Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: The Dastard


The Dastard (2000)
The Dastard is a young man who has sold his soul to a demon, in exchange for the talent of “unhappening”. Whenever he encounters someone who has received enjoyment through some lucky event, he travels, through limbo, back to the time of the event, and prevents it from happening, thus preventing the person from experiencing that enjoyment.  He can also undo mistakes he has made within the last day, and get himself out of trouble.  Having no soul, he doesn’t care about other people; he is concerned only about self-gratification.

Becka is a dragon/nymph crossbreed.  (Her father is Draco Dragon, who has appeared in a few stories.  Her mother is a nymph, whose name is not given.)  In her natural form Becka is part girl and part dragon, but can transform into either girl or dragon forms.  She is 14 years old.  She comes to Good Magician Humfrey to ask what her purpose is.  He tells her it is to effect (not “affect”) the welfare of Xanth. He tells her to go, in girl form, to the statue of the Sea Hag.  When a man passes, she is to go with him and help him in any legitimate way he wishes.  The Good Magician also gives her a spell of awareness.  She follows his instructions; the man she meets is the Dastard.

The Dastard isn’t too keen to have Becka accompany him.  When he tries to kiss her or see her panties, she turns into a dragon, and threatens to chomp him.  He quickly unhappens these occurrences.  But since she has been sent by the Good Magician, he thinks he needs to be careful about getting rid of her, before finding out what is going on.

The three 4-year-old princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, are watching the Magic Tapestry in Castle Roogna.  (The Magic Tapestry shows scenes from the present or past of any location in Xanth.)  They observe the Dastard perform one of his unhappenings, and decide this is not good.  They should do something about it.  They tell their parents, Ivy and Grey, who agree they should go to the Good Magician.

The three princesses are all powerful Sorceresses – able to perform practically any magic.  Each one is powerful in her own right, but together they are even more powerful.  They perform their magic by singing and playing their instruments: Melody hums, Harmony plays the harmonica, and Rhythm beats the drum.

They conjure up a flying carpet and fly to the Good Magician’s Castle.

Becka has decided that the Dastard is not a very pleasant man, but the Good Magician has assigned her to him, so she stays with him.  The Dastard doesn’t particularly want her, but she won’t leave, so he gives her the job of collecting food.  After Becka has been present at some of the unhappenings, her spell of awareness enables her to remember both versions of what has occurred: the original, and the changed version after the unhappening. The Dastard is able to sense a nexus – a location of significance where an unhappening can occur.

They meet a woman called Ann Arky, who is absent-minded.  She tells them she comes from Mundania and had accidentally wandered into Xanth.  When the Dastard asks her to kiss him, she does so so aggressively, the Dastard becomes alarmed.  He travels back in time to before Ann entered Xanth, and drags thorny bushes across the path where she had crossed into Xanth, so in the revised timeline, she doesn’t enter.

Then Becka is possessed by a malevolent spirit.  It is the Sea Hag.  There had been a glitch in the Brain Coral’s Pool, where the Sea Hag had been confined (at the end of “Golem in the Gears”), and several inhabitants had escaped.  [In “Golem in the Gears”, the Sea Hag had required Rapunzel’s permission to possess her. In this story it is no longer the case; the Sea Hag can possess anyone, without their permission. Possibly the way she can now “renew her spirit” (see below) accounts for the difference.]   The Sea Hag forces Becka to cooperate with her, and to reveal her memories to her.  The Sea Hag had previously possessed Ann Arky, which accounts for Ann’s change in personality, but then the Dastard had unhappened that possession.  Becka is incapable of resisting the Sea Hag.

At the Good Magician’s Castle, the princesses ask the Good Magician what they can do about the man they had seen in the Tapestry.  He says it is not something they can currently do; they will have to exchange with their older selves.

At that point, Wira tells Humfrey that the next querent, Sim, the son of the Simurgh, is approaching.  (The Simurgh is a huge bird who is the wisest creature in the universe.  Sim had hatched from her egg at the end of “Roc and a Hard Place”.)  He is 5 years old, he is brightly coloured, and is about the size of a grown man.

When Sim gets into the Castle, he asks the Question (which the Simurgh had told him to ask):  How can I obtain the broadest feasible education?  The Magician tells him that he will accompany the princesses as they exchange with their older selves.  Sim will also exchange with his older self.  They will all go to Ptero.  It is their older selves from Ptero who will come to Xanth to defeat the Dastard.  The whole mission must be kept secret, and told to as few people as possible.

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.

The princesses and Sim return to Castle Roogna, and go to meet Princess Ida.  Ida tells them to focus on the tiny moon Ptero. They find themselves floating toward it.  On the way they encounter their older selves, touch hands with them, and then continue on and land on Ptero.  (This mechanism of travel to Ptero is different from previous books.)

The princesses and Sim find themselves in Ptero’s counterpart of Castle Roogna.  Everyone there is 17 years older than their Xanth counterparts. The princesses’ older selves, who have gone to Xanth, are 21; Sim’s older self is 22. (In Ptero, travelling east makes a person younger, and travelling west makes them older. From time to time, Castle Roogna is moved, to enable the inhabitants to be different ages.) The Princess Ida of Ptero introduces the 4-year-old princesses to their 19-year-old sister Green Murphy, an inhabitant of Ptero who does not have a counterpart in Xanth.

The Dastard and Becka continue on, having several encounters.  The Dastard wonders a bit about Becka’s increased maturity of manner and worldly wisdom, and finally the Sea Hag admits that she has taken possession of Becka.  The Dastard does not trust her, and travels back in time, makes a necklace of a herb which repels loose spirits, puts it around Becka’s neck, and tells her not to remove it.  He returns to the present.  Becka remembers the possession with horror, and is grateful to the Dastard for freeing her.

The three older princesses and Sim arrive in Castle Roogna in Xanth.  Princess Ida tells the princesses of their mission.  Ivy and Grey arrive, and there are hugs all round.

It will be necessary to conceal the fact that the 4-year-old princesses are absent from the Castle.  Demoness Metria and Demon Vore arrive with Demon Ted (Metria’s son) and DeMonica (Vore’s daughter).  Monica takes the form of the younger Melody; Ted takes the form of the younger Harmony, and Metria, after transforming to her alter ego, the child Woe Betide, takes the form of the younger Rhythm.

Grey, Ivy, Ida and the princesses discuss ways of nullifying the Dastard.  (1) They might remove him to another world, such as Ptero.  Maybe he would be attracted to one of the princesses.  (2) Ivy says they have a loose soul available.  If they can give it to the Dastard, he would have a conscience, and might stop doing what he is doing. (3) They could try and persuade him.  He might realise he would be held in higher esteem if he uses his talent for good.

The Dastard and Becka have a few more encounters.  One of these is with Nadine Naga, the 8-year-old daughter of Mela Merwoman and Naldo Naga.  But Becka realises that Nadine has been possessed by the Sea Hag.  This time, the Dastard takes Becka with him as he travels back in time.  Becka gives Nadine a necklace of the herb, which prevents the possession.

Another encounter is with a female called Xena who involuntarily transforms between several different forms every few minutes.  But soon Becka realises that she too has been possessed by the Sea Hag.  The Dastard again takes Becka back in time, and Becka gives Xena a herb necklace, which prevents the Sea Hag from possessing her. The Dastard and Becka return to the present and meet Xena again. Then they learn that Xena had discovered the Stream of Life. She intends to pour water from it over the Heart of the Dead Forest, to bring the forest back to life.  (In “The Source of Magic”, the Curse Fiends had attempted to curse Crunch Ogre but the curse had misfired and killed the trees of the forest.)

Anticipating that the Dastard is about to unhappen Xena’s discovery of the Stream of Life, Becka quickly suggests that it will be more mischief to revive the forest, which will confuse everyone, as the Dead Forest is a famous landmark.

The Dastard, Becka and Xena arrive at the Forest.  Xena sends Becka with the flask of water from the Stream of Life, to pour it on the Heart, while the Dastard and Xena dally together in a bower.  Becka pours the water on the Heart, and the forest comes back to life.

In Ptero, Green Murphy is showing the younger princesses and Sim around.  Green has the talent of manipulating time, and since in Ptero, geography is time, this enables her to travel long distances instantly.  She takes them the equivalent of two hours walk to the west, and immediately they are all 2 years older.  She takes them further to the west; the princesses are now 20 years old, and Green is 35.  They meet Xander and Zelda, twin half-zombies, children of Xavier and Zora. (Xavier and Zora appeared in “Dragon on a Pedestal”.)  King Xeth is their brother, but unlike Xeth, Xander and Zelda do not have counterparts in Xanth.  (Xeth appeared in “Zombie Lover”.)

In Xanth, the older princesses look at the Magic Tapestry to determine the Dastard’s whereabouts.  They locate him at the Dead Forest, although as they watch, the forest comes alive.  The princesses have made themselves and Sim invisible to preserve the secrecy of the mission. Sim takes them to the forest; they continue on on foot.  The plan is that Melody will distract the Dastard, while the others force the spare soul on him.  Melody becomes visible to ask for directions.

But suddenly Melody experiences a strange feeling; the Sea Hag has taken possession of her.  The Sea Hag prevents her from telling her sisters, and forces her to behave as if everything is normal.  But it is late in the day, so they camp in the forest.  But the Sea Hag’s goal is (while in Melody’s body) to marry the Dastard, but then to torment him until he commits suicide.  While the others sleep, the Sea Hag (controlling Melody’s body) slips away.

The Dastard and Becka see Melody coming towards them.  She introduces herself as Princess Melody from Ptero.  She kisses the Dastard, and he collapses.  She had used lip bomb.  Becka realises she is the Sea Hag, but the Sea Hag threatens to possess her again if she tells the Dastard.

But the Dastard is not completely unconscious; he had heard their conversation.  But how should he handle this?  He needs to get rid of the Sea Hag, so she doesn’t keep coming back, but he also wants a relationship with the princess.

The Sea Hag attempts to seduce the Dastard, but he is wary of this; he is likely to come under her control.  Becka suggests he needs to do an unhappening (obviously meaning he should unhappen the Sea Hag’s possession of Melody).

The Sea Hag tells him of an unhappening he can do on the Isle of Fellowship; this is one of the many islands that appear temporarily along the coast.  Becka, in dragon form, carries the Dastard and the princess to the Isle.  The Isle has only been inhabited for the past three years.  The inhabitants are mostly mixed-species couples.

This is tempting – to unhappen the establishment of the community on the Isle of Fellowship. But Becka warns the Dastard that because of the overlap, this would prevent the unhappening of Melody’s possession.

But the Sea Hag persuades him that a partnership between them would benefit both of them. They could keep this version of Melody in Xanth, eliminate the other princesses, and Melody would become heir to the throne.  With the Dastard’s talent of unhappening, they could eliminate any opposition. The Dastard agrees.

When Melody had slipped away from her sisters, Sim, still invisible, had followed, and had realised that she was possessed by the Sea Hag.  He saw her join forces with the Dastard.  He returns to tell Harmony and Rhythm.  He is aware there is a connection between the Sea Hag and Prince Dolin; if he can find out what it is, they may be able to defeat the Sea Hag.

But Prince Dolin only exists on Ptero; he has no counterpart in Xanth.  Sim asks the princesses to trust him, and returns to Ptero, swapping with his younger self.

Sim has to travel a long way in the From direction (easterly) to meet Prince Dolin, getting younger all the time. He meets Lacky, a daughter of Lacuna and Vernon, who also has no counterpart in Xanth, and they travel together.

Prince Dolin is the son of Prince Dolph and Princess Taplin.  Taplin is the unnamed Princess mentioned in Electra’s backstory in “Heaven Cent”. In an alternative version of history, it is Princess Taplin who had slept for nearly a thousand years, and had married Dolph.  (Since Dolph and Electra’s daughters Dawn and Eve also exist in Ptero, it appears that characters from alternative histories can coexist on Ptero.)

But Dolin had died young; that is, his range is only 9 years.  (Characters on Ptero are essentially immortal; they can travel backwards and forwards between the limits of their birth and death.)

When Sim and Lacky meet up with the young prince, they manage to persuade him to tell how he died.

Prince Dolin had come across a monster in a hole in the ground. (This is the alternative history’s counterpart of the alien creature Dolph had stuffed in the hole between worlds in “Isle of View”.)  Then the Sea Hag had arrived, dragging a young girl.  The Sea Hag had tied the girl to a tree and then walked up to the monster and allowed it to eat her.  Shortly afterwards, the spirit of the Sea Hag had taken over the girl’s body.  Seeing Dolin there, she threw him to the monster, and it ate him.

Sim figures out what had been happening.  The Sea Hag keeps a store of souls in the space beyond the monster’s hole.  From time to time she needs to renew her spirit, and visits this store.  But this secret makes her vulnerable, so she had killed Dolin to stop the secret getting out.

But Sim realises that if the monster gets a soul, it will block the Sea Hag’s spirit from travelling through the hole.

Back in Xanth, the Dastard unhappens the Fellowship Isle community; only the three of them remain: the Dastard, Melody (possessed by the Sea Hag) and Becka.  The Sea Hag delivers Melody into the Dastard’s embrace, but allows Melody to speak for herself briefly.  Melody protests against what the Dastard is doing, until the Sea Hag takes control again.  Becka intervenes and carries Melody away.  The Dastard unhappens the sequence.  This process, with some variations, occurs a couple more times.

The other two princesses and Sim arrive, but are invisible.  They rescue Melody, making her invisible, and carry her away.  Harmony remains, making herself visible and taking on Melody’s appearance, to delay the Dastard’s realisation of what has happened.

Sim and Rhythm confine Melody inside a rock, saying they are getting someone to get rid of the Sea Hag’s spirit from her body.  But the Sea Hag forces Melody to use her Sorceress powers to escape from the rock, and fly to the location (in the current version of Xanth) of the alien monster.  The Sea Hag’s struggle with Melody has required her to renew her spirit.  She stuns Melody, emerges from her, and heads through the monster’s hole.

Then Rhythm appears and revives Melody.  She and Sim have given the monster the spare soul, thus blocking the Sea Hag from returning to Xanth.

It is not long before the Dastard and Becka realise that Harmony has substituted for Melody.  Melody, Rhythm and Sim return.  The Dastard attempts to travel back in time to unhappen the Sea Hag’s defeat, but now the three princesses have discovered how to travel through limbo as well, and block his actions.

The princesses try to persuade the Dastard to give up his deeds.  But he is only willing to do this if he can marry Melody, and she doesn’t want to marry him.  Becka encourages them to spend time together; maybe Melody will change her mind.

The Dastard and Melody agree to a truce. They will spend a day together in a magic castle. They will not perform magic unless they both agree.  Becka will be the objective observer and notify the other two princesses if the rules are broken.

The three princesses have been conjuring up castles since they were young.  Originally they created a doll house made of chocolate, but have continued to improve the pattern over the years.  Now they transform Becka into a full size castle, called Castle Maidragon (as in maid/dragon); she will be both castle and observer.   The Dastard and Melody enter, and Melody shows the Dastard around.

There is a forbidden chamber; the princesses always create this secret chamber in their castles; they don’t know what’s in it.  The Dastard wants to open it, but Melody won’t let him.

The Dastard and Melody play a game: if Melody wins, the Dastard must leave Xanth; if the Dastard wins, they will open the door of the forbidden chamber. The Dastard wins.

They open the door.  A manlike figure labelled “Random Factor” is revealed; he points at them and there is a flash of magic; the door closes.

Melody’s and the Dastard’s souls and their talents have been exchanged; but since the Dastard hadn’t had a soul, now Melody doesn’t have one, and the Dastard has Melody’s.  Melody becomes a mischievous, swearing seductress, and the Dastard becomes a responsible caring man.

The Dastard opens the door again, thinking this will change them back. But instead they are both sent off to a comic strip, an area with nasty puns.  Eventually they find their way out, and appear back in the castle.  But Melody opens the door again, and they find themselves in the dream realm. They pass through a series of locations, and eventually arrive back in the castle.

The Dastard calls to Harmony and Rhythm; the castle collapses and Becka emerges from the rubble.

But now Melody wants to cause mischief, with the talent of unhappening she now has. She travels through limbo to various places and times, with Harmony, Rhythm and the Dastard following to prevent her mischief.

Finally Melody arrives at Castle Roogna.  The others arrive and block her from entering limbo again.

The Dastard tries to persuade her that there is no satisfaction, meaning or love in a life without a soul.  She can go back to the point in time when their souls were exchanged, and unhappen it.  He has taken poison; he realises now the damage he has caused to other people’s lives, and he knows he will again when he loses his soul again.  Melody is not convinced.

But as Melody and the Dastard come close to each other, she feels the effect of her soul again, and realises she misses it.  She performs the unhappening.

Now she has her soul back, Melody recognises the sacrifice the Dastard has made, and finds herself in love with him; she wants to take him back to Ptero with her, and marry him.

But the Dastard is still dying.  Becka has a thought: the Dastard can trade back his soul from the demon he originally traded it to.  So they call the demon, and make the trade.  The Dastard takes his original name: Anomy.

The princesses conjure up the antidote to the poison, and Anomy takes it.

The three princesses, Anomy and Sim return to Ptero, swapping with their other selves.  A 5-year-old Anomy arrives in Xanth from Ptero, not being too sure how it happened.

Princess Ida takes Becka to a castle.  It is a fresh copy of Castle Maidragon that the older princesses had created.  Becka is to be its caretaker: a dragon protector outside, and a human hostess inside.