Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: The Color of Her Panties


The Color of Her Panties (1992)

In this story the narrative alternates between two groups of people, on one hand, Mela Merwoman, Okra Ogre, and a young human woman called Ida, and on the other hand, Gwenny Goblin, Jenny Elf and her cat Sammy, and Che Centaur.

Mela Merwoman, who previously appeared in “Heaven Cent”, hasn’t been able to get a suitable husband, despite possessing the two firewater opals she received in that story.  All she wants is the nicest, handsomest, most manly and intelligent unmarried prince in Xanth, who will be pleased to let her do anything she wants (such as swimming in salt water for hours, and eating raw fish), and will brush her hair for her.

She decides to go and ask Good Magician Humfrey how to find a suitable husband. She emerges from the water, and changes her tail to legs, and sets off.  After a while she reaches Kiss-Mee Lake, and meets Okra Ogress who is rowing across the lake.  Okra had started from Lake Ogre-Chobee, and without realising it had continued up the river to Kiss-Mee Lake.  She also wants to see the Good Magician, to ask how to become a Major Character, as they survive and have success.

Gwenny Goblin, Jenny Elf and her cat Sammy, and Che Centaur previously appeared in “Isle of View”.  For the past two years, Gwenny Goblin and Jenny Elf (both 14) have lived happily with Che Centaur (7 years old) and his parents. (Che and his parents are winged centaurs.) Both Jenny and Gwenny are short-sighted, and the centaurs have provided them with spectacles. Gwenny’s lameness has been cured by water from a healing spring, but this can’t correct her eyesight. They have received education with Che from his parents.

Gwenny’s mother Godiva arrives and tells Gwenny that her father, Chief Gouty, has died.  Gwenny must return to Goblin Mountain to contest the position of chief.  But there will be opposition, and Gobble, Gouty’s illegitimate son, will also contest.  Male goblins are generally ugly and mean, whereas female goblins are beautiful and good-natured. If Gwenny can become chief, this will improve goblin society.

But she can’t wear her spectacles at Goblin Mountain; this would be seen as a weakness.  They have tried unsuccessfully to find a contact lens bush.  So they need to ask the Good Magician.  Gwenny decides she must take the trip to see him, with her companions Che and Jenny, and Jenny’s cat Sammy, but without adult help.  But since (in “Heaven Cent”) all the winged monsters had sworn to protect Che, there would always be winged monsters keeping watch over him, although not actively participating in their mission.

Jenny offers to be the one to ask the Good Magician the Question, and to do the year’s Service, as Gwenny cannot delay taking up the position of chief.

They travel across the country, having adventures and experiencing hazards.  On the way, Demoness Metria appears and tells them about the other group, Mela, Okra and Ida.  She tells them how (in “Isle of View”), an elf was chosen as the “Jenny” character instead of an ogress. Effectively Jenny Elf had displaced Okra Ogress as a Major Character.  [This is a decision the author made while writing “Isle of View”.]

Okra Ogress comes from the ogre community at Lake Ogre-Chobee.  This group had got turned around during the ogre migration to Ogre-Fen-Ogre Fen and had ended up back at Lake Ogre-Chobee.  Okra is a misfit in her community: she is small for an ogress, plain (not ugly), relatively weak, and smart; she has to pretend to be stupid. Her family were arranging a marriage with an ogre called Smithereen from Ogre-Fen-Ogre Fen.  Okra was not keen on marrying a typical male ogre, and she decided to leave, and go to the Good Magician to ask how she could become a Major Character.

Mela and Okra travel together, helping each other against the hazards. On the way they find a shed with a young human woman encased in a block of crystal.  They try to break the crystal. Finally Okra shatters it with her ultrasonic voice.  The young woman doesn’t know what her name is, so they decide to call her Ida. She decides to come with them to the Good Magician.

Gwenny, Jenny and Che arrive at Castle Roogna.  They meet Electra, whom they know from the “Isle of View” adventure.  She is now married to Prince Dolph, and has twin baby girls, Dawn and Eve.

Gwenny, Jenny and Che continue on to the Good Magician’s Castle.  As their Challenge to enter the Castle, they encounter a giantess, representing the Archetypal Adult.  She asks them questions about the Adult Conspiracy.  Gwenny and Jenny are 14, which means they are too young to be part of the Adult Conspiracy.  Che is 7; however centaurs are more intelligent than humans, and are more open about bodily functions, although they observe human conventions in human society.  However, it is essential that they become part of the Adult Conspiracy for what will follow.  As a consequence the three of them are inducted into the Adult Conspiracy.  They continue on into the Castle.

We now learn Ida’s backstory. Ida is a foundling.  She appeared as a baby near the Fauns and Nymphs Retreat.   But the fauns and nymphs of the Retreat forget things from day to day.  There was a nearby community of otterbees, who didn’t believe she should be raised as a nymph, so they took her and raised her.  They got an itinerant centaur, Cerebral, to educate her in the human mode.  So she learnt human speech, and dressed in human clothing.  When she reached 21, Cerebral said she would be better amongst her own kind.  He told her to go to the Good Magician and inquire about her destiny.

Ida set off.  She encountered Dragoman Dragon.  Dragoman would capture young women, breathe on them, encasing them in crystal, which preserved them, and place them on display in his collection.  This is what happened to Ida.  But there was no room in the display chamber, so he stored her in the shed.

And it is there that Mela and Okra had found her.  They are going to the Good Magician, so she travels with them.

In the Good Magician’s Castle, Jenny, Gwenny and Che meet Dana Demoness, Humfrey’s Current Designated Wife.  She explains how, as a result of Humfrey’s deal with Demon X(A/N)th (in “Question Quest”), Humfrey’s six wives take turns each month to be with him, while the rest remain in Hell.  MareAnne had married Humfrey at the end of “Question Quest”, so she is the sixth wife (or as she is sometimes referred to, the five and a halfth wife).

Jenny asks the Good Magician how Gwenny can get some contact lenses.  He tells them there is a contact lens bush in the gourd (the dream realm). It is used by night mares, and enables the wearer to see dreams.  But dreams often have elements forbidden by the Adult Conspiracy, which is why they had to be inducted into the Conspiracy.  Jenny will not be required to perform her Service for the Good Magician until their current mission is complete.  The route to the bush in the gourd will be marked by mock lenses.

Jenny, Gwenny, Che and Sammy enter the gourd in spirit form. As usual, they have various strange experiences. They find the lens bush, with one pair of contact lenses, and Gwenny puts them on.  She discovers that she is able to see people’s dreams, which includes daydreams, or even things they are imagining. This will help her to determine whether people are telling the truth, which will be useful when she becomes the chief of her goblin tribe.

Mela, Okra and Ida arrive at Iron Mountain.  They receive a visit from Demoness Dana. Dana has no soul, but tries to emulate a souled person by doing a good deed each day. She makes comfortable beds for each one: a saltwater pool for Mela, a hard pallet for Okra, and soft moss for Ida. She will send Metria the next day to arrange clothing for them.  (Mela is naked; Okra is not wearing clothes but is furred; Ida wears clothes, as she had been taught by the centaur.)

Next day Metria arrives and takes them to a chamber within a tree, with lots of pairs of panties.  Metria tells Mela about the question Demon X(A/N)th had put to Humfrey in “Question Quest”: what colour would Mela’s panties be, when she left the water to look for a husband? – (hence the title of this novel.)  After trying on lots of pairs, Mela chooses the ones she wants.  Okra also chooses some, and Ida chooses some spares.

They travel on.  But Metria had mischievously omitted to tell them to wear other clothes over their panties.  Along their route, men are freaking out at the sight of Mela’s panties. (This is a characteristic hazard in Xanth.) (Okra’s black panties hardly show against her black fur.)  They meet Magician Grey Murphy outside the Good Magician’s Castle. His nullification talent prevents him from freaking out.  But he tells them they must get properly dressed when they get into the Castle.

After returning from the gourd, Gwenny, Jenny and Che leave the Good Magician’s Castle, to travel to Goblin Mountain. Princess Ivy (whom they had met at the Good Magician’s Castle) had given them a pass for the Gap Dragon; he will recognise Ivy’s smell on the paper.  Sammy leads the way with his talent of finding things.  He finds a way into the Gap Chasm: they slide down on toboggan tree leaves in a river that goes down into the chasm.  But then they realise they’ve lost the pass from Ivy, so the dragon might attack them.  But the dragon recognises Che; as a winged monster, the Gap Dragon is required to protect Che. (The Gap Dragon has only vestigial wings and can’t fly, however he is still classified as a winged monster.)  The dragon leads them to a suitable path to exit the chasm on the north side.  Eventually they reach Goblin Mountain.

Godiva gives them bad news about Gwenny’s half-brother Gobble. He has been eavesdropping on goblins’ conversations, and has learned the forbidden words (swear words) of the Adult Conspiracy.  He threatens to tell all the goblin children if he is not made chief.

Mela, Okra and Ida enter the Good Magician’s Castle.  Sofia (who has replaced Dana as the Current Designated Wife) tells Okra how Jenny had displaced her.  Okra decides to change her Question to the Good Magician.

They ask the Good Magician their Questions.  Mela’s Question: How can I find a suitable husband?  Ida’s Question: I seek my destiny.  Okra’s Question: How can I get rid of Jenny Elf?  But Humfrey refuses to answer, saying it would be counter-productive.  At their persistence, he tells them to go to Nada Naga.

Following Godiva’s instructions, Gwenny, Che and Jenny take Gobble to the River Lethe, to sprinkle him with its water, and make him forget the forbidden words.  This is a dangerous trip, because they have to travel through the caves of big strange monsters, the callicantzari. With Sammy leading the way, and with Gwenny’s use of her levitation wand, they are successful.  But in their struggle against the callicantzari, Jenny’s spectacles get broken, so Gwenny gives her one of her contact lenses.

Mela, Okra and Ida leave the Good Magician’s Castle, wondering where to go to see Nada Naga. Metria appears.  She says that Nada is with the demons, working on some project that has been kept secret from her.  She will take them there, so she can find out what the secret is.  She disguises herself by taking the form of a little ragged girl, called Woe Betide, who sells matches.  So they go with her to the demon realm, where they find Nada practising her lines for a game. (This game occurs in the later book, “Demons Don’t Dream”).  When Nada hears their Questions, she says they should go to her brother Naldo.  Professor Grossclout, the demon directing the game, conjures them to their destination.

Gwenny, Jenny and Che arrive back at Goblin Mountain. It is time for the challenge for the position of chief.  For their first task, the candidates each have to fetch something; these are listed in sealed capsules. They are each allowed two companions, so Gwenny will take Che and Jenny (plus Sammy).

Gobble’s task is to fetch an old wives’ tail (a tail feather from a harpy).  Gwenny’s task message says:  “Fetch what is between the roc and the hard place.”  Che knows what this means: In the Nameless Castle there is a roc, sitting on an egg on a stone nest: they must have to get the egg. But he doesn’t know where the Nameless Castle is. (Gobble must have cheated, and planted this difficult task.) They will get Sammy to find the way to the Nameless Castle.

So off they go, following Sammy.  They finally realise that the Nameless Castle is on a cloud. Che flies them up to the cloud. (Gwenny had sprinkled him with Lethe water to make him forget he had never flown before.)  They find the Castle, made of hardened cloud material.  They explore it and find the roc on the stone nest.  The roc looks like a statue.  Gwenny uses the levitation wand to move it. But it comes alive, and they are in danger.

Mela, Okra and Ida arrive in Draco Dragon’s cave. Naldo is there with the dragon.  They explain their situation to Naldo.  Naldo has news from Draco from the winged monsters: Che, Jenny and Gwenny are in danger.  If Mela, Okra and Ida do something for him, Naldo will give them their Answers. They must go to the Simurgh and tell them that Roxanne Roc is about to eat Che. (The Simurgh is a huge bird that lives on Mount Parnassus; she is the wisest creature in the universe.)

Draco organises griffins to fly Mela, Okra and Ida to Mount Parnassus.  When the three women arrive there, they give the Simurgh the message and she gives them two seeds: a seed of Thyme to give to Roxanne, and a rock-et seed: this expands into a rocket.  The three of them get into the rocket, and it takes off.

Gwenny, Che and Jenny try to communicate with Roxanne.  Gwenny’s and Jenny’s contact lenses help them to see Roxanne’s thoughts, and Jenny’s talent of bringing people into dreams enables them to communicate.  They discover Roxanne’s backstory. The Simurgh had taken away her power of flight, as punishment for flying over Mount Parnassus.  She must sit on this egg until it hatches, then she will get her power of flight back.

But Roxanne won’t cooperate with Gwenny, Che and Jenny.  They struggle, and Roxanne puts Che and Jenny in a cage.  Gwenny has the wand, but it is stalemate.

Okra operates the rocket and sets its destination to the Nameless Castle, and the rocket flies them there.  Okra experiments with the seed of Thyme, and discovers that it can speed up or slow down time for the persons she specifies.  They enter the castle, and using the seed of Thyme, rescue Gwenny, Che and Jenny.  They communicate with Roxanne via the dream Jenny generates.  But the Simurgh can’t have intended them to take the egg; they look and find something else in the nest: an old shed claw. Okra gives Roxanne the seed of Thyme; Roxanne can speed up the egg so it can hatch, and she will have her power of flight back.

All six of them (plus Sammy) travel to Goblin Mountain in the rocket.

The next part of the Goblin challenge is a physical combat contest, which will take place the next day. The candidates can choose champions.

Che will fetch a champion for Gwenny, by getting Sammy to find the champion.  Sammy takes him to Nada.  But Nada says she will be busy with the demons.  She gets Professor Grossclout to conjure Che and Sammy to Naldo, who is still in Draco’s cave.  Naldo agrees to be Gwenny’s champion; they must put out a sign to tell him where the contest is.

The time of the contest arrives. Gobble has chosen the ogre Smithereen as his champion (who was supposed to marry Okra).  But Naldo hasn’t turned up, and they discover that Gobble had changed the sign, so Naldo must have gone to the wrong place.  But Okra, wearing a madcap, and wielding the roc talon, fights instead and, surprisingly, wins.

So Gwenny is the new chief, and banishes Gobble.  (Since Gwenny is a female chief, she is referred to as the chiefess.)

But what of Mela’s, Okra’s and Ida’s Questions: do they get their Answers?  There have been hints that Ida’s destiny is significant: what could it be?