Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series

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Overview
Books in the “Xanth” series

  1. A Spell for Chameleon
  2. The Source of Magic
  3. Castle Roogna
  4. Centaur Aisle
  5. Ogre, Ogre
  6. Night Mare
  7. Dragon on a Pedestal
  8. Crewel Lye
  9. Golem in the Gears
  10. Vale of the Vole
  11. Heaven Cent
  12. Man from Mundania
  13. Isle of View
  14. Question Quest
  15. The Color of Her Panties
  16. Demons Don’t Dream
  17. Harpy Thyme
  18. Geis of the Gargoyle
  19. Roc and a Hard Place
  20. Yon Ill Wind
  21. Faun & Games
  22. Zombie Lover
  23. Xone of Contention
  24. The Dastard
  25. Swell Foop
  26. Up in a Heaval
  27. Cube Route
  28. Currant Events
  29. Pet Peeve
  30. Stork Naked
  31. Air Apparent
  32. Two to the Fifth
  33. Jumper Cable
  34. Knot Gneiss
  35. Well-Tempered Clavicle
  36. Luck of the Draw
  37. Esrever Doom
  38. Board Stiff
  39. Five Portraits
  40. Isis Orb

Links to Xanth pages

Overview
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).  There are three challenges to get into the Magician’s Castle.  Then Humfrey provides 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 to 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. The author goes a bit overboard with puns as the series goes on, as he 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, with their bodies remaining behind, although they feel as if they are physically present in that realm.

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.  The Adult Conspiracy is also responsible for adults enforcing rules on children, such as making them eat healthy meals, go to bed on time and attend their lessons.

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 up to that point, 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.html.

[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.]

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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 is to prevent the waves of 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.

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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; these are a community of humans who all have the same talent of casting curses.  Typically, several or all of them cast a curse as a group, often 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.

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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.  (The Zombie Master’s talent had been to bring the dead back to the half-life of a zombie.)  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 became 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 the 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, with Dor, Jumper and the zombies fighting as well, 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.

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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. And 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 Isle, 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?

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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 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 an 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.  (The Siren is a mermaid, but can change her tail into legs to walk on land, and her scales turn into a scale-sequined dress.)

They arrive at Lake Ogre-Chobee. The Siren and Smash explore the lake.  Then they find Tandy; she is in a trance, staring into 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’s talent is to project maps.  She 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, also called the water wing.  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?

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Night Mare (1983)
[During this story, a series of people become King in turn.  I have marked their names in bold at the point that they come to the throne. Trent is already King at the beginning of the story.]

Mare Imbrium (Imbri) is the night mare Tandy had ridden to escape the demon Fiant in “Ogre, Ogre”.  She received a half-soul from Chem Centaur as part of the payment when she and her fellow mares rescued Smash’s party from the Void.

But Imbri is too kind-hearted to be a good bearer of bad dreams.  The Night Stallion calls her in to give her a new assignment: the liaison between the World of the Night and the World of the Day, during the coming crisis, the Nextwave – a wave of invasion of Mundanes into Xanth.  Imbri is to go to Chameleon and become her steed, and take a message to King Trent: “Beware the Horseman”.  Normally night mares cannot go out into sunlight, but Imbri’s nature will be changed; she will become solid during daylight hours, but at night she will retain her ability to dematerialise and pass through solid objects.

Emerging into normal Xanth, she is delighted to experience the sunlight.  She meets a white stallion – apparently an escaped horse from the Mundanes, as there are no true horses in Xanth. But the horse becomes frightened and runs off.

Then she meets a man, the horse’s owner, who refers to his horse as the “day horse”.  Night mares are able to communicate with other people by projecting dreamlets into the other person’s mind.  The man persuades her to let him ride her to find his horse.  But he is revealed as a cruel man when he puts a bit in her mouth and uses spurs on her sides.  He gives his identity as the Horseman, and learning that she has been warned about him, he forces her to go to his camp, where his Mundane companions hobble her and confine her to a pen.  She would normally have been able to escape at night, but they build a big fire, whose light prevents her.

But the day horse turns up in the night and puts the fire out, which enables her to escape.  He is afraid of Mundanes, in fact humans in general, and is willing to help her, but will not come to Castle Roogna.

Imbri goes to Chameleon’s house, near Castle Roogna.  But Chameleon is in her stupid beautiful phase, so cannot understand about the message for the King.  So Imbri goes to the King herself, and tells him of her mission.

The next morning Grundy Golem arrives at Chameleon’s house; the King has given instructions that Chameleon should ride the night mare to Magician Humfrey’s Castle to get his advice.  When they get there, the Magician tells them again “Beware the Horseman”, and gives her another message “Break the chain”.  He cannot tell her any more than this.

Chameleon knows that her son Dor and his fiancée Irene are planning to be married secretly that night, by a zombie justice of the peace, outside Castle Roogna.  But the couple don’t realise that all her friends know about it; they will be present, disguised as zombies.  Chameleon and Imbri arrive back at the castle in time to attend the wedding.  One of the other guests is Ichabod, the archivist from Modern America, whom Dor and company had met in “Centaur Aisle”, who now often visits Xanth.

After the ceremony, Imbri, Chameleon and Ichabod search for King Trent in the castle, but find him motionless and mindless, sitting at his desk.  Dor, as heir to the throne, must become king.

Dor appoints Chameleon, Imbri and Ichabod to travel north to spy on the Mundanes and gather information. Grundy goes with them because of his ability to communicate with plants and animals.  And Imbri persuades the day horse to be Ichabod’s steed.

The border between Xanth and Mundania is constantly changing to connect to various parts of Mundania’s history and geography.  Ichabod’s knowledge should enable them to identify the time and place the Mundanes come from.

But then Imbri, Ichabod and Grundy are captured by the Mundanes, and taken to their leader, Hasbinbad.  Ichabod soon learns that the Mundanes are Carthaginians, or Punics, from the time of the Second Punic War, around 210 or 215 BC, and they were attempting to enter Italy in support of Hannibal when they entered Xanth instead.  Then the Horseman turns up – he is second in command to Hasbinbad – but he allows Imbri to escape. So Imbri rescues Ichabod and Grundy, they rendezvous with Chameleon and the day horse, and return to report to King Dor.

Dor leads the soldiers of King Trent’s former army. The two armies meet north of the Gap.  (Castle Roogna is south of the Gap.)  It is apparent from the numbers of Mundane soldiers that half the soldiers are still up north, kept in reserve.  But at dawn on the next day, Dor is found motionless and unresponsive just like Trent.  The healer says they are not ill; they are victims of a magic spell.

The Zombie Master arrives at Castle Roogna to take the throne.  (How the Zombie Master, of 800 years ago, is alive in the present is explained towards the end of “Castle Roogna”.)  He takes an army of zombies to meet the Mundane army at the main bridge of the Gap. (There are 3 bridges over the Gap: the main bridge, the invisible bridge, and a one-way bridge from south to north.)  As the battle progresses, Chet Centaur cuts down the bridge.  But that night, the Zombie Master falls victim to the same spell as the previous kings.

Humfrey comes to take the throne. He says that the chain to be broken, which he had mentioned previously, is the chain of lost kings. There will be ten kings during the invasion, counting from King Trent.  He then sets up a series of spells (mostly in glass bottles) at the baobab tree near Castle Roogna. He sends inflatable nymphs, floating through the air, to bring the Mundanes to the baobab tree, so they will not be attacking the castle.  He explains the spells to Imbri in case he is taken before he can cast them.

In the meantime, Imbri, Chameleon and day horse go to meet Bink and Arnolde the Centaur, who are returning from a trade mission in Mundania.

When they return, they discover that Humfrey had been found unconscious like the others. However, he had captured his voice saying the name of his attacker in a bottle: it says “Horseman”.  So the Horseman is a person from Xanth, with a magic talent, not a Mundane.  He must be using the Mundane warriors to enable himself to become king.

Bink becomes king. It is generally believed that Bink has no magic talent, but Humfrey had figured it out.  Bink’s talent is that he cannot be harmed by magic. The talent conceals itself, and often operates as an apparent coincidence.  In this current situation, it means Bink can operate Humfrey’s spells without being harmed himself.  He defeats the Mundane army, and finally fights and defeats Hasbinbad. But then he is found unconscious.

In anticipation of Arnolde’s succession to the throne, Imbri goes to Centaur Isle, to ask the centaurs to send an army, in support of the Centaur King, to fight the Mundanes’ reserve army.  The centaurs agree, on the condition that Centaur Isle is granted legal autonomy.  In any case, the centaurs don’t want the Mundanes ruling Xanth.

Arnolde the centaur becomes king.  He confers with Elder Roland on the interpretation of Xanth law: A Magician must be king. Sorceresses are female Magicians, so a Sorceress may be ruler, but must be referred to as “King”, not “Queen”.  In the absence of a person of Magician-level magic, someone with a lesser magical talent may rule. These interpretations clear the way for Iris and Irene to be the next kings.

Arnolde also discusses with Imbri the fact that the Horseman’s spell is like a person becoming entranced by looking into a hypnogourd.  Maybe the Horseman can alter a person’s line of sight, linking their eye to a hypnogourd.  In which case, all the Kings are in the gourd in spirit form.  Imbri goes into the gourd and finds that all the lost Kings are there.

Imbri guides the centaur army north to where the reserve Mundane army is.  But the centaurs are defeated when they are ambushed, although with their excellent archery skills, they take out a large number of the enemy.  Imbri returns via the gourd, and finds Arnolde there with the Kings; he has also been taken by the Horseman’s spell.

Iris becomes king. She creates illusions of monsters attacking, scaring the Mundane soldiers into making disastrous mistakes.  She also makes it appear that there is level ground at the Gap, so the soldiers fall in.  She creates an illusion of herself to taunt the Horseman, who is leading the Mundane Army.  But this enables the Horseman to cast his spell on her.

Irene becomes King.  She nominates Chameleon as her successor.  Chameleon is mother of one king, and wife of another, and she is coming into her smart ugly phase; she will need her intelligence for the crisis.  Irene starts growing aggressive plants to protect the castle.

Imbri and Chameleon go to cut down the invisible bridge over the Gap.  Chameleon names Imbri as her successor; she is the only one immune to the hypnogourd, and therefore the Horseman’s spell.  They meet the day horse, who takes Chameleon back to the castle while Imbri goes to the Good Magician’s castle, to organise the Gorgon and the other women to defend Castle Roogna.

Imbri fetches Blythe Brassie from the City of Brass in the gourd, and discovers both Irene and Chameleon in the gourd with the other Kings.  They have both been victims of the Horseman’s spell. Chameleon had brought the Horseman into the castle, and he is trapped there by the plants Irene had grown around the castle. (Chameleon had been King for two minutes, but she had been putting her plans into effect from the time Irene named her as successor.)  Imbri is now King: it is up to her to save Xanth.

The next battle will be fought by women.  The invisibility spell has been removed from the Gorgon’s face.  The Siren’s dulcimer has been repaired; with her singing and music she can lure men to be turned to stone by the Gorgon.  Goldy Goblin has come with her magic levitation wand.  Most of the other female companions from Smash’s journey in “Ogre, Ogre” are there: Chem Centaur, Tandy and Blythe Brassie.  Smash has been guarding the castle, but now the remaining Xanthian males – Smash, Chet and Grundy – must leave before the Siren starts singing.

The Mundanes come, but the women’s magic is effective against them – until the Horseman starts casting his spell on them, from the castle.  Night is falling, when Imbri will able to dematerialise – to enter the castle and confront the Horseman.

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Dragon on a Pedestal (1983)
Dor and Irene became King and Queen when Trent and Iris retired.  They now have a three-year-old daughter called Ivy.

Dor and Irene have been invited to the Zombie Master’s castle, ostensibly for the debut of Hiatus and Lacuna, the Zombie Master and Millie’s 16-year-old twins. (This is New Castle Zombie; Humfrey’s Castle is now on the site of the original Castle Zombie.)  However, it is actually a meeting of the Magicians for an important announcement from Magician Humfrey.

Humfrey arrives on magic carpet with his son Hugo.  Hugo is eight, backward, and his talent is to conjure fruit, but the fruit turns up rotten.  Humfrey’s announcement is this: The forget spell on the Gap Chasm is breaking up and forming forget whorls, drifting out of the Gap, and causing people to lose their memory.  The Gap Dragon has left the Gap and is roaming around.  They have to do something about these problems. And then Humfrey and Hugo leave.

The Gap Dragon attacks Castle Zombie.  The zombies defend the castle, and Irene grows plants to attack the dragon, and the dragon leaves.  However, in the confusion, Ivy goes missing, and wanders off into the jungle.

Irene flies to Magician Humfrey’s Castle on a bird-of-paradise plant, to ask how to find Ivy.

Irene’s talent is growing plants. She has always been able to grow them rapidly, and give them commands to some extent.  But now she can grow them almost instantly.  This improvement occurred when Irene was pregnant with Ivy. Ivy’s talent is Enhancement, so maybe Ivy’s presence is responsible for the improvement.  [Interesting point: in these early books, human pregnancy is mentioned a couple of times.  In later books, babies are delivered by storks.]  And now Irene’s talent is at Magician level.  This talent is useful for growing plants for food, or clothing or weapons, etc; all of this becomes handy for this adventure.  A lot of Xanth plants have strange attributes: some of them behave like the animals they are named after.

But at the Good Magicians Castle, the Gorgon tells Irene what has happened to Humfrey, playing back the sequence in a magic mirror.  Humfrey and Hugo had gone to the Fountain of Youth to replenish the Magician’s supply. The Gap Dragon attacked.  Hugo splashed both the dragon and Humfrey with Fountain of Youth water: the dragon became younger and smaller, and Humfrey reverted to a baby.  The Gorgon had used the emergency conjuration spell to bring baby Humfrey back to the castle, but Hugo is missing.  So the two mothers now have to search separately for their two children.

Back at the Zombie Master’s castle, the party has broken up into search parties to find Ivy.  Irene joins Chem Centaur and Grundy Golem.  At Dor’s insistence, they take a zombie called Zora with them, to take word back to Castle Zombie if needed.

Ivy is wandering in jungle, seeing various things.  She meets a yak, who is very talkative, but the yak departs when he encounters a forget-whorl.  Later she meets the youthened Gap Dragon.  Not being aware she should be frightened of him, she admires him, saying how wonderful and friendly he is, how strong he is and how hard and shiny his scales are, and how hot his steam is.  And her talent of Enhancement makes it so. She gives him the name Stanley Steamer.  Ivy and the dragon continue on together, but are then caught in a witch’s trap – one which could keep them frozen in time for nearly a century.

Irene, Chem and Grundy are captured by the witch Xanthippe, who has hypnotic powers. (Zora is with them, but the witch’s powers don’t work on her.)  The witch wants Irene to marry and breed with her son Xavier, even though Irene is already married.  She tells Irene she has Ivy captive.  But Xavier is not keen to do what his mother says.  Xanthippe releases the group when Irene offers to do the other thing Xanthippe wants: fetch the Seeds of Doubt, Dissension and War from the Tree of Seeds, which is guarded by the Simurgh (a huge bird), on Mount Parnassus.  Xanthippe also wants one of the Simurgh’s feathers, which is able to heal wounds.  Xavier and his hippogryph Xap go with them; Zora rides with Xavier on the hippogryph, who flies most of the way.

Meanwhile, Ivy and the dragon escape the trap, because of Ivy’s talent of Enhancement; Ivy is in fact a Sorceress, although she is not aware of the fact.  They encounter Hugo, who is also wandering in the jungle.  Ivy’s talent has the effect of making Hugo more handsome and smarter, and the fruit he conjures is ripe.  In a similar way to Irene’s plants, Hugo’s fruit is useful for all sorts of purposes: food, weapons, etc.

During Irene and her companions’ adventure, Zora Zombie saves their lives several times, suffering injuries that they would otherwise have experienced.  They learn her story: when she was a living woman, her true love had been false, and she had committed suicide.  Her family had brought her body to the Zombie Master, who had made her into a zombie.  Irene and her companions are grateful and sympathetic to her, and Zora’s body responds to their care and love by becoming less decayed.

On Mount Parnassus they are attacked by the Python (a giant snake) and the Maenads (the wild women of wine).  They meet the Muses at their temple.  Irene, Xavier and Grundy climb to the peak.  They see the Simurgh and the Tree of Seeds, which has the seeds of all possible kinds of plants.  The Simurgh gives Irene the feather and the seeds she asks for, then bounces on the tree, making a huge number of seeds fly off: Irene can take all the seeds she can catch and hold in her skirt.

[The author borrows from a lot of elements of Greek mythology in this story: Parnassus, Python, Maenads, Muses.  The Simurgh is from Iranian mythology.]

Ivy, Hugo and the Gap Dragon meet Glory Goblin (the younger sister of Goldy, from “Ogre, Ogre”).   She is in love with Hardy Harpy, one of the rare male harpies, but she knows her father, Gorbage, won’t allow them to marry.  So she has run away to find Hardy.  The goblins and the harpies live on opposite sides of the Gap, and with the forget spell and the dragon, this has kept them somewhat at peace with each other (since the war 800 years ago in “Castle Roogna”).  Together the group locates Hardy.  But then the goblins catch them and put Hardy on trial and condemn him to death.  But the group, including Glory and Hardy, escape.

Irene’s party returns from Mount Parnassus:  They meet the Gorgon; she has been affected by a forget-whorl, and forgotten to keep her veil on, and has been turning people to stone.  Again Zora saves Irene by intercepting the Gorgon’s stare, however the effect is to repair Zora’s body, so she appears more recently dead.  Xavier realises he cares for Zora, and he and Zora depart on Xap.  Irene reminds the Gorgon to put her veil on.

A new goblin/harpy war is starting up.  But Irene and her companions manage to intervene, to stop the war.

They discover a wiggle swarm in progress.  Wiggles are small wormlike creatures that hover in the air, and then shoot off in a straight line, boring holes through everything in their path, which could kill any creature in their way.  Creatures from all over come to defeat the wiggles: humans crush them between rocks, animals crunch them with their teeth, etc.  And Ivy, Hugo and the Gap Dragon play an important part in defeating the wiggles.

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Crewel Lye (1984)
Ivy is out of sorts and bored. Her mother is not paying attention to her, a baby brother, Dolph, has arrived, and Ivy has been confined to the castle for some apparent misdeed.  She tries watching the tapestry with its moving images of long-ago historical figures, but it is boring, and the pictures are fuzzy.  She notices that Jordan, one of the palace ghosts is also watching the tapestry.  Jordan had helped Imbri defeat the Horseman in “Night Mare”.  And during his time as a ghost, he had come to love a female ghost called Renee.

Jordan had lived 400 years ago, but his memory of it is fuzzy, just as the images on the tapestry are fuzzy.  Ivy decides she must clean the tapestry, and then Jordan will see the pictures well enough to tell his story.  She needs to go to Good Magician Humfrey, to get the recipe for a cleaning solution.

Jordan finds a night mare’s horse shoe, and Ivy uses it to travel through the gourd to the Magician’s Castle. (Zora Zombie is there; she is babysitting the youthened Humfrey; her talent is to age people faster than normal.  When Ivy visits, she enhances Zora’s talent, which speeds up the aging process. So Humfrey is now a young child.)  Humfrey gives Ivy the recipe.

Ivy returns to Castle Roogna and follows the recipe, and makes up the cleaning solution: crewel lye.  Jordan tells his story:

Jordan is a warrior barbarian living in Fen Village, in the far north of Xanth.  He decides he would rather go adventuring than settle down with his girlfriend. So he heads off.

One night he hears the rattling of chains.  He follows the sound, and sees a pooka, a ghost horse, who remains tangible because of the chains wrapped around his body.  Jordan chases the horse until he eventually catches him, and the horse becomes his steed. He calls the horse Pook.

Jordan’s magic talent is that his body heals itself, which is a useful talent for these dangerous adventures.  It takes longer to heal for more serious injuries.  He can even come back to life if he is killed.

They run into a tribe of goblins.  They escape into a tunnel in the mountain, but then are attacked by big humanoid monsters called callicantzari.  Jordan is killed by the monsters, cut up and put into the cooking pot. But they delay cooking him, and he comes back to life, and heals, overnight.  Pook had escaped, but now comes back and rescues him.

Then they encounter a tribe of elves, who invite Jordan to be their guest.  (An elf is a quarter the size of a human.)  An elf tribe always has its camp around an elf elm; closer to the tree, the elves have greater strength.  After they eat, and Jordan tells them his story, a female elf, Bluebell, takes him to her room in the tree, and they sleep together (or “summon the stork” according the usual Xanth euphemism).  Bluebell uses an “Accommodation Spell” to turn them into compatible sizes.

Jordan and Pook travel on.  They find an injured stork, who is attempting to deliver a baby ogre (or ogret), but had been attacked by a dragon, so it can’t fly.  Jordan loads the stork and the baby bundle onto the horse, and they continue on.  But they are attacked by dragons and have to fight.  Still under attack, they arrive at the Gap Chasm, and Jordan, the stork and the baby fall from the horse.  The stork is dead, but Jordan recovers, and the ogret is okay. They find their way down into the Chasm.  The Gap Dragon starts chasing them but they find a tunnel in the southern wall, and make their way back to level ground.

Jordan and Pook find their way to the ogret’s parents’ home and deliver the baby.  Then they continue on to Castle Roogna.

The castle is run down, and there are only two occupants: King Gromden, and a serving woman.  But they welcome Jordan as a hero who had been prophesied.  The King is dying, and must choose a successor. There are two candidates: twin brothers, Magicians Yin and Yang. Jordan must go on a mission which will decide which will be the new king.

Jordan meets the Magicians on two successive days, as they refuse to come together.  First he meets Yin who explains Jordan’s mission.  He must go and fetch a certain object and return it to the castle.  If he successfully returns, Yin will win, otherwise Yang will win.  Yin is the Good Magician who tells the truth, Yang is the Evil Magician who lies and deceives.  Yin gives him a bag of seven small white objects; they are spells, whose shape indicates their function.  Their purpose is to counteract the corresponding harmful black spells which Yang has placed along his route.

The spells are:

  • a shield: the corresponding harmful spell is a black sword which cuts and kills, the white shield preserves life;
  • a figure of a monster: the black monster figurine summons a monster, the white figurine banishes it;
  • a skull: the black skull brings death; the white skull brings life;
  • a stone: the black stone will turn him to stone, the white stone will return the stone to flesh;
  • a doll: the black doll will exchange his identity with another person, the white doll will exchange it back.
  • a tangled length of vine (the eye-queue vine): the white vine provides intelligence, the black vine idiocy;
  • a magic compass: the white compass points the way to the target object, the black compass will prevent him from knowing the way.

When Yang comes the next day, he inspects the spells Yin has given Jordan. He tells Jordan that Yin and the King are stupid, and tries to get Jordan to abandon the mission. But Jordan insists on proceeding.

So Jordan sets off the next day on Pook.  He knows that he must head northwest. He comes to a mountain, and thinking that this may confuse the predicted route, he goes over the mountain rather than around it.  But at the peak he encounters the black compass spell, and loses his sense of where he should go. He invokes the white compass, but instead of giving him back his sense of direction, it turns the rocky mountain to flesh.  Yang had mixed up the white spells, so they no longer perform what is indicated by their shapes!  Jordan doesn’t know where to go, but Pook does, and they continue down the mountain and in a northwesterly direction.

Then he encounters the black monster spell.  A tarasque appears: this is a dragon with a lion’s face, bears’ legs, a thick carapace and scorpion’s tale.  Jordan invokes the white monster spell, and suddenly becomes more intelligent.  He fights the monster, but is critically injured.  But then Pook attacks it, leads it away, and traps it in a cave.  Jordan’s body starts to heal, but is still unconscious. Pook gets Jordan on his back and carries him to the home of a young woman called Threnody, and Jordan recovers.

Jordan tells Threnody his mission.  She tells him about King Gromden’s background.  His wife, the Queen, had been jealous of the King’s daughter; she put a curse on the girl so that if she stayed in the castle, the castle would fall down.  This would mean the kingdom would fall, and humans would no longer be the dominant power of Xanth.  So the daughter left.  But the Queen also put a curse on the King, so that he would not remember the first curse.  As a result, the King keeps trying to bring his daughter back.  He wants her to marry his successor, which will satisfy the people, as his bloodline would continue.

Then Threnody tells him that she is the King’s daughter.  But she has poisoned his wine. She dumps his body down a chute into the Gap Chasm, where it gets smashed to pieces.

Pook sees Jordan’s body fall, and finds a way into the Chasm.  Pook doesn’t understand about Jordan’s healing ability, and tries to find a way to bury him.  Pook hauls Jordan’s body out of the Chasm.  But Jordan comes back to life overnight.

And then he encounters the black stone spell.  As Jordan starts to turn to stone, he invokes the white doll spell (a random choice, he doesn’t know which spell does what), and an arrow appears in his mind, showing him the way to his target.  Jordan dies again as he turns to stone, but eventually his healing ability brings him back to life again.

Jordan and Pook follow the direction of the arrow, which eventually brings them back to Threnody’s house.  And Jordan discovers that in fact Threnody is the object he is supposed to obtain.  But Threnody doesn’t want to come.  So Jordan ties her onto the horse, and they start back toward the castle.   Threnody escapes a few times, but the arrow in Jordan’s mind points out her location, so he manages to get her back.  Threnody tells Jordan some more about herself: she is not the daughter of the Queen; she is the illegitimate daughter of the King and a demoness.  This is the scandal which has left the castle almost deserted.  Threnody has inherited a talent from her demonic heritage: she can become diffuse like a ghost (she had used this ability to escape), or change her shape, or her size.  But all of these changes take time.

Then they encounter the black sword spell.  The spell expands into a full-sized sword and attacks Jordan; he counters it with his own sword.  The opposing sword keeps attacking, while Jordan is tiring.  He invokes the white vine spell, and his consciousness transfers into Threnody’s body.  Meanwhile the black sword continues to attack Threnody, who is now in Jordan’s body, and kills her.

But Jordan’s body starts to recover.  Jordan (in Threnody’s body) drags Threnody (in Jordan’s body) into the hollow of a dead tree for protection, and then discovers stairs going underground, and continues down them.  There they encounter the Gnobody Gnomes, the cowboys (humans with heads of bulls and cows) and the Knock-Kneed Knights.  They find a female ghost horse called Peek, who comes with them.  Eventually they emerge above ground again.  And they encounter the black doll spell, and their consciousnesses swap back to their correct bodies.

So they now both have a ghost horse to ride on.  But then Jordan encounters the black vine spell, and is afflicted by idiocy.  In this state, Threnody persuades him they should turn back towards her home.  The horses leave them, not wanting to be involved in this betrayal.  Jordan invokes the white skull spell, which turns into a full-sized white shield, which becomes handy for defending himself against the various monsters that attack.

As they travel together, it seems that Jordan and Threnody are falling in love with each other.  Jordan starts to recover from the idiocy spell, and Threnody reluctantly agrees to continue with him to Castle Roogna.

But at the castle’s drawbridge, Jordan encounters the black skull spell, and falls down dead.  Magician Yin tries to persuade Threnody to cross the drawbridge to the castle, but she refuses. She uses Jordan’s sword to chop up Jordan’s body, and hides all the parts in different locations, preventing him from coming back from the dead.  It seems that Threnody’s profession of love had been a cruel lie.

Back in the present, Ivy wonders whether the ghost Jordan can be brought back to life.  Can they find the parts of his body, and bring them back together?  The female ghost Renee says she knows where his body parts are.

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Golem in the Gears (1986)
At the end of “Crewel Lye”, Stanley Steamer, the youthened Gap Dragon, had disappeared as the result of a monster banishment spell.  He had been living at Castle Roogna, as Ivy’s pet, and Ivy (now 8 years old) misses him.

Grundy Golem feels small, useless and insignificant.  He seizes the opportunity to be useful, and offers to go and find Stanley Steamer.  So he goes to ask Magician Humfrey how to do this. (Humfrey now has an apparent age of 12 years.  Grundy tells him a method whereby he can be instantly any age he wants.)  Humfrey gives Grundy his answer: Ride the Monster under the Bed to the Ivory Tower.

Monsters under the Bed (or Bed Monsters) are a species of creature that live under children’s beds, and try to grab their ankles as they get into bed.  The only one Grundy knows is Snortimer, the monster under Ivy’s bed. Ivy is willing to accept Snortimer’s absence.  Also she has heard of the Ivory Tower: that’s where her pun-pal Rapunzel lives.  So Grundy will ride on Snortimer’s back. But Bed Monsters cannot stand the light of day (which will require travelling at night), and it will be necessary to take the bed with them.  Bink (now about 60 years old) and Chester Centaur offer to go with them, with Chester carrying the bed on his back.

They don’t know where the Ivory Tower is, so they decide to go and ask Stella Steamer (also called Stacey), the female Gap Dragon who is filling in for Stanley in the Gap.  They encounter several hazards on the way, but Bink seems not to be worried about the dangers and difficulties; they seem to be escaping them by coincidences occurring. (This is Bink’s hidden talent manifesting, although it seems to be a bit different from previously stated: often seeming coincidences result in good fortune for Bink and his friends, even when magic is not threatening to harm him. And later, Bink’s talent brings good fortune to his friends even when he is not physically present. )  They meet the ghost horses, Pook, Peek and their foal Puck, and Pook shows them the tunnel system down into the Gap.

But when they get there, Stella doesn’t know where the Ivory Tower is, but she suggests they ask the Monster of the Sea.  Bink and Chester must return home, as their wives are expecting them back. So, Stella carries the bed to the east coast.

The Monster of the Sea has a reputation of eating damsels in distress, so Grundy creates a mock damsel of driftwood, and calls out in the voice of a damsel in distress.  And finally the Monster comes.  But the Monster has been misunderstood; he rescues damsels in distress, he doesn’t eat them.  He knows about the Ivory Tower; it is a lighthouse on the coast, which is inhabited by the dreaded Sea Hag.  The Sea Hag is a Sorceress with the talent of Immortality; when she dies, she takes the body of another living creature, preferably a young woman.  Rapunzel must be the Sea Hag’s next victim. This means she is a damsel in distress, so the Monster is willing to help rescue her.  He carries Grundy, Snortimer and the bed to the Ivory Tower,

When Rapunzel, in the Tower, hears Grundy’s voice, she thinks it is the Sea Hag returning, (she calls the Sea Hag “Mother Sweetness”,) and lets down her hair to let Grundy and Snortimer climb up.  She is pleased to meet friends of her pun-pal Ivy.  She reveals that she is a descendant of Jordan and Bluebell Elf (refer to “Crewel Lye”), so she has both human and elf ancestry.  She can change her size, from elf-size to human size, and any size in between, and a little beyond these limits.  This means she can make herself the same size as Grundy, who is smaller than an elf.

But when Grundy explains about the Sea Hag, she doesn’t believe it.

Then the Sea Hag arrives.  She tries to kill Grundy.  In answer to Grundy’s taunting questions, she lets slip her intention to take over Rapunzel’s body.  Grundy, Rapunzel and Snortimer escape from the Tower.  But then the Sea Hag throws herself from the Tower, killing herself.  They know that the Sea Hag’s spirit can take the body of any creature, to attack them and try and get Rapunzel back.  (Intelligent beings like Rapunzel can only be taken over if they agree to it; the Sea Hag is relying on being able to persuade her.)

Rapunzel knows where Stanley Steamer is; she has heard of the presence of a dragon in the community of Fauns and Nymphs at Lake Ogre-Chobee.  Rapunzel (human-size) and Snortimer carry the bed a short distance into the jungle.  But it would take ages to travel to Lake Ogre-Chobee like this.

Grundy and Rapunzel are becoming fond of each other.  But Grundy believes that Rapunzel should find a partner of her own kind, either a human or an elf.  And he thinks there is no possible female companion for him, the only one of his kind, a living golem.

Several creatures in sequence attack Grundy, and they realise it is the Sea Hag occupying their bodies.  Then, by seeming coincidence, Jordan and Threnody turn up (Bink had suggested they travel in this region), and Jordan kills the latest attacking creature, a chimaera.  After this, Threnody uses her shape-shifting talent to turn herself into a sphinx, and carries them towards Lake Ogre-Chobee.

Then they get stuck in the Ever-Glades: this seems to go on forever.  Threnody changes into a swift to fly and look around, but is attacked by a falcon – they realise that it has been taken over by the Sea Hag.  Jordan shoots the falcon with an arrow and kills it, but Threnody is injured, and takes a while to recover.

Then Arnolde the centaur turns up.  He is experimenting with reverse wood, which converts his magical Centaur Aisle into a Mundane aisle, which nullifies magic in the area immediately around Arnolde.  Bink had suggested the Ever-Glades as a suitable place to test this. So Arnolde nullifies the magical affect of the Ever-Glades on them, and continues on with them, allowing the group to leave the Ever-Glades.

They arrive at the Fauns and Nymphs Retreat, and find Stanley Steamer.  When some goblins arrive to capture the fauns and nymphs, Stanley scares them off.  Grundy and company realise that Stanley is preventing predators from attacking the vulnerable fauns and nymphs, and can’t leave.

Then the community is attacked by B’s.  These are like bees, but come from a B-Have, and their stings affect the way their victims behave.  And Grundy learns that the Sea Hag has taken over the body of the Queen B.  He sneaks into the B-Have and captures the Queen, but she escapes.

They discover that Snortimer is able to fight off attackers of the fauns and nymphs, and is quite happy to remain in this community. This frees up Stanley to return to Ivy.

So Grundy, Rapunzel and Stanley head back toward Castle Roogna.  Grundy still thinks Rapunzel should try joining an elf community, so they go to the elm of a tribe of elves which is on the way.  The elf prince Gimlet escorts Rapunzel into the tree, but then the elves poison Stanley (he is ill but not dead), and throw Grundy into an underground cell.  This is uncharacteristic of elf behaviour, and Grundy wonders what has gone wrong.  He escapes and climbs a long hidden shaft within the tree, and finds the Prince’s room.  The Prince is trying to persuade Rapunzel to marry him, but she is in love in Grundy.  Then Grundy realises that the Sea Hag has taken over the Prince’s body.  The elf guards arrive, and decide that the disagreement must be settled by trial by combat.

The trial is held using a system of lines hanging from the tree, and platforms on poles.  The contestants swing between the platforms on the ropes and cut the ropes to try and confine their component to a single platform. Then they must dump their opponent down a funnel through a hole which exits to somewhere else, from which no one returns.  But in the struggle both Grundy and the Sea Hag (in the Prince’s body) fall through the hole.

They find themselves in the underground cavern of the Demon X(A/N)th.  This Demon is the source of the magic of the land of Xanth, whom Bink and his companions (including Grundy) had encountered in “The Source of Magic”. He is one of the Great Demons, associated with the planets and the forces of the universe, who are constantly in competition with each other to gain status.

The Demon challenges Grundy to provide a strategy whereby the Demon can improve his status with the other Demons.  If Grundy fails, he will be held in suspended animation indefinitely in the Brain Coral’s pool.  If he succeeds, he will be returned to the surface, and to Rapunzel.

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Vale of the Vole (1987)
Esk is the 16-year-old son of Smash and Tandy; he is a quarter ogre, half human, and a quarter nymph.  So he is essentially human, but if he gets angry or desperate, he gains ogre strength briefly.   Esk needs to get away from his parents occasionally, so has located a hideout in a beer-barrel tree.  But then this space is invaded by a demoness called Metria.  Each tries to get the other to leave, and finally Metria threatens Esk’s parents.  Esk decides he must go to consult Magician Humfrey.

He sets off on the enchanted path.  He meets Chex, a female winged centaur, who is the daughter of Chem Centaur and Xap hippogryph: they had had a liaison during the adventure of “Dragon on a Pedestal”.  Although Chex has wings, she can’t fly, because her body is too heavy; she wants to ask the Magician how she can fly.  Then they meet Volney Vole; the vole community in the Vale of the Vole has a problem: demons who live in the valley have straightened the Kiss-Mee River, making the valley dry and barren.

The three querents (people with questions) arrive at the Magician’s Castle, and find it deserted. They travel toward Castle Roogna to report to the King.  They meet Chet Centaur (Chex’s uncle), Princess Ivy (now 10 or 11 years old) and Stanley Steamer.  The King and Queen are currently away from the Castle, so they all decide instead to go to the Gap Chasm; Chem Centaur is there, mapping the Chasm.  Since her talent is projecting maps, maybe she has a map which shows lost Magicians.

They find Chem and Stacey Steamer together at the Chasm. But Chem doesn’t have a map showing where the lost Magician is.  She returns with them to Castle Roogna.

Chex had been dreading meeting her grandparents Cherie and Chester, as it is obvious from her wings that she is a crossbreed.  They have not previously known about her existence.  (Centaurs generally do not accept crossbreeds of their species.)  And now, at the Castle, Chester is accepting of her, but Cherie is not.

The King and Queen have returned, so the travellers report that Magician Humfrey’s Castle is deserted. Volney also reports the problem of the Vale of the Vole.  But the King can’t address Volney’s problem; he considers Humfrey’s absence a priority.

Esk, Chex and Volney all resolve to work together to get rid of the demons from the Vale of the Vole.  They will all go to the beings of their races to ask for help.  Ivy will also help to the extent she is permitted.

Chex heads off towards Centaur Isle, with Ivy on her back.  But they reach an area with a terrible smell: a sphinx had died.  So they divert to Castle Zombie.  Millie provides them with a guide, a zombie centaur called Horace, who will take them via another route.  Horace leads them through the peephole of a huge hypnogourd (a zombie gourd), so they travel physically via the realm of the gourd, and arrive on the coast opposite Centaur Isle.  But the centaur who takes people across on his raft won’t take Chex because she is crossbreed; the centaurs of Centaur Isle would not accept her.

Esk travels to Gateway Castle, under Lake Ogre-Chobee, where the curse fiends live.  They accept him because his paternal grandmother had been a curse fiend.  But they require him to be the audience for plays they are putting on, and to provide feedback.  At the end of his stay, they provide him with an old woman called Latia, to investigate the situation at the Vale of the Vole.

Latia tells Esk her cursing talent is defective; one curse in three turns out to be a blessing.  The next curse is due to be a blessing, so Esk asks her to curse him.  Nothing seems to happen initially, but then, when Latia isn’t looking, he falls down a sinkhole, and his eye is caught by the peephole of a hypnogourd.

The Kingdom of the Voles consists of all kinds of digging creatures, ranging from the large diggles to the small wiggles, and various kinds of squiggles in between.  And then there are the civilised voles, such as Volney.  Volney travels underground to talk to the diggles.  But the diggles do not want to antagonise the demons, so will not help.  He then goes to the squiggles, but they can’t help.

Chex and Volney meet back at Castle Roogna.  Esk is not there, but Latia arrives, and tells them that Esk is lost.

Esk is in the gourd.  After trying a few paths, which lead to dangerous outcomes, he tries another which is less defined.  He finds a walking skeleton called Marrow Bones, who tells him this is the Path of the Lost.  Marrow had got lost after running away from the graveyard, when he was scared by Smash (in “Ogre, Ogre”). But now he wants to come with Esk, so he will no longer be lost.  Further on they find Bria Brassie, a brass girl from the City of Brass, who had also got lost. She also comes with Esk.  Then Esk returns to the normal world of Xanth, because Chex, Volney and Latia had found him, and removed the hypnogourd.  Marrow and Bria had returned with him.

Chex and Marrow travel to meet Chex’s father, Xap Hippogryph, to ask if she can meet with the winged monsters.  Xap wants her to meet a centaur called Cheiron, but Chex, having received rejections from the centaurs, doesn’t want to meet another.  Xap tells her that the winged monsters are meeting on a mountain, so she can make her case, but she must get there on her own.

Chex laboriously makes her way up the mountain, with Marrow helping her.  She finally makes it to the plateau at the top, where the winged monsters are gathered.  She presents the case for getting rid of the demons, so the Vale of the Vole can be restored.  The opposing case is presented by Cheiron, who indicates the danger to the monsters from the demons.  Chex’s argument carries the day.  Then she discovers that Cheiron is a winged centaur; she is sorry she had not met him earlier when her father asked her to.  Cheiron says he will welcome her when she learns to fly.

Esk, Bria and Latia return to Castle Roogna to report to Ivy. Ivy gives them a pathfinder spell, which creates a magical path to their next destination, Ogre-Fen-Ogre Fen, the home of the ogres.  The path takes them to various strange places, but gets them to their destination a lot quicker than travelling directly.  They manage to convince the ogres to come to the Vale of the Vole.

Volney now travels undergound to find a wiggle.  Wiggle swarms, one of which had occurred in “Dragon on a Pedestal”, consist of the small wiggle larvae.  But an adult wiggle looks much like a smaller version of a vole.  Volney locates a wiggle princess called Wilda, who will soon produce offspring.  He asks her to come and make her nest in the Vale of the Vole.  The resulting swarm will devastate the area and upset the demons, making them leave.  But to prevent injury to nearby creatures, a containment spell will be required.  Wilda tells him of one that had been taken into the gourd and lost.

Esk, Chex, Volney and Marrow go to the zombie gourd, where they can enter the gourd physically. They invoke the pathfinder spell, to find the containment spell, and follow the path into the gourd.  They have various strange experiences, finally travelling through the gourd equivalents of the five Elemental Realms: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and finally the Void.  It turns out that the gourd equivalent of the Void, itself, is the containment spell. They pick it up and take it with them.

They all gather at the Vale of the Vole.  Esk assigns roles to his companions: liaisons to the voles, the winged monsters, the ogres and the demons.  Crunch Ogre (Esk’s grandfather) and Xap Hippogryph arrive as the representatives of the ogres and the winged monsters respectively.  And the demoness Metria turns up as the liaison for the demons.

The winged monsters and the ogres arrive, and start attacking the demons.

Meanwhile a romance is developing between Esk and Bria.  But creatures from the gourd cannot remain in normal Xanth – they eventually fade away – unless someone gives them half a soul.  Esk has to decide whether he is willing to give half of his.

But ultimately, all the fighting doesn’t force the demons to vacate the Vale.  The ogres and the winged monsters depart. The demons cause the river to flood the valley.  Esk and his companions make their way to higher ground, but Marrow and Bria are captured by the demons.

Then Wilda Wiggle arrives to make her nest.  Esk must set up the containment field, and but this means he will have to remain in the path of the wiggle swarm.  Surprisingly, Metria offers to protect him by wrapping herself around him like a sheet; as a demoness, she can make herself impervious to the wiggle larvae.

And the wiggle swarm begins.

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Heaven Cent (1988)
Dolph, the 9-year-old son of Dor and Irene, decides to go searching for the missing Magician Humfrey. His parents insist on him taking an adult companion, so he takes Marrow Bones, the walking skeleton.

Dolph is a shape-shifter; he can transform himself to any living creature. This is handy for fighting off attackers, travelling, and making use of other creatures’ abilities.  Typically he transforms into an ogre for fighting, or a roc (a huge bird) for travelling long distances.

Dolph and Marrow arrive at the Magician’s Castle.  They search all the rooms, and then discover a hidden room.  In it they find a paper with the message: “Skeleton Key to Heaven Cent”.  Marrow suggests that the “skeleton key” may refer to the coral islands along the coast: some islands are referred to as keys, and they are built on the skeletons of the coral organisms.  The orientation of paper suggests the direction to the Isle of Illusion, on the east coast.

When someone kicks Marrow, his bones fly apart, and he can rearrange them into a different formation.  So when they reach the coast, he reorganises his bones into a boat, so they can cross to the Isle of Illusion.

The Isle of Illusion is filled with magnificent buildings. But it is all illusion; Iris’s talent has left her and returned to her old home.  They send a message to Iris about this.  They discover a female walking skeleton, Gracile (Grace’l) Ossein.  It seems she had accidentally left the gourd and found herself on the island.  They search the island, but the Heaven Cent is not there.

Now when they need to cross the water, Marrow can form the boat, and Grace’l can form its sail. They set off for the next island. On the way, they meet Mela Merwoman. Mela tells them what she knows about the Heaven Cent. In the past it has sent people to the place they were most needed.  But she says it doesn’t currently exist. It needs to be recreated after each use.

But then Mela kidnaps Dolph and takes him to her underwater home. (Her magic allows him to breathe underwater, in her home, or when she is with him.) She wants to keep him and marry him when he becomes old enough.  She was previously married to Merwin Merman. But a dragon had killed him and stolen his firewater opal. If Mela still had the opal, she could attract another merman.

Meanwhile Marrow and Grace’l are still trapped in their boat formation.  Marrow calls for help with his his hollow finger, which is a whistle. Chex Centaur arrives (she can now fly) and rescues them.

Marrow and Grace’l make their way underwater to Mela’s home.  She agrees to release Dolph, as long as they go to recover the opal from the dragon.  Grace’l remains as a hostage.

Dolph and Marrow fly to Mount Etamin, where the dragon, Draco, has his cave.  Draco is absent, but they have to get past the guardian piranhas and bats.  Marrow is searching for the opal in the nest when Draco returns.  Dolph transforms into a series of different creatures, and fights Draco, but they are too well matched.  Draco asks for a truce – he wants to go to a ceremony of the winged monsters on Mount Rushmost: Chex and Cheiron’s wedding!  Dolph wants to go, and transforms himself into a dragonfly, and gets a ride on Draco’s back.

They discuss how Draco had acquired the opal.  Draco already had another opal, and he and Merwin each desired the pair.  They played a game such that the winner would get both.  Merwin had lost, but had taken both opals anyway.  So Draco had attacked him.  But now Draco realises he and Merwin had been playing by different rules. He promises to return the opal to Mela.

The wedding ceremony is conducted by the Simurgh.  She announces that the offspring of this union will be important to the land of Xanth, and gets all the winged monsters to swear to protect that offspring.

Marrow had been left to defend Draco’s nest.  But goblins, living in the caves of Mount Etamin, invade to steal Draco’s hoard of precious stones. Marrow fights them off with the help of the bats and piranhas, so the goblins don’t get many gems, but they break Marrow’s bones apart and carry them away.

Draco and Dolph arrive back.  Dolph wants to rescue Marrow.  Draco is too big to go through the cave system, but he takes Dolph to the naga, who also live in the caves.  The naga are a human/snake crossbreed race: in their natural forms they have the head of a human and the body of a snake.  They can transform into either human or snake forms.  King Nabob Naga agrees to help rescue Marrow, as long as Dolph marries his daughter Nada.  Or since Dolph is currently too young, if they become betrothed.  Dolph meets Nada; she is apparently 8 years old, close to his age.

The naga men, with Nabob, Dolph and Nada along, attack the goblins and recover Marrow’s bones.  Dolph puts Marrow back together again.  Draco rewards them by giving them both opals. Nabob insists that Dolph takes Nada with him when they leave.

Dolph, Marrow and Nada return to Mela, and give her both opals, and Grace’l is returned to them.  They continue exploring the islands down the coast, having adventures on each one.

But now we discover the truth about Nada, but she doesn’t tell the others at this stage.  She is actually fourteen, but her transformation ability enables her to appear a similar age to Dolph.  Nada’s older brother Naldo had gone to Humfrey to ask for help for the naga against the goblin encroachments. Humfrey’s answer was: “Marry what Draco brings.”  Naldo thought that this must mean he would marry Ivy, resulting in an alliance with the human King, for assistance in fighting the goblins.  But it was Dolph whom Draco brought – so it was Nada who had to marry him, in order to form the alliance.

Grace’l realises Nada is upset about something.  Grace’l confesses her own situation: she was exiled from the gourd, for messing up a bad dream.  Nada confesses her situation to Grace’l.

Finally they come to Centaur Isle.  But the centaurs don’t welcome outsiders.  How can they search there for the Heaven Cent?

Nada uses an Eye Queue vine to become smarter.  She realises they can go through the zombie gourd (mentioned in “Vale of the Vole”) to the gourd realm.  There must be an exit from that realm to Mundania, because night mares and storks go there.  But Dolph and Nada will have to go alone, as Marrow and Grace’l can’t exist in Mundania.  Nada will turn into a snake in Mundania, because the majority of her genetic material is that of a snake.

So Marrow leads the way through the gourd realm, and then Dolph and Nada make their way to Mundania, emerging in a place called No Name Key, in Florida. Dolph finds a man called Turn Key – the keeper of the portal into Xanth from Mundania.  Turn Key uses a computer to translate the Mundane language to the Xanthian language, so they can understand each other.  And he takes Dolph out in a motor boat to search for the Heaven Cent off the coast of Florida.  He uses a device, which looks like a watch, to point to the direction of the Heaven Cent.  The device points back towards the mainland.  He gives Dolph the watch, and Dolph and Nada return to Xanth.

Dolph flies the group back across the mainland of Xanth, following the watch, and ends up on the west coast.  There they find a monument to Trent’s return to become King (which occurred in “A Spell for Chameleon”).  The watch points them to an island off the coast.  When they get there, Dolph reads the island’s name:  “Isle of View”.  But Nada mishears him; she thinks he said “I love you”.  She confesses that she doesn’t love him, and tells her whole story. They both become upset.

The place where the watch indicates is empty.  Maybe the Heaven Cent is in the corresponding location in Mundania.  They return to the monument on the mainland where they had seen a gourd.  They meet the guardian of the monument, an argus (a really strange monster).  He tells them there is supposed to be another monument on the Isle of View, indicating the location of a dying maiden in a coffin, who has the Heaven Cent. A prince is supposed to wake her with a kiss. But that other monument has gone.

Marrow, Grace’l and Dolph enter the gourd.  Since Dolph has entered in spirit form, Nada stays behind to watch his body.

They enter a confusing setting within the gourd.  It is obviously a simulation of a Mundanian airport, but they do not realise that.  They steal a small plane, and fly to the place corresponding to the Isle of View, and land.  There is a tomb there, but Dolph can’t open the door.  They realise that the reference to the “skeleton key” is to one of Grace’l’s rib bones, which plays the key of G (a grace note) when she taps it.  She does this, and the door opens.  They find the coffin inside and open it.  There is a sleeping girl inside. Dolph kisses her and she wakes. She says her name is Electra, and he must marry her, or she will die.  So he says he will.

But the Night Stallion appears.  Grace’l must go on trial, for spoiling the dream and violating her exile.  Dolph says he will go on trial with her.

We now learn Electra’s story:

This occurs more than 800 years ago (shortly before the past part of “Castle Roogna”).  Electra’s talent is electric shocks.  The Sorceress Tapis is a creator of magic tapestries; she created the tapestry which hangs in Castle Roogna in the present day.  Tapis employs Electra to charge up the Heaven Cent, a copper coin which sends the invoker to the place they are needed. Electra wears it on a chain around her neck; the charging takes three years.  Tapis wants to use it to go to the place where she can do the most good, before she reaches the end of her life.

A Princess comes to Tapis.  She is fated to bite a poison apple and lie in an enchanted sleep for a thousand years.  She has the apple, and has set up the coffin, and she wants Tapis to make a coverlet for it.  At the end of a thousand years, she expects a prince to wake her up with a kiss.  If the prince doesn’t turn up, she will die, but the Princess is sure he will turn up.

Magician Murphy (who previously appeared in “Castle Roogna”) comes to Tapis for her support against King Roogna.  Tapis refuses, and Murphy casts his curse on her.

The Princess prepares to enter the coffin.  But Murphy’s curse operates.  Electra accidentally invokes the Heaven Cent, falls into the coffin, bites the apple and falls into an enchanted sleep.  The situation intended for the Princess has happened to her.

Back in the present: What will be the consequence of Grace’l’s trial?  And if Dolph survives, he has become betrothed to two girls: how will this be resolved?

Dolph loves Nada, but she doesn’t love him, but she doesn’t want to break it off because of the alliance.  Electra loves Dolph, but he doesn’t love her, but if he breaks it off she will die.

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

Ivy, Nada and Electra have become good friends. They now take a trip, accompanied by Stanley Steamer, to the cave of Com-Pewter, an evil machine, who can change reality in his vicinity, and tries to confine people to his cave. Ivy wants to recover a magic mirror which Com-Pewter had stolen from them. After some conversation with the machine, and recovering the mirror, Electra uses her electric shock talent to enable them to escape.

Magician Humfey is still missing. Ivy invokes Heaven Cent, expecting to be transported to where the Good Magician is.

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

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

Ivy decides to take Grey to Xanth to show she is telling the truth. They travel to No Name Key, which Dolph had visited previously, and meet Turn Key, who allows them to enter the gourd into the gourd realm of Xanth.

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

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

They reach the Gap Chasm, and meet Stanley Steamer, who has now returned to the Gap. By this stage Grey is having trouble explaining away all the magic he sees, so he believes everything Ivy has told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Isle of View (1990)
Chex discovers that her 5-year-old son Che has gone missing – possibly kidnapped.  (Her husband, Cheiron is away at Mount Rushmost, at a convention of winged monsters.) After searching the vicinity of her home, she flies to Castle Roogna, and reports to Murphy, who is acting King, while Dor and Irene are away on an official visit to King Nabob Naga.

Murphy calls all available people to form search parties.  He also lays his curse on the people who had kidnapped Che.  Chex is partnered with Grundy.  They return to the clearing near Chex’s home, and find an elf – but she looks different from Xanthian elves: she is bigger, has pointed ears, and 4 fingers on each hand.  And she doesn’t need to stay close to an elm as Xanthian elves do. She says her name is Jenny; she comes from the World of Two Moons.  [The author has based Jenny on the elves of the ElfQuest graphic novel series.]  She had followed her cat Sammy, and somehow ended up here.  Sammy can find anything except home.  He races off the moment someone mentions something that needs to be found; Jenny spends a lot of time running after him.  Jenny is short-sighted, so Chex gives her a pair of spectacles from a spectacle bush.

When Chex mentions her lost son, Sammy takes off again, with Jenny following after. Jenny finds the centaur foal tied up with goblins guarding him.  Jenny throws exploding cherries (cherry bombs) at the goblins, scaring them off, unties Che, and they run off together. But they are captured again by goblins. Jenny tells Sammy to find help.

Electra and Nada have been partnered as a search party; they go to Humfrey’s Castle to ask for information.  Grey is answering questions in Humfrey’s absence; in fact people are now referring to Grey as the Good Magician.  He is learning to find his way around Humfrey’s Book of Answers.

Electra is 17 (she looks 15); she will turn 18 in a week.  This is the deadline for when she must get married, or else she will die, due to her enchantment.  It seems most likely that Dolph will choose to marry Nada, who is 20, and very attractive.  Dolph is 15, due to turn 16 in a few months.  (According to Xanth law, the girl must be at least 16 when she marries, but it does not give the minimum age for the boy.) Everyone has been telling Dolph he ought to marry Electra, but Nada is the one he loves.

Electra and Nada arrive at the Castle and ask Grey about Che’s location. Grey is surprised because he had expected them to ask about their betrothal situation, and this is what he had researched.  He asks a magic mirror, which shows a scene of Che having been captured by goblins.  Then he asks Ghorge the ghost writer (a ghost who writes messages on paper).  The ghost writes a message saying that Che is at the With-a-Cookee River.  Grey has a few of the large gourds, which enable people to pass through the gourd realm physically, to get to their destination quickly.  Electra and Nada enter one and follow the trail of cookie symbols.

Dolph, meanwhile, is searching the Regions of the Elements for Che. He takes the form of a ghost, which is less likely to be affected by strong winds etc. Demoness Metria appears; she is teasing and seductive, and constantly in search of interesting situations. She tells Dolph that Che has been captured by goblins, he is at With-a-Cookie River, and that Nada and Electra are headed there.  She also tells him that there is a hole in the fabric of the world, which Jenny Elf had come through. But other creatures from other worlds could also come through, so he ought to plug the hole.  (Throughout this story Metria appears to various characters, often to tease, but sometimes to challenge their ideas or offer helpful suggestions.)

Dolph doesn’t know whether to believe her, so he continues searching the Elemental Regions.  But then Metria takes him to the hole.  A strange alien creature comes through.  Dolph overcomes the creature and plugs the hole with it.  Then he takes the form of a nighthawk and flies off to With-a-Cookie River.

Ghorge the ghost writer brings a message to Chex and Grundy from Grey.  Che is at the With-a-Cookie River, and has been captured by goblins.  Nada and Electra are on the way there. But Chex mustn’t go there. If the goblins see a winged centaur arrive, they’re likely to put Che in the cooking pot on the spot.  Chex (with Grundy on her back) flies to Mount Rushmost to tell her husband the situation.

Jenny and Che are led away by the goblins, and confined to a hut. They realise that this is a different, and worse, lot of goblins from the ones who had captured them before.  These are the Goblinate of the Golden Horde: a nasty lot, who torment their victims before cooking them and eating them.  Jenny has the ability to sing, and bring her hearers into a dream state, if they are not paying attention to her.  Can she use this to allow them to escape?

Nada and Electra arrive at the With-a-Cookee River.  They encounter Godiva Goblin and her three henchmen, Moron, Idiot and Imbecile.  After an initial struggle between them, they call a truce.

Godiva tells them she is from the tribe at Goblin Mountain.  She is the daughter of Goldy (refer to “Ogre, Ogre”), and has inherited the levitation wand from her mother.  Godiva’s daughter Gwendolyn is lame and needs a steed; this is why they had kidnapped Che.  Che is not yet big enough for a rider, but will grow.  They had used a tunnel spell to get to Che, but on their return journey the spell had gone wrong (because of Murphy’s curse), and they hadn’t reached home.  Then the elf girl had released Che. But then the elf and Che had been captured by the Golden Horde.

The two parties agree to work together to free Che and the elf girl.  Then they will decide who would take Che. Through their combined effort, plus Jenny’s singing, they rescue Che and Jenny, and they are all on the run from the goblins of the Golden Horde.

Dolph is searching the With-a-Cookee River, when Sammy Cat arrives.  Dolph changes into a cat to talk to Sammy. Then Dolph tells Sammy to find Nada, and follows him.  He meets up with the others and learns the situation.  The two parties now play a game of chance to decide who will take Che.  Godiva wins.  Dolph changes into a sphinx to carry them all to Goblin Mountain.  Jenny wants to stay with Che, and Che wants her with him.  So Godiva takes Che, Jenny and Sammy into the mountain.

Cheiron, on Mount Rushmost, has received the news from Chex.  He flies to the harpy grove, to talk to Gloha, the winged goblin daughter of Hardy Harpy and Glory Goblin (refer to “Dragon on a Pedestal”).  (Gloha is 15.) Gloha checks with her grandfather, Gorbage Goblin, and says there is no goblinwide conspiracy against the winged monsters.  Gloha decides to come with Cheiron; she can negotiate with goblins if necessary.  Back at Mount Rushmost, Cheiron receives news from various winged monsters on sightings of Che.  (Grundy provides a translation service.)  Then Metria appears; she had been present with Dolph as he carried the group to Goblin Mountain; she tells him the whole story.

Cheiron flies to Goblin Mountain, carrying Grundy and Gloha, and accompanied by a posse of winged monsters.  They meet up with Dolph, Nada and Electra.  Cheiron gives his ultimatum to the goblin chief Gouty; they must deliver Che, Jenny and Sammy by noon, or the winged monsters will start attacking.  But noon comes, and the captives are not released, so the rocs start dropping boulders on the mountain. The dragons get ready to breathe fire, smoke and steam on the mountain.

Che, Jenny and Sammy are locked in a room in the goblins’ tunnels.  Then Godiva comes to talk to them.  She asks them to promise not to tell anyone what she is about to tell them.  Che is unwilling to do this, but Jenny agrees, so Godiva takes her to another room.  Godiva tells her that she, Godiva, is the wife of the chief, Gouty.  Her daughter, Gwendolyn, is the chief’s heir; she is in line to be the first female chief of a goblin tribe.  But Gwendolyn is virtually blind.  If the goblins knew she had such a weakness, she would be killed, and the position of chief would go to Gouty’s illegitimate son, Gobble.  This is another reason Godiva wanted a centaur as a companion; he would be able to communicate to Gwendolyn what she is supposed to be able to see.

Then Godiva introduces her to Gwendolyn (known familiarly as Gwenny). (Gwenny is 12, the same age as Jenny.)  Jenny returns to Che, and tells him it is okay to make the promise, which he does, and Jenny tells him about Gwenny.  They then move into Gwenny’s suite of rooms.  But Che can’t decide whether he agrees to be Gwenny’s companion, so he asks Jenny to decide for him.  She says she can’t decide yet.

Gloha and Electra enter Goblin Mountain to parlay.  They meet Godiva, who is Gloha’s cousin, and is handling things while Chief Gouty is indisposed.  She introduces them to Prince Naldo Naga (Nada’s brother) and Bud of the Flower tribe of elves.  The goblins have called in their allies, the elves and the naga, for this conflict.  There are ancient alliances between the land-based creatures, just as there are between the winged monsters.  And the land dragons are on their way.  Gloha and Electra then go to see Che, Jenny and Gwenny.  Che tells them he has not yet decided whether he will be Gwenny’s companion, and Godiva says that until he decides, he cannot be released.  Electra and Gloha feel that Che and Jenny are hiding something; however, Jenny hints that their situation is somehow parallel to Electra’s betrothal situation. Gloha and Electra report back to Cheiron.

Chex had arrived in the meantime.  Cheiron and Chex fly off to confirm that the land dragons are approaching.  Dolph transforms himself into a winged centaur and joins them, with Gloha riding him. Dolph and Gloha debate what Jenny’s hint could mean.  When they see the land dragons on their way, Cheiron is keen to recommence the attack, before the land dragons arrive.  But Dolph persuades him to hold off, while they parlay again.

Dolph, Nada and Gloha enter the mountain.  They meet Naldo – Nada is happy to see her brother again – and then they go to see Che, Jenny and Gwenny.  Jenny tells Che she has now decided that Che must become Gwenny’s companion, and Che agrees.  Dolph, Nada and Gloha return to Cheiron.  But they have figured out about Gwenny’s near-blindness, and its consequences, and they tell Cheiron and Chex.  Che, Jenny and Gwenny come out of the mountain, and Che tells his parents his decision.  When Godiva comes out, Cheiron tells her he does not accept the decision; Che must be with his own kind.  The attack will still go ahead.

But then Chex comes up with a solution that will satisfy them all.

But there is still the matter of which girl Dolph will marry.  Naldo Naga comes up with a solution.  It is not entirely satisfactory.  But the situation develops in an unexpected way.

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Question Quest (1991)
Lacuna is the daughter of the Zombie Master and Millie. She is now 34 and her life is boring.  She goes to the Good Magician’s Castle to ask where she had gone wrong.  Grey looks up the Book of Answers and says that she should have proposed to the man she loved 12 years ago. Ivy asks him whether there is some way Lacuna can correct this situation.  Grey says that only Humfrey can tell her that.  He is still absent; he is in the anteroom to Hell.  Lacuna insists on going there, so Grey gets her to lie in a coffin, while her spirit travels to the anteroom to Hell in a handbasket.

Lacuna arrives there, and finds Magician Humfrey.  He has been waiting there for 10 years, for a meeting with the Demon X(A/N)th, to ask that his former wife, Rose, might be returned to him from Hell.   He must wait there without leaving the room, or he forfeits the interview.  The Demon is no doubt aware that he is waiting, and is hoping he’ll give up.

Lacuna tells Humfrey about Queen Irene’s pronouncement that no man can have two wives, originally made to apply to Dolph’s case.  Humfrey hadn’t anticipated this complication; he is already married to the Gorgon.

Lacuna’s magic talent is making writing appear, or altering existing writing.  Humfrey asks her to display his life history on the wall at his dictation.  When he reaches the present, and is about to tell about his future, this will somehow coerce the Demon into turning up.

Humfrey was born 157 years ago. (He had discovered the Fountain of Youth along the way.)  He leaves his home at the age of 15 to go adventuring.  He has no magical talent which he is aware of, but he has great curiosity, and collects all the information he can discover, and all the magical items and spells he can find.  (This is before the law is enacted which requires citizens to have a magic talent.)

He discovers a girl with a unicorn; they have both been injured, so he helps them.  Her name is MareAnne, she is also 15, and her talent is that she is able to summon equines (horse-like creatures).  She and Humfrey travel together.  They are in love, but MareAnne doesn’t want to lose the ability to summon unicorns, so their relationship remains chaste.

They meet King Ebnez, where he lives in the South Village. The King gives Humfrey the job of Royal Surveyor – to search out all the magic talents.  In particular, the King wants to find a successor with Magician-level talent.  So Humfrey and MareAnne travel all over Xanth, generally riding winged horses which MareAnne summons.

They come to Mount Parnassus, and see the Maenads, but it is too dangerous to interview these wild women.  Humfrey goes to the temple of the oracle, and asks how he can interview dangerous people.  He is given the answer: “Demon Conquest”, which doesn’t seem helpful.  (This foreshadows the coming of people coming to Humfrey with their questions, and receiving cryptic answers.)  Then a demoness called Dana comes to him.  She has somehow acquired a soul, which she doesn’t want.  She had asked the oracle, and received the answer: “Marry the King.”  She hopes that Humfrey can introduce her to the King.  In the meantime she joins them in their survey.  She interviews the Maenads, but they do not have any significant talent.

Humfrey introduces Dana to King Ebnez.  Since the time of King Gromden (refer “Crewel Lye”), there has been a prohibition against the King associating the demons.  But hearing how useful Dana is to the survey, the King varies the law to permit her to visit him.

After three years the survey is finished.  Humfrey hears that Ebnez is dying.  Humfrey returns to the King and tells him he has found no one with Magician-level talent.  Ebnez declares Humfrey to be the Magician of Information, and names him his successor, and then dies.  Humfrey feels guilty, because he has no magic talent, but there is no one else, so he accepts and becomes King.  He must marry, so he asks MareAnne, but she still does not want to lose her unicorns.  So he marries Dana.  And after a time, MareAnne leaves.

Some time later, a baby son is delivered to Dana, a half-demon child whom they call Dafrey.  But Dana’s soul is transferred to the baby, and she is no longer in love with Humfrey, and she leaves.  Humfrey needs a new wife, so he marries a woman called Maiden Taiwan (referred to as Matron Taiwan after they are married).

Years pass, and Dafrey, now 17, leaves home.  Humfrey has found a young man, called the Storm Magician, with the talent of generating thunderstorms.  Humfrey makes him the new King, and abdicates.  Matron Taiwan had only been interested in the trappings of royalty, and leaves Humfrey.

Humfrey decides to try to locate the lost Castle Roogna.  It had been abandoned after King Gromden’s death when King Yang took the throne.  Humfrey realises there must be an aversion spell on the Castle, preventing it from being found.  He locates where it must be, and heads towards it.  When he reaches the Castle, he meets a beautiful woman, Rose of Roogna.  They fall instantly in love,

Rose is the granddaughter of King Yang.  She had been born more that 200 years ago.  Yang died suddenly, and the throne was taken by a really nasty man, Muerte A Fid, whom it was suspected had poisoned Yang.  When Rose was 20, her father died of poison, and the King wanted to marry Rose to legitimise his reign.  But her parents had planned for this, and her mother directed her to the path to Castle Roogna.  The castle had magic; she was allowed access because she was a royal descendant, and she was protected and confined there, without aging, until a Magician who would become King came to marry her.  Her talent is growing roses, so she planted a rose garden there.

Eventually, after more than 200 years, Humfrey had arrived.  Rose tells him he must become a real Magician before he marries her.  So he enrols in the University of Magic, run by the demons in their underground realm, and he spends a year studying, and passes.  Humfrey and Rose get married, and move to the Castle previously occupied by the Zombie Master.  This becomes the Good Magician’s Castle.

Humfrey continues his research into magic, and starts compiling his Book of Answers.  Rose helps by sorting the pages and indexing them.  Humfrey takes trips back to Castle Roogna to consult the library there.  They have a daughter called Rosetta.  Time passes, and Rosetta grows up and gets married.

One day, when Humfrey is away at Castle Roogna, Rose rides the winged horse, Peggy, to the Gold Coast in southeastern Xanth. She sees an Ivory Tower being built.  She meets an old woman who says her name is Peril, although she says some people call her the Sea Hag.  But then the woman traps her in a hollow tree!  There is another captive there, a boy called Dread Redhead.  He explains that the Sea Hag takes over people’s bodies (as described in “Golem in the Gears”).  But his magic talent is creating tunnels, and he enables them to escape.  But then he puts her in a handbasket to Hell!  Dread Redhead is actually a demon who has captured her so she can make Hell more attractive by planting roses.

Humfrey arrives back at his Castle, and discovers he has missed the deadline for rescuing Rose from Hell.  He can’t bear living without Rose, so he drinks Lethe elixir to forget her, enough to last 80 years, thinking he’d be dead by then.

After drinking the elixir, he realises he has forgotten all the time since his first approach to Castle Roogna.  He finds the Book of Answers, which he doesn’t remember writing. He realises there had been a woman living in the Castle, but can’t remember her.  He finds his certificate from the University of Magic, and he does remember his time there.

Humfrey decides he needs a wife to sort his socks, and finds Sofia, Sock Sorter, listed in his Book of Answers. But she lives in Mundania.  So he goes to Mundania and asks her to marry him, and brings her back to Xanth.

In due course they have a son called Crombie.  [Yes this is Crombie the soldier mentioned in previous books.  The author has retroactively made him Humfrey’s son.]

People start coming to the Castle asking questions.  Humfrey establishes the regime where the querent must pass three challenges before getting in.  Then they must pay for their answer with a year’s service or something equivalent.

With all that is taking his parents’ attention in the Castle, Crombie feels neglected.  He goes out and finds a substitute mother, the mischievous demoness Metria, whom he sneaks into the Castle.  Metria is able to become invisible, or disguise herself as various objects.  But she lets him do what he likes, and helps him cheat in his studies. And eventually she leaves.  Having been let down by both his mother and his substitute mother, he comes to hate women.  Humfrey sends him off to become a soldier.  Crombie effectively disowns his parents.

During this period, first Trent, and then Iris, both children at the time, come to the Castle, and Humfrey gives them training in their magic talents.

When Trent reaches 24, he tries to take the throne from the Storm King, using his magic powers on his opponents.  But he is betrayed and exiled to Mundania.

Eventually Sofia returns to Mundania, to die there.

At this point in his dictation to Lacuna, Humfrey has reached the point where the Xanth novels begin.  He recaps the events of these novels from his point of view.  His marriage to the Gorgon occurs in “Centaur Aisle”.  Of course, since Crombie is his son, this means Tandy (“Ogre, Ogre”) is his granddaughter, and Esk (“Vale of the Vole”) is his great-grandson.  Humfrey continues with the description of events which occurred in Xanth after his disappearance.  He has been able to observe them on a magic mirror in Hell’s anteroom.

The disappearance of Humfrey, his wife the Gorgon, and his son Hugo occurs at the beginning of “Vale of the Vole”.  He sets up the challenges for the three querents of that story.  An elf who is serving him had been creating holy smoke, but it gets out of control.  (Because of the smoke, Dolph had not been able to observe the actual disappearance via the Tapestry, in “Heaven Cent”.)

At this point the effect of the Lethe water wears off.  Humfrey remembers Rose.  He thinks that with his greater experience of magic, he may now be able to get her back.  Using the magic power of the holy smoke, he transports himself and his wife and son to the Isle of Illusion (which is now empty of illusions).  There are coffins there; they each get into one, and drink sleep potion.  They find themselves in the realm of dreams.  They meet Electra, still in her enchanted sleep – prior to her awakening in “Heaven Cent”.  She introduces them to a girl called Wira. Her parents had given her sleep potion to get rid of her, because she is blind.  She was 16 when she was put to sleep, and appears that age in the dream world, so would be a good match for Hugo, who is the same age.  But her parents had used a cheap kind of sleep potion, which does not prevent her body from aging. She would now be 28.  But the Gorgon points out that they can give her water from the Fountain of Youth when they awake.

The Gorgon and Hugo don’t want to go with Humfrey to the anteroom of Hell. They will remain in the dream world; the Gorgon will get acting jobs with the Night Stallion, to appear in bad dreams.  So Humfrey proceeds in the handbasket to Hell alone.

Now Humfey has reached the present in his dictation.  Will the Demon X(A/N)th appear?  And can Humfrey do a deal with him?  Will the Demon try to cheat?

And if Humfrey can get Rose out of Hell, what will he do about the fact he already has a wife?  In fact it becomes even more complicated: all his previous wives, plus his former girlfriend MareAnne, are in Hell, because they have died – except Rose, who had been transported to Hell while still alive, and the demoness Dana, whose home is in Hell.  Do any of them get to be released?

And what about Lacuna: will she get her answer?

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The Color of Her Panties (1992)
Mela Merwoman hasn’t been able to get a suitable husband, despite possessing the two firewater opals.  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 the Good Magician. 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.

For the past two years, Gwenny Goblin and Jenny Elf (both 14) have lived happily with Che Centaur (7 years old) and his parents.  Both Jenny and Gwenny are short-sighted, and have been provided 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 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, the 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 Dolph, and has twin baby girls, Dawn and Eve.

They 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 community of Fauns and Nymphs.   But fauns and nymphs 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’s hobby was to 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 Good Magician, so she travels with them.

Jenny, Gwenny and Che meet Ivy and Grey in the Good Magician’s Castle.  Dana Demoness is Humfrey’s current wife.  She explains how, as a result of Humfrey’s deal with the 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.

Jenny asks the Good Magician how Gwenny can get some contact lenses.  He tells them there is a contact lens bush in the gourd. 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 the 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?  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 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. Ivy has 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, he is required to protect him.  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 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 the 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.

Metria, 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 (refer to “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 they 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.

Draco organises griffins to fly Mela, Okra and Ida to Mount Parnassus.  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 them.  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 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 hadn’t turned up, and they discover that Gooble 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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jumper Cable (2009)
A spider called Jumper (a 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Links to Xanth-related pages

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