Solar System Demons will start outside the castle, which will take the form of a medieval castle.  They will have to find the keys, then search the castle to find Demon Earth, and conduct him out of the castle within 24 hours.  They will be opposed by Fornax (in the body of the mortal she associates with) plus ten guards.  A player is deactivated when touched on the torso by the hands or feet of an opposing player.  When deactivated, a player remains motionless until the end of the contest.

Sim/Jupiter receives the emotion of fear.  Che/Mars receives the emotion of anger.  Breanna/Venus receives the emotion of love.  Cynthia/Saturn receives the emotion of joy.

Fornax merges with Jaylin.  Jaylin/Fornax receives the emotion of desire.  A guard escorts Justin to where Demon Earth is imprisoned, and Earth merges with Justin.  Justin/Earth receives the emotion of hope.

Cynthia, Che, Sim and Breanna find themselves outside the castle.  The contest begins.