Xanth is a magical land, which is somehow in our world, but not easily accessible. It occupies the same area as the state of Florida, although somehow removed from it. The inhabitants of Xanth refer to our own world as Mundania.
The land is populated by various magical creatures and part humans: eg centaurs, dragons, elves, ogres, harpies, goblins, nymphs, fauns and merfolk. The humans who live there each have a single magical talent – a different one for each person. For example [for characters early in the series], Trent can transform any creature into another creature, Iris can project illusions, Dor can communicate with inanimate objects, Irene can make plants grow instantly, and Grundy Golem can translate the language of any creature, including plants.
The stories generally involve the characters in adventuring through the Xanthian wilderness, which is rather hazardous, with dangerous animals and plants, which have evolved magical ways of catching their prey. There are other hazards, such as the love spring, which if you drink from it, causes you to immediately fall in love with the first being of the opposite sex that you see. Or you could be captured by a tribe of goblins.
Each story generally has a central character, who has to go on a quest, usually with companions, travelling across Xanth, having various adventures, having to make significant decisions, and making use of magic if possible. Usually the central character will begin by consulting with Humfrey, the Magician of Information, (also known as the Good Magician,) who will provide an answer for any question, in exchange for some service. The stories are often resolved in unexpected ways.
Although all humans born in Xanth have a magical talent, only a few have really strong and useful talents. Those who have are called Magicians (if they are male) or Sorceresses (if they are female). Only a Magician can become king. As a result, the monarchy does not necessarily follow the hereditary line. Ruling queens are not permitted. This convention is eventually circumvented in the book “Night Mare”, by the declaration that a female Magician (ie a Sorceress) can become the ruler, but must be referred as “King”, not “Queen”).
As the series continues, the focus changes to different characters from book to book, so that the minor characters of one book may become the central characters of a later book. Also, as time passes, some of the characters have children, and the series continues with the lives and adventures of the children.
A major feature of the series is puns. For example, there is a family of nasty little creatures, called centpedes, nickelpedes, dimepedes, quarterpedes and dollarpedes. There is also a field in Xanth, called the stock market, where you will find lots of bulls and bears. The author goes a bit overboard with puns as the series goes on, as he is tries to accommodate all the suggested puns that his readers send in.
As well as the land of Xanth, the stories describe a place called the Gourd, or the Realm of Night, where bad dreams are manufactured, and carried to their intended recipients by night mares – ie black female horses, who can pass through material objects. This land is ruled over by the Night Stallion. Ordinary people cannot usually go to this place physically, but if they look into the peephole of a hypnogourd, they are projected into the realm in spirit form.
Starting from the book “Faun & Games”, a new series of worlds are introduced – the Moons of Ida. Princess Ida has a tiny moon, Ptero, orbiting her head. It is possible for people to travel to this world in soul form, by releasing their souls from their bodies and leaving their bodies behind. Ptero also contains a Princess Ida, who has another moon orbiting her head, and so on. This provides virtually unlimited settings for adventures to occur.
A theme often mentioned is the Adult Conspiracy (to Keep Interesting Things from Children), whereby adults conceal certain facts from children, such as how to summon the stork which brings babies. In particular this is emphasised in “The Color of Her Panties”, with Gwenny Goblin coming of age,with the responsibilities of possibly becoming the first female chief of her tribe.
There is a certain amount of sexual innuendo in the series. This mostly takes the form of flirting and teasing. There is occasional sexual activity, usually described in discreet language, using euphemisms like “summoning the stork”, since it is storks which deliver babies in Xanth. The inclusion of sexual activity seems to be becoming more frequent and obvious (although still not described explicitly) in later books such as “Two to the Fifth” and “Jumper Cable”, which I find a disturbing development, especially since I imagine most of the readership are children. However, the author makes the following statements in the Author Note of “Jumper Cable”:
“I have tried to slowly age the material, so that some four-letter words are used though generally bleeped out, and some adults signal the stork onstage instead of in the unmentioned background. But in general this remains a fun series, suitable for mature children if not for the freakable mothers of teens.”
As the series continues, Xanth’s historical background is filled in, and reasons are given for many of the magical features of the land. The book ‘Question Quest’ has a history of Xanth, compiled by a reader, which the author has adopted, and to which he remains consistent. The history can also be found at http://www.hipiers.com/Timeline.pdf. [As at January 2013, I notice that the Timeline has not been updated since 2004, the last entry referring to the book “Pet Peeve”.]
[I started the reviews of this series some years ago. Initially I attempted to keep the reviews of the individual books fairly brief, but found myself writing longer reviews as time went on. As at 2017, I now propose to reread the earlier books, rewriting the reviews to be longer, and therefore more consistent with the reviews of the later books.]
Books in the “Xanth” series
A Spell for Chameleon (1977)
In the land of Xanth it is the law that everyone must have a magical talent. But Bink doesn’t have one, and he is approaching his 25th birthday, when he must demonstrate a magical talent or be exiled to Mundania. He decides to go to Magician Humfrey to ask whether he has a talent that he doesn’t know about.
The trip takes many days, and he meets various people and encounters various hazards along the way. Then he encounters the wide Gap Chasm. Wynne, a beautiful but stupid girl, shows him the way down into it. But then he has to run for his life from the Gap dragon.
Later he meets Iris, the Sorceress of Illusion. She proposes to use her powers to make it seem he has a talent. Then he could become the King, and she, the power behind the throne. But Bink rejects this offer.
Bink finds an injured soldier, Crombie, in a ditch, and heals him with magic water from the Spring of Life. They travel on together. They meet a plain-looking girl called Dee. But Dee leaves them due to some of the comments of the woman-hating Crombie.
Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle. Humfrey determines that Bink has a strong magical latent, but there seems to be some magic preventing it from being identified.
Bink returns home, and then goes on trial before the King, to demonstrate his magical talent. The King, who is known as the Storm King, is old; he previously had the power to generate storms, but now can hardly raise a gust of wind. He does not accept the note from Magician Humfrey, and sentences Bink to exile.
Xanth is surrounded by a magical Shield which prevents living things from crossing. This prevents the invasion of people from Mundania, which has resulted in violence and bloodshed in times past. A temporary gap is made in the Shield for Bink to leave Xanth. But outside the Shield, Bink is captured by soldiers under the command of Trent. Trent, known as the Evil Magician, had tried to take the throne of Xanth 20 years previously, but had been defeated and exiled. He has the magical talent of transforming any living thing into any other living thing. He has now gathered an army, and is attempting to enter Xanth and take the throne again. He wants Bink to tell him where the stone controlling the Shield is, so he can destroy it, but Bink refuses.
Shortly afterwards, the soldiers capture another exile from Xanth, an ugly but smart woman called Fanchon. Bink and Fanchon are imprisoned together. But they manage to escape. Somehow Bink, Fanchon and Trent end up back in Xanth, but without Trent’s men. The three decide on a truce, while they help each travel through the hazards of the Xanth wilderness.
They find an abandoned castle, Castle Roogna, which had been the King’s Castle many generations ago. While staying there, Bink notices that Fanchon is becoming more attractive; in fact she looks a lot like Dee, whom he had previously met. Fanchon confesses that her real name is Chameleon; over the period of a month, she changes from Wynne (beautiful and stupid), to Dee (average in both appearance and intelligence) and Fanchon (ugly and smart). The only way she can get rid of her magical nature is by living in Mundania, where she would always have the appearance of Dee. Meanwile, Bink is starting to think that Trent is not quite as evil as his reputation.
Then they travel on. But as it comes time for Bink and Chameleon to part from Trent, Bink challenges Trent to combat, in an attempt to prevent him taking the throne.
The Source of Magic (1979)
Trent is now King of Xanth, and Iris, the Sorceress of Illusion, is his Queen, and their palace is in Castle Roogna. The Shield has been deactivated and movement between Xanth and Mundania is unrestricted. There is no longer a requirement that citizens have a magic talent.
Bink has married Chameleon. It is now a year since the events of “A Spell for Chameleon”. Chameleon is currently in a bad mood because she is in her ugly phase, and is also nine months pregnant.
Trent sends Bink, in his capacity as the Royal Researcher, on a quest to find the source of the magic of Xanth. Bink has two companions: Chester the Centaur, and Crombie the soldier, whom Trent has transformed into a griffin for the duration of the quest. Crombie’s magic talent is that he can point towards any specified thing, such as food and supplies, sources of danger, and the way they should take.
They make their way to Magician Humfrey’s castle for advice. Humfrey warns Bink against going on this quest, but when Bink persists, Humfrey insists on coming with them. He also brings Grundy, the golem, a tiny man made of clay, wood and cloth, whose talent is to translate the language of any living thing, since Crombie can’t speak the human language while in griffin form.
They have lots of adventures on the way. They arrive at the Magic Dust village. The inhabitants of this village dig up magic sand, pound it into dust, and disperse it throughout Xanth to prevent too high a concentration of magic. This suggests the source of magic is underground, but there is no immediate way down. But then Bink and his party are lured away by the song of a siren, and also encounter her sister the gorgon, whose gaze turns men to stone. But they manage to nullify these threats without harming the two females.
They enter the Region of Madness, a forested area where the constellations seem to come alive at night. Then they arrive at the underwater castle of the curse fiends; this community has the ability, as a group, to cast curses in the form of explosions. Bink and his party escape via a vortex to an underground cave system. But Bink and Chester have become separated from the others.
Bink accidentally drinks a love potion, and falls in love with Jewel, a nymph whose job is to plant jewels in the rocks for miners to find. But Bink restrains himself; after all, he has a wife he loves back home. Jewel takes Bink and Chester on the back of a diggle, a creature she rides which can phase through rock, to find the others.
All through their adventure, Bink has had indications of an unseen enemy, opposing his quest. Now this entity takes control of the Magician and Crombie, forcing the members of the party to fight each other. The unseen entity does not want Bink to find the source of magic.
And when he does, Bink finds himself forced to make a decision which threatens the magical nature of their land.
Castle Roogna (1979)
It is 12 years since the events of “The Source of Magic”. Dor, the son of Bink and Chameleon, is 12 years old. His talent is communication with inanimate objects, which is considered a Magician-level talent, so Dor is the heir apparent to the throne. Trent and Iris have a daughter, Irene, a year younger than Dor, who has the talent of growing plants, which is not considered a Magician-level talent, and in any case, a woman can’t become the ruler.
Bink and Chameleon are often on trade missions to Mundania for the King, so Dor is left in the care of Millie, his nursemaid, who is 29 years old. Millie’s talent is sex appeal, and Dor has reached the age when he is starting to notice the opposite sex. Millie had been a ghost for 800 years, but had been brought back to life in “The Source of Magic”. She has a frequent visitor, Jonathan, a zombie.
King Trent gives Dor a quest, as practice for becoming king. He must find a way of bringing Jonathan back to life, for Millie’s sake. So Dor goes to Magician Humfrey. Humfrey tells him he must travel back in time 800 years to the past to consult with the Zombie Master. Humfrey gives Dor a spell to enter the tapestry in Castle Roogna, which shows moving images of the events of 800 years ago.
Dor casts the spell and finds his consciousness transferred to a big strong warrior from Mundania, in the Xanth of 800 years in the past. But the spell had also accidentally picked up a tiny spider from the tapestry, who become a man-size spider within the tapestry world. Dor places a piece of spiderweb on his shoulder, and using his talent, gets it to translate the spider’s language. They become allies and travel together, helping each other through the hazards of the wilderness, and fighting creatures such as goblins and harpies. As they travel, the spider, whose name is Jumper, learns the human language from Dor. Dor heads for the past version of Castle Roogna, to find out where the Zombie Master is.
On their way, they are joined by the 17-year-old Millie (back before she had become a ghost), who is also going to Castle Roogna, to get a job as a maid.
They meet King Roogna whose talent is to modify magical objects or spells for different purposes. His castle, Castle Roogna, is in the process of being built by centaurs. But he has a rival, Magician Murphy, whose talent is to make things go wrong. They have come to an agreement that if Roogna can complete his castle by the end of the year, he will remain king. But if not, he will abdicate, and the resulting chaos will no doubt favour Murphy as the dominant power.
And things are going wrong. The goblins and the harpies are planning a war against each other, and their paths will meet at Castle Roogna.
Dor, Jumper and Millie have learned the location of the Zombie Master’s castle, so they go there, to ask that the zombies come to defend Castle Roogna. Also Dor asks for a way of bringing a zombie back to life.
But Zombie Master rejects them. As Dor, Jumper and Millie leave, they are attacked by Mundane warriors. Jumper is injured, and they return to the Zombie Master’s castle.
Dor knows the location of the healing spring, so flies there on a zombie roc, and returns with the elixir, which cures Jumper, and also allows the Zombie Master to repair zombies. The Zombie Master also makes the potion Dor has asked for, to bring a zombie back to life.
Castle Zombie is besieged by the Mundanes. The zombies defend it, commanded by Dor and Jumper. During this period, Millie tries to become close to Dor, but Dor rejects her, knowing that he will be returning to his own time soon. So instead she becomes friendly with the Zombie Master, and they become engaged.
Dor and Jumper sneak out of the castle to get help from the Dragon King, lord of the jungle. The Dragon King brings all the monsters of the forest to fight against the Mundanes, and so along with Dor, Jumper and the zombies, the Mundane army is defeated.
The Zombie Master agrees to bring the zombies to defend Castle Roogna, so they set off. Dor and Jumper scout ahead.
Dor and Jumper arrive at Castle Roogna. The goblins and harpies start attacking the castle, each with their allies. Dor organises the centaurs, who are archers, to fire at the attackers. Neo-Sorceress Vadne (not a full Sorceress), who is also in the castle, helps in the battle. Her talent is changing the shape of things, so she uses it to change enemies into balls or blocks.
The zombies arrive, and it is necessary to lure the enemy away to allow the zombies in. Dor, riding Cedric the centaur, and accompanied by Jumper, plays a pied-piper flute, and lures a portion of the goblin and harpy forces away to the Gap Chasm, where he detonates a forget-spell, so the enemy can’t remember what they were doing.
So the goblins and the harpies are defeated. Dor also finds solutions to the goblins’ and harpies’ grievances.
But Murphy’s curse is still operating, and tragedy strikes Millie and the Zombie Master.
Centaur Aisle (1982)
It is 4 years after the events of “Castle Roogna”. King Trent appoints Dor as temporary King for a week, while he and Queen Iris go to Mundania on a trade mission. But they don’t return at the expected time. Dor consults with the Elder Roland (who is also his grandfather), but Roland insists that Dor continue in the role until Trent returns. Dor gathers his friends to assist him: Princess Irene, Grundy the golem, Smash the ogre and Chet the centaur. (Grundy is actually no longer a golem, that is, an inanimate object brought to life, but had been changed into a living being at the end of “The Source of Magic”. But everyone still refers to him as a golem. However, he still remains tiny.)
But another week passes without the King and Queen’s return. Dor goes to consult Magician Humfrey. Humfrey tells him he must go to Centaur Isle, off the southern tip of the Xanth mainland, to find a new Magician who has suddenly appeared.
So Dor takes his friends Irene, Grundy, Smash and Chet. They travel by boat and then through the islands off the western coast, encountering various hazards on the way. To escape a sea monster, they use a magical salve to climb up a column of smoke and then travel on the clouds. But then a group of wyverns attack them, and Chet is bitten. As the magic of the salve fades they find themselves lowered into the sea, but are rescued by the centaurs of Centaur Isle.
On Centaur Aisle, they discover that the unknown Magician is a centaur called Arnolde the archivist, who has a small region of magic around him – the Centaur Aisle – but this is only noticeable when beyond the magical boundary of Xanth. If he travels with them to Mundania, this will enable them to use their magic talents in Mundania, where magic normally does not operate. However magic is considered obscene by centaurs, and the centaurs of Centaur Isle accept his resignation from the museum where he works.
So Dor and his friends, plus Arnolde, set out for Mundania to the north of Xanth, to try to locate the King and Queen. (Chet is still recovering, so can’t come with them.) Dor uses his talent to question the rocks and ground on whether they have seen the King and Queen pass by, but with no result. With Arnolde’s knowledge they figure out that the connection between Xanth and Mundania keeps changing, to different points in Mundianian history and geography.
They continue on into Mundania – this region turns out to be modern America – and go to a library for research. They are assisted by an archivist called Ichabod. From clues that Trent had given Dor, they figure out that the King and Queen had gone to the Kingdom of Onesti, in medieval Europe, in 650 AD.
The sea at the boundary of Xanth and Mundania changes colour every time a new connection is made. By questioning the ground, they eventually find the connection which leads them to correct time and location.
They travel by boat up the river until they reach Castle Onesti, and meet King Oary of Onesti. But Oary drugs their wine and then imprisons them. It is at this time that Dor and Irene confess their love for each other.
Then they learn that Oary is an impostor; he has imprisoned the true King Omen, and Trent and Iris, at another castle, Castle Ocna. Arnolde has been imprisoned separately from the others, so they can’t use their magic. How can they escape, and rescue Trent, Iris and Omen?
Ogre, Ogre (1982)
Tandy is the daughter of Crombie the soldier and Jewel the nymph. She lives with her mother in the underground caverns. Her father works at Castle Roogna, and only occasionally visits them.
The demon Fiant is expressing an unhealthy interest in Tandy. Then he invades her bedroom, intending to rape her. Tandy’s magic talent is the tantrum, which has physical force. She throws a tantrum at Fiant, hitting him, and the demon departs. But Tandy is afraid this will not work in future.
Tandy keeps being visited by nightmares – which are black female horses who deliver bad dreams. While still being in a state of sleep, she jumps on one of the mares, and rides it to the surface world of Xanth. She tells it to take her to Castle Roogna, but instead the mare delivers her to the Good Magician’s Castle.
Smash is an ogre. Ogres are big, strong and violent, stupid and ugly, and proud of all these qualities. They also speak in inane rhymes. Smash’s mother is actually one of the curse fiends, who are of human derivation, but Smash considers himself an ogre. But he is half-civilised, having lived in the vicinity of Castle Roogna, and become friends with humans.
Smash feels there is something missing in his life. He comes to the Good Magician’s castle, but then realises he can’t formulate his question. Tandy has been working as a servant there for a year, as payment for the answer to her question. Humfrey gives them both the answer: Smash will find what he seeks with the Ancestral Ogres. Smash and Tandy should travel together.
The Gorgon is married to Magician Humfrey. (This is the same gorgon Bink and his companions had encountered in “The Source of Magic”. Humfrey had nullified the gorgon’s stare by making her face invisible.) She explains the Magician’s answer: Tandy needs protection, so Smash will become her protector, as she searches for the solution to her problem. They should go to Lake Ogre-Chobee, where the Ancestral Ogres live. She asks that on the way they take her greetings to her sister, the Siren.
There would be many dangers in the adventure that follows, but Smash’s strength and ferocity would generally solve the problem.
On the way, Smash gets tangled in an Eye-Queue vine, which sinks into his head, and suddenly makes him a lot smarter. This state continues through most of the adventure, often making him clever enough to solve their problems, although he keeps wishing the Eye-Queue’s curse will leave him, to enable him to return to the normal stupidity of the ogre.
They visit the Magic Dust Village and then the Siren’s lake. The Siren, hearing of the Gorgon’s life with Humfrey, wishes she also had a man, and decides to come with them to search for one.
They arrive at Lake Ogre-Chobee. The Siren and Smash explore the lake. Then they find Tandy; she is in a trance, staring in the peephole of a hypnogourd. They remove the gourd, but she remains in a trance-like state.
Smash looks into the peephole himself. He finds himself in another place, the Realm of the Night, where the nightmares come from. (This realm can be entered through any hypnogourd.) First he finds himself in a haunted house, then in a graveyard. He hears a voice coming from a coffin. Tandy’s soul has been claimed for her abuse of the nightmare. Smash makes a deal: Tandy’s soul will be returned, but Smash’s soul will be taken in three months time, unless he can substitute another soul. Or he can take the matter up with the ruler of this realm, the Night Stallion.
Back in normal Xanth, Smash realises there are no ogres at Lake Ogre-Chobee, and remembers they had moved to Ogre-Fen-Ogre Fen, in the far north of Xanth. So they set off.
On the way Smash rescues a fairy from a group of monsters. This female fairy’s name is John; she had received the wrong name. She wants to find the male fairy who received her name, so they can exchange. So she joins the group. This sets the pattern for their travels; several female creatures would join their group in search of their goals.
Then they meet a hamadryad (a tree nymph) called Fireoak. The villagers near her tree are threatening to cut the tree down. They agree to go with her to defend the tree.
They come to the Gap Chasm. They meet Chet Centaur and his sister Chem. Chem wants to map the uncharted sections of Xanth, and wishes to travel with them. Chet leaves to take a message to King Trent asking for protection for Fireoak’s tree. Smash and his companions use Chet’s rope to let themselves down into the chasm. But they are attacked the Gap Dragon. There is a long and ferocious fight between Smash and the dragon; it is eventually Tandy’s tantrum that stuns it. With difficulty they climb up the other side of the chasm.
Then they are captured by a tribe of goblins. The goblins let them go when they promise to take the chief’s daughter Goldy to another goblin tribe. Goblins are exogamous; their girls must marry in other tribes. [This seems not to be a universal rule; there are examples in the other books where female goblins marry within their tribe.]
Smash has not recovered his strength after fighting the dragon. He confesses to the others the deal he made in the Gourd; he is losing his strength as part of his soul is taken from him. Smash must go back into the Gourd, and travel to all parts of it, because the Night Stallion will be in the last place he looks. During the period that follows, Smash visits the Gourd several times, and visits the various locations: a plain where he is surrounded by the nightmares, the City of Brass, a shuttle to the moon, Paper world, a desert area with an ifrit in a bottle, Mirror world, and a room full of cakes. He accidentally brings a girl made of brass, called Blythe, out to the normal world, and she joins their group for a while, until Smash can return her to the City of Brass.
They arrive at Fireoak’s tree, and Smash scares off the villagers. Then Prince Dor, Princess Irene, Chet Centaur and Grundy Golem arrive, and declare to the villagers that the King has proclaimed protection over Fireoak’s tree. Then Prince Dor’s party departs. Fireoak remains there when Smash and his companions travel on.
They continue on through the lands of the Flies and the Dragons, and the Regions of Air, Earth and Fire. (There are five major elemental regions in Xanth: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and the Void.)
Then they come to the land of the Goblins. But when they meet the goblin chief, he refuses to accept Goldy into their tribe. Tandy hits the chief with her tantrum, but the goblins punish her by stranding her on a sinking island. They permit Smash to rescue her, and give him a magic wand; they haven’t discovered how to make it work. But Smash works it out and rescues Tandy. He gives the wand to Goldy, who is now sure to find a husband in the tribe, with such a powerful possession.
They continue on through the land of Griffins, and then into Birdland. There they find a community of fairies, and John finds the male fairy Joan, who had received her name. She decides to stay there.
Then they come to the Region of Water. There is a community of merfolk there. The Siren meets Morris the Merman, and decides to stay there.
The party is now down to Smash, Tandy and Chem. They arrive at the Void and enter, but then discover they can’t back out. They seem destined to be lost in the black hole in the centre. Smash re-enters the Gourd for his showdown with the Night Stallion. He is faced with a number of terrible ordeals. He hopes that if he wins, the nightmares will rescue his friends.
And if so, will Smash and Tandy find what they seek?
Night Mare (1983)
Night Mare Imbri is sent by the Night Stallion as a messenger to King Trent, to warn him of an impending invasion from Mundania. The Mundane barbarians arrive, assisted by a mysterious character called the Horseman. The Horseman casts a spell on King Trent from afar, putting him into an enchanted sleep. Dor takes over the throne, but is also enchanted. A series of people (male and female, human and non-human) then ascend to the throne, but each in turn is enchanted. It is up to Imbri to save the kingdom.
Dragon on a Pedestal (1983)
King Dor and Queen Irene’s two-year-old daughter Ivy goes missing along with Humfrey’s son Hugo, at a time when the dreaded Gap Dragon is on the loose. Irene and her companions go searching. The Dragon, however, has been accidentally splashed with water from the Fountain of Youth, has become smaller and younger, and has befriended Ivy and Hugo.
Crewel Lye (1984)
The ghost Jordan in Castle Roogna describes his life history to Ivy, which they view on the magic tapestry (after it is cleaned with crewel lye). He was a barbarian warrior in a previous century, given a task by the Magicians Yin and Yang, to return the King’s daughter to the castle. He became the victim of a cruel lie.
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, but was brought to life by the Demon X(A/N)th. He goes on a trip to find Ivy’s friend, the missing Gap Dragon. He is accompanied by the Monster from under Ivy’s bed. (This species of creature lives under children’s beds, and tries to grab their ankles as they get into bed.) They rescue Rapunzel from the Ivory Tower where she is imprisoned by the Sea Hag.
Vale of the Vole (1987)
Three travellers meet as they go to consult Magician Humfrey. They are Esk, the ogre/human, Chex, the winged centaur, and Volney the Vole. They discover that Humfrey is missing, and the three cooperate to solve each other’s problems. This requires them travelling to various parts of Xanth.
Heaven Cent (1988)
Dolph, the son of Dor and Irene, goes searching for the missing Magician Humfrey, in the company of the walking skeleton Marrow Bones. In the process he manages to get engaged to two girls, Nada the Naga (who can transform between human and snake forms), and Electra, who has lain in an enchanted sleep for nearly a thousand years.
Man from Mundania (1989)
Hoping to find Magician Humfrey, Ivy invokes the heaven cent, a magical device which sends the invoker to where they are most needed. Instead she finds herself in Mundania, and meets a young man called Grey Murphy. The two of them return to Xanth (and he is only too pleased to leave drear Mundania). She finds herself falling in love with him, especially after he rescues her from a tribe of goblins. But her parents say that as a Princess, she must only marry a Prince, or a person with a significant magical talent. And since Grey was born in Mundania, he hasn’t got a magical talent. Or has he?
Isle of View (1990) (The title is a deliberate pun, as it sounds like “I love you”.)
Che, the son of the winged centaurs Chex and Cheiron has been kidnapped, and everyone is out searching for him. When it discovered that the goblins have him, it appears there will be a war between the winged monsters, siding with the winged centaurs, and the land monsters, siding with the goblins. Also, Dolph finally makes his decision about which girl to marry.
Question Quest (1991)
Magician Humfrey has been waiting in the anteroom of Hell, for a hearing with the Demon X(A/N)th, so that his former wife might be returned to him from Hell. Lacuna, a woman with the talent of making writing appear, displays Humfrey’s life history on the wall at his dictation. Humfrey has led a long and interesting life, having several wives, at one time being the King of Xanth, and has even studied magic at the demons’ university.
The Color of Her Panties (1992)
Gwenny Goblin, accompanied by Jenny Elf and Che Centaur, goes on a quest to become the first female chief of her tribe. Meanwhile, Mela Merwoman leaves the water in search of a husband (and of course she must wear panties while on land – but what colour will she choose?), and is joined by Ida Human (an orphan who may turn out to be something special) and Okra Ogress.
Demons Don’t Dream (1992)
Dug and Kim, from Mundania, each separately enters Xanth via the computer game “Companions of Xanth”, as part of a game arranged by the demons of Xanth. (Demons don’t dream, they just get mortals to act out fantasies for them.) Their companions are Princess Nada Naga, the serpent woman, and Jenny Elf (formerly from the World of Two Moons). In their travels they are joined by Sherlock (a member of a group of black migrants from Mundania), and Cyrus Merman who is looking for a wife.
Harpy Thyme (1993)
Gloha, the winged goblin girl (a goblin/harpy crossbreed), is on a quest to find her ideal man. Retired King Trent takes youth elixir, and becomes young again, to accompany Gloha in her search. As they travel, they meet other people with goals of their own: Cynthia, a winged centaur, who has been in suspended animation for seventy-five years, Marrow Bones, the walking skeleton, who is looking for a soul, and Graeboe the giant, who is dying from an illness.
Geis of the Gargoyle (1994)
Gary the gargoyle has the duty of purifying the water of the river entering Xanth from Mundania, but recently it has been very polluted. Magician Humfrey sends him on a quest to find a better solution. This takes him into the Region of Madness. His companions are Iris (Sorceress of Illusion), Surprise (a 6-year-old girl, with a seemingly endless series of different talents), the demoness Mentia, and the man Hiatus, who is in love with a wood nymph.
Roc and a Hard Place (1995)
The demoness Metria is sent on a mission to summons various characters to the trial of Roxanne Roc. This takes her all over Xanth, and into Mundania.
Yon Ill Wind (1996)
The Baldwin family (Jim and Mary, their children Sean, David and Karen, and their three pets), while trying to outdrive a tropical storm in Florida, in their RV, find themselves in the land of Xanth. Meanwhile, the Demon X(A/N)th, because of a wager with his fellow Demons, has taken the form of a donkey-headed dragon called Nimby (which he can alternate with the human form), but must not reveal his true identity. Together the Baldwins, Nimby, the girl Chlorine, and others, try to combat the storm, which has entered Xanth, and is stirring up the magic dust, and causing chaos.
Faun & Games (1997)
Forrest Faun has his own sandalwood tree, but when a neighbouring tree loses its faun, Forrest wants to find a new faun for the tree. Magician Humfrey sends him, with Mare Imbri, to the tiny moon Ptero. On Ptero are counterparts of Xanth’s characters, and also others who could potentially exist in Xanth. Forrest and Imbri discover that Ptero’s Castle Roogna is under threat of ‘marginalization’, and their quest takes them, with the Princesses Dawn and Eve, to other strange worlds, Pyramid and Torus.
Zombie Lover (1998)
Breanna of the Black Wave (the black migrants from Mundania), wants to escape from Xeth the Zombie King, who wants to make her his queen, and Humfrey sends her to the Isle of Women. (However, Breanna’s trip is to have further ramifications.) In the meantime, something has stirred the zombies up, and they are wandering around the country disturbing people. Bink, Dor and Dolph (“we three kings”) try to find the Zombie Master to solve the problem. This search takes them to Ida’s moons – the same worlds, and more, previously visited by Forrest Faun. Also, Humfrey has given Jenny Elf the task of sending out invitations to a wedding at Castle Roogna, but no one knows who is getting married.
Xone of Contention (1999)
Edsel and Pia, a young unhappily married couple from Mundania, find a way into Xanth through the O-Xone on the computerised Mundane Mega Mesh, and exchange places with Nimby and Chlorine, who want to get to know Mundania. Edsel and Pia, accompanied by Breanna and Justin (a man who has spent some time as a tree), take on a quest to eliminate the Demon CoTwo who is causing trees to suffer from flooding. In the meantime Nimby (actually the Demon Xanth) is discovered by the Demon Earth, who raises a storm to prevent him from returning to Xanth.
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 back in time and undoes the event, thus preventing the person from experiencing that enjoyment. Humfrey sends Becka, the dragon girl, and the three princesses Melody, Harmony and Rhythm to stop the Dastard’s deeds. But things become more dangerous with the return of the Sea Hag, a malevolent spirit who takes over the bodies of young girls.
Swell Foop (2001)
The Demon Earth has been kidnapped, which could result in the loss of Gravity on Earth and therefore also in Xanth. Six adventurers – Cynthia and Che Centaur (engaged to be married), Breanna and Justin (also engaged to be married), Sim Bird (son of the Simurgh, the largest and wisest bird in the world), and Jaylin (a girl from Mundania) – must each go on a separate quest with a zombie guide to find one of the Six Rings of Xanth. Once gathered, these rings should guide the way to the Swell Foop, an object said to have power over the Great Demons, and which should enable them to rescue the Demon Earth.
Up in a Heaval (2002)
Umlaut, a good-natured but awkward young man, has been given the task of delivering a batch of letters from Mundania to various people in Xanth. He is accompanied in this by Sammy Cat – formerly owned by Jenny Elf – who has the talent of finding people and things, another cat called Claire Voyante, and Sesame Serpent, with transport provided by the duck-footed boat Para. They hope by this task to discover how to avert Xanth’s destruction by the Demon Jupiter. However there are also other puzzles – why is the demoness Metria thwarting their deliveries, and why can’t Umlaut remember his past? And to make things interesting, Umlaut meets and falls in love with Surprise, the daughter of Grundy Golem and Rapunzel.
Cube Route (2003)
The girl Cube is given the quest of finding the route to Counter Xanth, the contra-terrene territory won by the Demon Xanth from the Demoness Fornax. In the process she is to choose nine companions, who will be magically miniaturised and concealed within a pouch she carries, and may be brought out to assist her when necessary. The route takes her to various places in Xanth, to Mundania, and the Moons of Ida. However the Demoness Fornax is determined to sabotage her mission.
Currant Events (2004)
Clio, the Muse of History, discovers a book she has apparently written, but is unreadable because the writing is blurred. Magician Humfrey sends her on a mission to Dragonworld, to persuade dragons to come to Xanth to replenish the dragon population. Then back in Xanth she meets Sherlock of the Black Wave, who has developed a magic talent with reverse wood, despite coming from Mundania. Clio and Sherlock continue the quest to find the Currant, which should enable her to read the unreadable volume. Their travels take them far and wide in Xanth, Counter Xanth and the Moons of Ida, meeting interesting people and experiencing dangers – as Clio has a curse on her, which means that she will encounter deadly dangers daily when away from her home on Mount Parnassus. A tentative romance begins between Clio and Sherlock.
Pet Peeve (2005)
Goody Goblin is a rarity – a good-natured male goblin. He is given the task of finding a home for the pet peeve, a bird which constantly insults everyone. So accompanied by the warrior woman, Hanna Barbarian, he travels through Xanth. In return for a favour from some dragons, they bring a program back from Robot World (one of the Moons of Ida) to produce a robot to assist the dragons to produce a nest. However, before they realise it the program is producing large numbers of robots, who are threatening to overrun Xanth. Goody and Hannah have to summon the various creatures of Xanth to combat the threat. In the process Goody meets Gwenny Goblin.
Stork Naked (2006)
The stork delivers a baby to Surprise Golem. But then he takes the baby away again, thinking that Surprise is too young, and delivers it to Surprise’s counterpart in the Xanth of an alternative reality. Surprise and her companions must search several realities trying to find the baby. Then the three children travelling with Surprise go missing, and the several members of the group split up to search for them, each having a separate adventure. Surprise finds herself with several difficult decisions to make.
Air Apparent (2007)
Hugo, son of the Magician Humfrey, has disappeared from the castle, and the Magician’s Book of Answers has become scrambled, so is no help. Wira, Hugo’s wife, sets off to look for him, with Debra, a girl from Mundania, temporarily transformed into a winged centaur. In the meantime, the Random Factor, a man who is normally confined to a cell in Castle Maidragon, has escaped. His talent is to transport himself to random locations. Along the way, Debra and the Random Factor meet and fall in love, but the Factor detects that Debra may be a threat to him, allowing him to be recaptured. Later, the Factor and Hugo meet and travel together – however, the Factor’s talent gets them more and more lost, with them ending up in the Moons of Ida, with apparently no way to return. The two women follow, along with other companions.
Two to the Fifth (2008)
Ragna Roc, a huge bird with powerful magic, is threatening to take over the land of Xanth. Magician Humfrey sends Cyrus Cyborg on a mission to defeat Ragna Roc. He will have the help of the three powerful Sorceress princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. To disguise his intention, Cyrus sets up a travelling acting troupe, with himself as the playwright. He hopes that Ragna Roc will hear of their performances, and invite them to his castle. Cyrus soon finds himself surrounded by seductive actresses – but the girl he is really interested in is the young Princess Rhythm.
Jumper Cable (2009)
A spider called Jumper (the descendant of the spider of the same name in “Castle Roogna”) is somehow transported from the micro world of spiders and bugs to the macro world, where he finds himself to be a giant spider amongst the humans of Xanth. Wanting to return home, he joins a group of women travelling the enchanted path to Magician Humfrey’s castle. They all have problems they want the Magician to solve. Humfrey gives them a mission – to locate and repair the cable which joins the Mundane Internet to the Xanth Outernet. It had been severed in anger by Demon Pluto, when he was downgraded in status to Dwarf Demon – and he and his minions are likely to oppose their efforts. Princesses Dawn and Eve (aged nineteen) join the group. Jumper is given potions to transform himself to human and back. The group has a prophecy to guide them. The mission takes them to the Gourd (the realm of dreams) where they must return a number of lost objects to their owners.
Knot Gneiss (2010)
Wenda Woodwife is given a mission by Magician Humfrey: to fetch the knot of petrified reverse wood from the Gap Chasm. She chooses several companions, including Jumper Spider. Jumper has been given a transformation spell: as well as spider and human forms, he is able to transform into a roc, and carry the group long distances.
The knot of petrified reverse wood (a big and heavy boulder) – the Knot Gneiss – makes everyone nearby terrified, so that no one can approach it, except Wenda, because of her association with all things to do with wood. It also seems to radiate a malevolent personality. (It is not nice.) Wenda surrounds it with normal reverse wood to counteract its effect, and then the group load it onto a wagon to transport it.
The group has a number of adventures, travelling through magic doors, to Comic World with its nasty puns, and to Reverse World, where characteristics such as appearance, direction and gender are reversed. As usually occurs in this series, each group member has a wish to be fulfilled, most of them to do with finding a life partner.
Well-Tempered Clavicle (2011)
[As the author explains in his Author’s Note, the book’s title is a pun on “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, a piece of music by J S Bach. A clavier is the keyboard of a musical instrument, such as a piano.]
Picka Bone and his sister Joy’nt are walking skeletons, the children of Marrow Bones and Grace’l Ossein. They meet the three Baldwin pets (Woofer the dog, Midrange the cat, and Tweeter the bird, who previously appeared in “Yon Ill Wind”), and they all decide to go on an adventure together. Picka wants to find out his magic talent, and thinks Princess Eve could help, as her magic talent is to know anything about any non-living thing. But Eve had married the Demon Pluto, and lives in a palace in Hades. So they go to Castle Roogna to ask Eve’s twin sister, Princess Dawn, how to get there.
Dawn has a pass to Hades, and takes them all there. When Eve meets them, she tells Picka that he can detach his clavicles, and use them to play tunes on his ribs.
But Dawn feels jealous of her sister’s married status, and on their return from Hades, she and her companions go to ask Magician Humfrey where she can find a suitable husband, who must be a prince, or have a similar special status.
Humfrey gives Dawn a mission, to locate and bring back Pundora’s Box, which previously contained all the nasty puns. The box is located in Caprice Castle, which continually changes its position. The two skeletons are given spells which can turn them into living humans for an hour a day. The group sets off, and eventually meet an invisible giantess, Granola, who can carry them long distances. And they rescue another walking skeleton, Skully Knucklehead, who becomes a close companion of Joy’nt. As they travel, Picka plays music on his ribs with his clavicles, and the others play instruments or sing. And Picka and Dawn are developing a romantic relationship: but what future is there for a human princess and a skeleton?
Finally they reach Caprice Castle, and find out its history. The Demon Pundit had lost a Demon wager, and was required to collect all the puns of the universe and confine them. He built Caprice Castle to contain them, and appointed a man called Piper (a magnificent musician who played the pipes) to do the collecting. But one of his puns, a girl called Pundora, betrayed Piper, and allowed all the puns to escape. Pundit punished Piper by turning him into a goo monster (with his pipes incorporated into his body), who can only be turned back if he marries a princess.
And now Piper, with the help of Pundora, wants to marry Dawn, and destroy Picka. Picka learns that Piper can use his music to summon or stun people, throw fire balls, and disintegrate matter. Picka must also become an expert musician, and learn to use his own music in the same way, to try to defeat Piper.
Luck of the Draw (2012)
Bryce is an 80-year-old man living in Mundania, who finds himself suddenly transported to Xanth, and youthened to 21 years old. He learns that as a result of a Demon wager, he is now one of six suitors for the 16-year-old Princess Harmony, who is expected to be the next ruler of Xanth.
The six candidates have to travel on a quest together to find six objects to be presented as gifts to the princess. The suitor with the best gift will marry her. They are accompanied by the servant girl, Mindy. The journey has the usual kind of dangers found in Xanth, as well as the challenges of locating and obtaining the objects of the quest.
Bryce has been given a magic pen and pad, which enables him to draw pictures of objects, which then transform into the real things. This, as well as his sensible advice, proves useful to the group as they travel.
But although Bryce has been youthened, he still thinks of himself as 80, and cannot accept the idea of marrying a girl the age of his granddaughter. And to complicate things, the 20-year-old Mindy says that she loves him.
Esrever Doom (2013)
Kody wakes up in hospital. He has been in an accident, and they need to operate. And then, while under the anaesthetic, he arrives in Xanth via a dream. The land of Xanth is under a curse. Beautiful people are perceived as ugly, and vice versa. Only Kody is immune. Magician Humfrey sends him on a quest to destroy the source of the curse. Accompanying him is Zosi, a zombie woman who has been transformed into a fully alive woman for the time being. She has her own quest, to solve the problem of the dwindling numbers of zombies since the Zombie Master retired.
Soon they gain other companions, the attractive girl Yukay, the griffin Zap, the beautiful naga woman Naomi, and the man Ivan. Kody enjoys the attentions of three attractive women, which they are pleased about, because other people perceive them as ugly. But it is Zosi that he is falling in love with. But what future do they have? When the quest is over, Kody will wake up in Mundania, and Zosi will return to being a zombie.
The group travel around Xanth by means of a magical travelling chessboard, testing the strength of the curse, to try to determine its location. They visit Princess Dawn at Caprice Castle, and Princess Eve in Hades. Maybe Eve’s little son Plato has part of the solution.
But there is an enemy. Someone is responsible for the curse, and will attempt to defeat their efforts.
Board Stiff (2013)
Kandy goes to a wishing well, telling it she is board stiff (making a mental typo), and wishes for adventure, excitement and romance. She gets turned into a stiff board. Then a man called Ease arrives at the well, and wishes for the perfect weapon, the perfect adventure or the perfect woman. When nothing seems to happen, he sees the board, and takes it with him, to use as a club, and for other useful purposes.
Ease then goes to the Good Magician Humfrey to ask for the same things. He is given a quest, to find the antidote to a virus which is destroying puns. Humfrey gives Ease a cryptic clue: “Merge the hair”.
Astrid is a basilisk who has been transformed into a human, in the hopes of finding a more fulfilling life. However she still has a deadly stare, so she wears dark sunglasses, and she has an intoxicating, and potentially poisonous, ambiance, which prevents people getting close to her for long. She wonders if this will prevent her forming a relationship with a human man. She accompanies Ease, to act as his bodyguard for the mission. She has a dress with sequins: the Sequins of Events. When a sequin is removed, and then replaced, an Event is triggered, transporting the questers to another location. As they travel, more people are added to the group.
Kandy (in her form as a board) discovers she can project her thoughts to Ease, and influence him, although he thinks they are his own thoughts. And she can only return to human form when Ease is asleep. She is attracted to Ease, and finds the current arrangement frustrating. As other people are added to the group she lets them know her identity, but she doesn’t inform Ease himself. However, Ease has dreams about her, and wonders if she is real.
Five Portraits (2014)
This novel continues on from the previous book, where the group of questers search for, and eventually find, the antidote to the anti-pun virus.
This story centres on Astrid Basilisk, who is now able to change between her human and basilisk forms. But in either form she still has a deadly stare, and poisonous ambiance. This is convenient for fighting enemies, but otherwise she wears dark glasses, and tells people to hold their breath when they come close to her.
Now they are just mopping up the remaining infestations.
The Demoness Fornax wants to be Astrid’s friend. So the two of them decide to rescue some children from 50 years in the future, when there is a possibility that Xanth will be destroyed. But to avoid a paradox, they instead rescue five children from a parallel Xanth whose setting is 50 years ahead of them, and where the disaster is already in progress. They return with the children to the virus-fighting group of friends.
There is currently a Demon Wager between Demon Xanth and Fornax on whether the land of Xanth will survive the predicted disaster. Some of the other Demons are also wagering on this.
The five children all have talents with which they can defend themselves from danger. But they also have a joint talent of “communing”: when they come together, they are able to obtain guidance about what they should do in future. Using this talent, they determine that they are the solution to avoiding the future disaster; they each have to be adopted, and Art, Astrid’s boyfriend, must paint a portrait of each child with their adopted family.
But some of the Demons attempt to sabotage this plan. Astrid finds herself alone with the five children in “the Storage”, a dangerous place entered from the storage area of a playground. They must make a journey to escape, fighting off creatures which attack them. Fornax is sometimes present to help them, but she must do it secretly, to avoid disqualifying herself from the wager.
Astrid is becoming fond of the children, as they are of her, and she is not looking forward to the time when they must leave to be adopted.
Isis Orb (2016)
A young man called Hapless is dissatisfied with life, but doesn’t want to go to Magician Humfrey for help. But then Humfrey turns up at his door and tells Hapless what he (Hapless) wants: to be able to play a musical instrument, a good girlfriend, and to make a difference to Xanth. (Hapless has the talent of conjuring any instrument, but when he tries to play them it sounds awful.) He will get all of these by going on a quest. Hapless has an appointment at the Magician’s castle for three days time. Humfrey gives him a box, which will generate a path to lead him safely to the castle. Then Humfrey leaves.
So Hapless sets off, and after some adventures on the way, arrives at the Magician’s castle. Humfrey gives him the quest: to get the Isis Orb, which can grant any wish – so it can grant Hapless’s wishes and those of his companions. He will need to gather five companions for the quest. Then the group will need to collect the totems of the five regions: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Void.
Now, opening the box will produce a picture of each companion, and a path to the companion. The path will be magically safe, and also can cross water or travel through the air.
So Hapless leaves on his quest, and eventually gathers up his companions: Feline, a woman who can turn into a cat; Zed, a zebra-striped male centaur; Nya, a female naga/winged-dragon crossbreed; Quin, a male dragon/harpy crossbreed; and Faro, a female winged centaur who is afraid of heights. All of them have wishes that they hope the quest will fulfil. And Hapless and Feline become quite friendly.
As they travel along, Hapless conjures up instruments for his companions, and they play music together. They discover they can play better than they usually do – maybe this is part of Hapless’s magical talent: they play better when he is present. They are also able to put creatures into a trance with their music.
After collecting all the companions, they proceed to collect the totems, visiting each of the regions in turn. They find that the guardians of the regions are reluctant to give up the totems, but the group makes use of their enchanted music to put each creature into a trance. When a companion touches the guardian, that creature turns into the totem, which looks like a miniature version of the original creature.
And then they meet a woman called Merge (who appeared in “Board Stiff” and “Five Portraits”). Hapless and Merge fall instantly in love, which becomes complicated because Hapless is also quite fond of Feline.
Finally Hapless and his companions meet Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess, the keeper of the Isis Orb, who is very seductive. She offers Hapless power, as her companion. But Hapless realises that such power is very addictive, and tends to corrupt.
- Hi Piers – The official homepage of Piers Anthony and Xanth
(includes pages with Character database and timeline)
- Ivy’s World of Xanth
- Ðêmøñ «ÐÅXLÔVË§» Xanth Page
- Xanth Wiki