[Content Note: Rape, Misogyny, Nasty Stereotypes about Wives/Marriage]
We had so much fun with A Spell for Chameleon that I thought I'd continue with the next book, The Source of Magic. But I want to talk about why for a moment.
Talking about sexism in Xanth is like shooting fish in a barrel. As an example, I had 74 highlighted passages in my Kindle version of Chameleon, most of which I shared in my blog post. In contrast, I have 186 highlighted passages for Source of Magic. That doesn't mean the second book is twice as bad as the first (I'll leave that to you to decide), but it is pretty awful. So why talk about it?
For one, Will is right in that a lot of people still don't talk about the misogyny in the series. For whatever reason, we tend to focus on the egregious puns. To a certain extent, I think the rape culture in Xanth is worth talking about for that reason alone: because it's there and it needs to be talked about and I don't know of a source that has covered it thoroughly already. I like filling holes like that, because I like to imagine someone like my past self finding my blog post and being saved a lot of bother, ha.
For two, I think Xanth is worth talking about because it's so easy for the rape culture to fade into the background of the silly pun-fun. These are books that are marketed to young adults, even children, precisely because they are (on the surface) fun and light-hearted. Most people don't think of Xanth as hardcore rapey grimdark because for most people these books aren't hardcore rapey grimdark. And I find it really fascinating (and I think it is worth exploring) why it's so easy to forget a male protagonist who wants to rape his true love when written by a male author, and yet we tend not to forget it when a male protagonist wants to rape his true love when written by a female author. That seems like it would be sobering in any context, even a childish punny one, and yet for many of us, we forgot entirely! Or our brains purged it. I find that fascinating.
For three, these books are still being recommended. If someone objects to the rape in later books, people tell them to go read the original trilogy because that was back before the books got rapey. If someone objects to rape in the early books, people tell them to go read the later books because they got better. I like writing posts that people can link to and say This is why I'm not reading the series, now quit saying I can't criticize an author just because I didn't read the entire series. Because, full disclosure, that's a pet peeve of mine, ha.
So! Let's dive into The Source of Magic and determine whether it's twice as bad as the book before it or not. (No, I'm not going to share all 186 notes.)
In my post on Chameleon, I noted that the major theme for that book was that hot girls are hot but stupid girls are stupid. The entire book was basically about Bink grappling with trying to figure out which woman he will favor with an offer of marriage, while grappling with all the manpain accompanying the resulting loss in variety and the emasculation of being potentially married to a woman who is smarter than you. (Or, gods help you, a woman who is smarter and prettier, making him the Ron to his chosen Hermione. Far better for her to be smart-and-ugly or pretty-and-stupid so that he can always lord some facet of superiority over her.)
Source explores another facet of manpain, namely: what about after you're married and your wife gets pregnant and is no longer only interested in boinking? And if you don't think that's a deep, meaningful theme of the ages, you haven't been reading any John Updike lately. (Which is another post for another lifetime, heh.) If I had to sum this sequel up in one tagline, it would basically be: Women! Can't live with them, but what else are you going to stick your dick into? I keep feeling like Xanth would be a much happier place if someone could drop in feminist brochures and M/M erotic novellas, but we go to deconstruction with the setting we have, I guess.
Anyway. The basic plot summary is as follows: Bink is unhappy at home because his wife is heavily pregnant and also in her ugly phase. His talent decides to make mischief by arranging for him to have sex with other women so that he will be happy. BUT WAIT, I hear you asking, Bink's talent was established in Chameleon as him being unable to be harmed by magic. Yeah, you're gonna have to forget that; his talent is called "can't be harmed by magic" but actually means author's pet. Don't believe me? The climax of this book involves Bink's magic talent manipulating a demon who is basically as big as the universe and more powerful than Cthulhu into bringing magic back to Xanth because Bink would be unhappy without magic.
Which makes no sense, because if your talent doesn't want you to be harmed by magic, then getting rid of all magic ever should make you pretty safe from magic. (Not to mention being able to manipulate a Cthulhu-God-Universe-Demon thing.) So, yeah, I need everyone to just read Bink's talent as "author's pet" and then there will be less confusion when his "protection from magic" talent literally arranges for him to have sex because he has sad blue balls.
Starting over: Bink is unhappy at home because his wife is heavily pregnant and also in her ugly phase. His talent decides to make mischief by arranging for him to have sex with other women so that he will be happy. Then his talent changes its mind because it realizes that Bink doesn't want to cheat on his wife, so King Trent is all, "you know how we'll fix this? We'll send you on a quest to find the source of magic in Xanth, and then when you get back your wife will be (a) no longer pregnant and (b) in her hot-phase, and then you won't have blue balls anymore and your talent will stop wreaking havoc on my palace. Off you go!"
Bink takes with him Chester the Centaur, who is glum because his wife just gave birth and he's not the center of her universe anymore, and Crombie the Soldier (transformed into a Griffin for the quest), who is glum because he isn't enjoying being Sabrina's boyfriend and despite the fact that he hates all women with the fire of a thousand suns, he apparently doesn't know how to text-breakup with her or whatever. They must go on a fun buddy-adventure in order to bond and solve their lady-problems! Along the way, the following will happen:
• Bink, he of the unlovely wife, will drink from a love spring and fall for a nymph (Jewel) who is literally (and repeatedly) compared to Chameleon in her lovely-stupid phase. He will sexually assault her by grabbing her and forcing kisses on her while she struggles, but it doesn't count because nymphs are constructed to struggle ineffectually, and she falls in love with him naturally because he is such a nice man and doesn't try to rape her.
• Chester's wife, Cherie, will learn that she has been an unsatisfying wife because she doesn't treat Chester like a brute who dominates their homelife. She will fix this, and he will be happy. Also, her magic talent is making herself look pretty.
• Crombie experiences a Prophecy that if he doesn't get engaged on this adventure, he'll end up in an unhappy marriage with Sabrina. So he uses a magical wish to ask that Jewel will drink from a love spring and fall in love with him. He just assumes that she'll be okay with him living and working apart from her and just popping in for sexy weekends. This is presented as a "solution" for Bink, since he didn't know what else to do with the wish and he felt guilty that Jewel loved him.
• Magician Humphrey finds a beautiful woman (the Gorgon) who wants to marry him. She wants to marry him because he's literally the first man she's ever been able to talk to without turning to stone, and her love is presented as more genuine than any other offers he might get, which would obviously be motivated by his power as a magician because no woman would want to marry a guy who is short or unattractive.
Doesn't that sound fun?! Let's begin!
...actually no, I want to bookend some quotes here. Just for fun!
Random Quote 1: When [Chameleon] was in her stupid-beautiful phase, she seemed to live only to please him, and he felt extremely manly. But when she was in her smart-ugly phase, she turned him off with her wit as well as her appearance. In that respect she was smarter when she was stupid than when she was smart. Of course now all that was over; she would stay always in her “normal” phase, avoiding the extremes. She would never turn him off—or on.
That is how fragile Bink's libido is: he can only be turned on by Chameleon when she is in her hot-and-stupid phase. All other phases turn him off or (at best) fail to turn him on. Also this:
Random Quote 2: Ah, Chameleon! He liked her especially in her “normal” stage, neither beautiful nor smart, but a pleasant middle range. It always seemed so fresh, that brief period when she was average, since she was always changing. But he loved her in any form and intellect.
Sure, Bink, we believe you!
...and NOW we're ready to start!
We start with Bink introducing us to his talent which, as I noted, has been modified from "can't be harmed by magic, but has to be secretive because he can be harmed by non-magic" to "author's pet":
Was something bad going to happen to him? That really seemed unlikely; Bink knew it was no exaggeration to assume that serious evil would have to fall on all Xanth before Bink himself was harmed.
I mean, NO, Bink, someone just has to stab you with a non-magical kitchen knife, but literally, we need to put that behind us now. Bink's new talent is that his talent does all the things for him and rarely makes sense but it serves the plot. Now we can all move forward.
Bink took a deep breath, nerved himself, and opened the front rind-door. A sweetish waft of seasoned cheese blew out, together with a raucous screech.
“That you, Bink? About time! Where did you sneak off to, right when there’s work to be done? You have no consideration at all, do you!”
(In case you're wondering about the cheese stuff, they live in a Cottage Cheese. Get it?) This is our first introduction to Chameleon in this novel, and she is a screeching harridan. She is furious because she is in her ninth month of pregnancy, and this manifests by screaming non-stop at Bink, and throwing things, and literally gnawing the walls of their house.
Later it will be revealed that she is actually angry because she didn't want to be pregnant in the first place, and Bink impregnated her while she was in her lovely-stupid phase. When she came back around to being smart, she had it out with him because she's worried that her "talent" (which she still views as a curse, so I guess The Love Of A Good Man didn't fix it after all) will pass down to her child. Which, you know, I can kinda see being concerned that your hypothetical daughter might inherit a talent that makes her horrifyingly vulnerable in Xanth's rape culture.
Digging into this a little deeper, we learn that in addition to Chameleon being 9 months pregnant, it's been a year (12 months) since Bink's adventure when they met. Which means that Bink knew Chameleon for 3 months before knocking her up on her pretty phase. And while it's never really clear what type of birth control is available in Xanth, they do seem to have something given that no one ever has more than 2.5 children (Tops. Like, literally, Bink and Chameleon only ever have the one child.), and both Bink and Chameleon seem to agree that it's Bink's fault that she got pregnant.
Which I suppose could just mean he shouldn't have stuck his penis in her, but given that she didn't want to have children and was surprised to find herself pregnant even though they were fucking for three months (and remember that smart-Chameleon is pretty much the smartest woman ever), that would seem to indicate that they were doing something as far as contraception and Bink just chose not to on the occasion when he impregnated her. And the narrative kinda hints at this by acting like Chameleon's prettiness made it hard for him to think through the consequences of his actions, etc. which reads a lot to me like NO TIME FOR CONDOMS!
So, you know, all that to say that Bink's problems with his Harridan Wife seem a lot to me like problems with Chameleon being angry at him having unprotected sex with her when she hadn't consented to that and now she has to deal with a whole host of pregnancy problems and concern for her child's future while Bink mopes that she's not sexing him up anymore.
His wife was much smarter than he, at the moment, for Chameleon’s intelligence varied with the time of the month, as did her appearance. When she was beautiful, she was stupid—in the extreme, for both. When she was smart, she was ugly. Very smart and very ugly. At the moment she was at the height of the latter phase. This was one reason she was keeping herself secluded, virtually locked in her room.
“I need good-looking [shoes], tonight,” he said, mustering patience. But even as the words were out he realized he had phrased it badly; any reference to good looks set her off.
“The hell you do, dunce!”
He wished she wouldn’t keep rubbing in his inferior intelligence. Ordinarily she was smart enough not to do that.
So, far from being accepted as she is and not needing a spell to be normal (because The Love Of A Good Man!!), Chameleon feels she has to sequester herself once a month. That's so depressing to me. And she's escalated to being triggered by references to "good looks" when in the first novel Fanchon could ask Bink to discuss all the pretty girls he knew. That's a steep change in less than a year, which doesn't speak well for her life with Bink. And wrapping all that up with Bink feeling that she's usually "smart enough" to not talk to him like that, which, wow, way to either sound abusive or massively insensitive to her problems, Bink. BEST HUSBAND EVER.
And that was what was really bothering her. Not her normal smart-ugly phase, that she had lived with all her life, but the enormous discomfort and restriction of her pregnancy. Bink had precipitated that condition during her lovely-stupid phase, only to learn when she got smarter that she had not wanted such a commitment at this time. She feared her baby would be like her—or like him. She had wanted to find some spell to ensure that the child would be positively talented, or at least normal, and now it was up to blind chance. She had accepted the situation with extremely poor grace, and had not forgiven him. The smarter she got, and the more pregnant she got, the more intense her ire became.
[...] “You forgot!” The irony in her tone cut through his sensitivities like a magic sword through the cheese of the cottage. “Imbecile! You’d like to forget, wouldn’t you! Why didn’t you think of that last year when you—”
“I have to go, Chameleon,” he muttered, hastily retreating out the door. “The Queen gets upset when people are tardy.” In fact it seemed to be the nature of women to get upset at men, and to throw tantrums. That was one of the things that distinguished them from nymphs, who looked like women but were always amenable to the idle whims of men. He supposed he should count himself lucky that his wife did not have a dangerous talent, like setting fire to people or generating thunderstorms.
I just want to repeat that: Bink got a woman pregnant during a time when she was incapable of meaningfully consenting to pregnancy and motherhood, and she accepted the situation with poor grace. And, just to be very clear, this is repeatedly referenced as manpain for Bink.
Also let us all meditate on the passing assumption that wives with dangerous talents definitely use them on men! In fact, now might be a good time to mention that almost all the women in this novel have talents that make them attractive: Chameleon's talent is her "variety" cycle; Iris' talent is illusion; Millie's talent is "sex appeal" (no really, her talent is causing boners); Cherie's talent is looking pretty; Jewel's talent is making pretty scents that match her moods.
Incidentally, that "[nymphs are] always amenable to the idle whims of men" is a complete lie; later when Bink grabs a nymph and forces a kiss on her, she struggles and the narrative notes: "That, too, was the way nymphs were: delightfully and ineffectively difficult." So what Bink here means is that nymphs are "amenable" to the whims of men in the sense that they can't put up meaningful resistance.
Hey, here's another great quote from Bink:
Ah, the logic of women! Why bother to try to understand it. All the intelligence in the Land of Xanth could not make sense of the senseless.
I definitely believe that this guy loves his wife and respects women.
Bink had not gotten around to any real research. For that he had only himself to blame, really. He should indeed have considered the consequence of impregnating his wife. At the time, fatherhood had been the last thing on his mind. But Chameleon-lovely was a figure to cloud man’s mind and excite his—never mind! Ah, nostalgia! Back when love was new, carefree, uncomplicated, without responsibility! Chameleon-lovely was very like a nymph—
To be clear, that paragraph beginning about "research" is Bink complaining about him being shit at his "job" which King Trent gave him and then allowed to set all his own everything. Hours, goals, whatever. So, just to recap, Bink's manpain over his dead-end sinecure job and his angry-at-him wife is 100% entirely his fault, and he recognizes that, but not enough to do anything about it or apologize or anything.
Anyway, let's move on to treating Iris with contempt, since that is literally her only purpose in this book. (I never noticed this as a kid, but oh-my-god. She is the series' whipping girl like whoa. All her scenes could be replaced with a big notice that says I HATE SEXUALLY-CONFIDENT WOMEN.)
The Queen would have her fun, especially on this important First Anniversary of the King’s coronation. She could get uglier than Chameleon when not humored.
[...] “Oh, yes,” Chester agreed, flexing his needles eloquently. “The mischief of Good Queen Iris, the bitch-Sorceress.
Particularly egregious because Bink had to be taught the word "bitch" in the last book, because there are no dogs in Xanth. Then Chester talks about how he has problems with his home-life, and the men are able to bond over how everything is their wives' fault, even though Bink just recognized a few minutes ago that, no, this is all his fault. Haha, gotcha! Everything is the fault of women and their child-spawning wombs.
“Since Cherie had the colt—mind you, he’s a fine little centaur, bushy-tailed—she doesn’t seem to have much time for me anymore. I’m like a fifth hoof around the stable. So what can I—?”
“You, too!” Bink exclaimed, recognizing the root of his own bad mood. “Chameleon hasn’t even had ours yet, but—” He shrugged.
[...] “Fillies—can’t run with them, can’t run without them,” Chester said dolefully.
If you think all this is laying it on a bit thick, I should just point out that we're not even to page 14 yet in this book. I wasn't kidding about this book being heavily themed around marriage sucking your soul out of you (well, if you're a man!) until you're a dried husk of your former self. Here is Bink meeting up with an old friend from his previous adventure:
Whatever became of you?”
<Bink> “I fell upon evil times. I got married.”
"Well, that's nice," you're probably thinking, "but what does Crombie think about women? Has his relationship with Sabrina mellowed him out?" Hahahahahahahah NO, Crombie will be introduced in order to bash on Iris some more because that never gets old. Iris is, of course, miserable because the man she married for political power isn't constantly jumping her bones. And also this is open court gossip. And open everywhere else gossip, I guess, since Chester doesn't live anywhere near court.
(Given that Trent is supposed to be producing an heir on Iris, I feel like people in Xanth would be concerned, not gleeful, to hear that the magician king isn't boning the sorceress queen on a regular basis. The only other way to get magician heirs in this setting is random chance.)
“I like [my job]—but I like adventure better. The King’s okay, but—” Crombie scowled. “Well, you know the Queen.”
“All fillies are difficult,” Chester said. “It’s their nature; they can’t help it, even if they wanted to.”
“Right you are!” Crombie agreed heartily. He was the original woman-hater. “And the ones with the strongest magic—who else would have dreamed up this idiocy of a masquerade? She just wants to show off her sorcery.”
“She hasn’t got much else to show off,” Chester said. “The King pays no attention to her.”
“The King’s one smart Magician!” Crombie agreed.
But enough about Iris; we haven't talked enough about how awful Chameleon is and how miserable Bink is. Hey, remember when Crombie tried to stab Chameleon for doing nothing wrong whatsoever?
“You told me she was a threat to me.”
“And she was,” Crombie said. “She married you, didn’t she?”
Bink laughed, but it was a trifle forced.
Page 19. Page 19. Think how much space could have been saved if he'd just started with "WOMEN ARE BITCHES" and then dove into the quest? Except, haha, all the quest stuff is secondary because this is going to continue the entire novel. As a for instance, here is Chester calling Iris a "bitch" again because we might have missed it the first time.
Chester glanced around. “She’s a bitch, and she shows off, but I have to admit her magic is impressive.
Well, yes, Chester, that's why she is called a Sorceress. I'm sure she'll sleep easier tonight knowing that a man approves of her abilities, though. But! What does Roland think about Iris?
“If only her personality were as excellent as her taste,” Roland murmured, referring to the Queen.
Wow, I'll bet Iris is so damned happy to have married into this gig.
[H]er beautifully bare mermaid torso was clearly outlined. She was the mistress of illusion; she could make herself as lovely as she chose, and she chose well.
“I understand it was a marriage of convenience,” Roland continued. Though no Magician himself, Roland was the King’s regent north of the Gap, and did not hold royalty in awe. “It must be extremely convenient at times.”
Bink nodded, slightly embarrassed by his father’s evident appreciation of the well-displayed if illusory charms of the Queen. The man was bordering on fifty, after all! Yet it had to be true. The King professed no love for the Queen, and governed that temperamental woman with a subtly iron hand that amazed those who had known Iris before her marriage. Yet she thrived under that discipline.
I love that the narrative justifies why Roland doesn't "hold royalty in awe" as though all the men in the novel so far haven't been slagging off Iris left and right. Like, this is the most polite thing that has been said about her so far: that the king might enjoy fucking her. Also, do please note and savor that being the most powerful woman in the world means being able to show up at your fancy dress parties topless. I can totes confirm that this is what queens do.
I also love that Bink is embarrassed because his father is nearly fifty as opposed to being embarrassed because he's talking about the queen. Who is established in the next book as being able to overhear things with her illusory ears and flies and whatnot, so she could easily be monitoring these conversations. But no, the worrisome thing about Roland saying all this is that his dick is old.
At any rate, Bink was sure King Trent had an eye for all things good and useful, including the flesh of fair women, and the Queen was his to command. She could and would be anything the King wished, and he would not be human if he did not avail himself of this, at least on occasion. The question was, what did he want? This was common palace speculation, and the prevailing opinion was that the King wanted variety. The Queen seldom appeared in the same guise twice.
I want to point out how creepy that "his to command" statement is, given that the last book explicitly said that Iris followed Trent's orders because she was afraid he might transform her into a frog. Against her will. Potentially permanently.
I'm actually going to speed this up a little and breeze through more misogyny because otherwise we'll be here all day. (I shudder to count how many hours I've spent just to get this far in the post and we're on Page 24. Out of 326 pages total, according to my Kindle.) Crombie is told to announce the runner-up and winner of an identity-guessing contest, and Crombie is pissy about the fact that both the winners are women. He literally "scowls" and says "A woman." before announcing the woman's name and her potted-plant prize.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Thank you, Queen Iris.” Then, diplomatically: “You’re beautiful too—but not the same way.”
The Queen snapped her teeth in mock imitation of the snapdragon, then smiled graciously. She craved the recognition and praise of such established and reputable citizens as Bianca, for Iris had lived in semi-exile for years before assuming the crown.
Doesn't that just break your heart. But the important thing is that she has great tits and she's there for the king to command, amiright?
“The winner, with thirteen correct identities,” Crombie drawled without flair, “is Millie the ghost.” And he shrugged as if to express bemusement at yet another female success. He had made the count, so he knew the contest wasn’t rigged. However, it was generally understood that the men had not been trying very hard.
I just... I love this so much. It's like the author's pride in his gender is so fragile that he has to rush to reassure the reader that if the men had been trying to win, they totes would. DO NOT WORRY, GENTLE READER. THIS BOOK WILL DEFINITELY NOT BE ABOUT WOMEN WINNING. WE JUST HAD TO GIVE THEM THIS ONE LITTLE THING.
Anyway, Millie gets a free gift card for an Answer from the Magician Humphrey, which is a big deal because it's worth a year of one's life. This doesn't really make sense, because Millie has been a ghost for hundreds of years, so you'd think that she could have served the year for an Answer pretty easily if she'd asked someone to arrange the details via magic mirror with the Magician, but the plot needs to barrel forward. Millie asks how she can live again, and there's an arbitrary bit about her needing a "spell doctor" to restore her talent to full power. The spell doctor they summon is a woman, and she gets all smirky about Millie's mysterious talent because (SPOILERS) her talent is "sex appeal" by which Piers really means that she causes boners. I don't think there's ever any suggestion that women are attracted to Millie, just to be clear. And, again, that's now three named women characters (Chameleon, Iris, Millie) whose talent is making boners happen.
Randomly, except not really because everything that happens in this book explicitly happens because of Bink's talent arranging things for him, Iris announces that whoever finds Millie's bones will be rewarded with a date with her once she becomes human. (No, Millie is not consulted on this prize. No, no one checks to see if she's even straight or sexual or interested or anything of the sort. Yes, it is explicitly stated that all of this has been arranged by Bink's talent because he has blue balls.) Then Bink decides to end Chapter 1 by moping about his wife not being there:
Why wasn’t Chameleon here? She was near term, but she could have attended the Ball if she had wanted to. There was a magic midwife on the palace staff.
Gosh, Bink, it's almost like being less than a week from delivery (fact!) might not make her want to have to navigate a magic maze (the actual entry condition for the party) in order to stand around at a boring royal function. But clearly the real problem here is that YOU had to come stag. Then Bink tries to brain at where Millie's bones could be, and wonders if they might be transformed into something:
Yet transformation was major magic, and what Magician would be fooling around with a mere chambermaid?
Bink, I really don't think that you of all people should be looking down at people for their jobs, given that you're living on the palace dole in exchange for doing literally nothing simply because King Trent likes you and doesn't want to piss off your capricious talent. Only now it's time for Millie to try to seduce Bink because something something talent. This is foreshadowing for all the many other women who are going to try to seduce Bink in this novel.
“It would be so nice if you found my bones,” Millie said.
Bink laughed, embarrassed. “Millie, I’m a married man!”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Married men are best. They are—broken in, experienced, gentle, durable, and they do not talk gratuitously. For my return to life, for the first experience, it would be so nice—”
“You don’t understand,” Bink said. “I love my wife, Chameleon.”
“Yes, of course you are loyal,” Millie replied. “But right now she is in her ugly phase, and in her ninth month with child, and her tongue is as sharp as the manticora’s stinger. Right now is when you need relief, and if I recover my life—”
“Please, no more!” Bink exclaimed. The ghost was striking right on target.
“I love you too, you know,” she continued. “You remind me of—of the one I really loved, when I lived. But he is eight hundred years dead and gone.” She gazed pensively at her misty fingers. “I could not marry you, Bink, when I first met you. I could only look and long. Do you know what it is like, seeing everything and never participating? I could have been so good for you, if only—” She broke down, hiding her face, her whole head hazing before his eyes.
Bink was embarrassed and touched. “I’m sorry, Millie, I didn’t know.” He put his hand on her shaking shoulder, but of course passed right through it. “It never occurred to me that your life could be restored. If I had—”
“Yes, of course,” she sobbed.
“But you will be a very pretty girl. I’m sure there are many other young men who—”
“True, true,” she agreed, shaking harder. Now her whole body was fogging out. The other guests were beginning to stare. This was about to get awkward.
“If there is anything I can do—” Bink said.
Millie brightened instantly, and her image sharpened correspondingly. “Find my bones!”
It's really stunning to me how Bink can say things like "I love my wife" and then privately think that people who insult her and fail to appreciate her unique-variety-wonderfulness are right on target and how awful it is to be him, woe is me, manpain, etc. Like, Bink, you keep using that word, but you don't see to understand what it means. I think a more correct assessment of your feelings towards Chameleon is that you like fucking her and (more importantly) you like thinking of yourself as a good husband, so you plan to remain physically loyal in order to preserve your self-image while still mentally hating her as much as you can.
I don't think that's love, Bink.
Bink spotted Crombie and joined him. “I begin to comprehend your view [On women? The narrative doesn't really spell out which view they're talking about, but Crombie is a one-trick pony.],” he said.
“Yes, I noticed her working you over,” Crombie agreed. “She’s had her secret eye on you for some time. A man hardly has a chance when one of those vixens starts in on him.”
This book. It is such a great book. I wanna cuddle it and have its book-babies.
“Why don’t you find the bones?” Bink demanded. “You could follow your finger and do it in an instant.”
“Can’t. I’m on duty.” Crombie smiled smugly. “I have woman problems enough already, thanks to you.”
Oh. Bink had introduced the woman-hater to his former fiancée, Sabrina, a talented and beautiful girl Bink had discovered he didn’t love. Apparently that introduction had led to an involvement. Now Crombie was having his revenge.
Do... do men in Piers Anthony's books not realize that you can break-up with people? Is that an unforgivable sin in his worlds? Was that why Sabrina was so horrendously awful for not loving the boy she'd been dating since she was 14 years old when she moved to Bink's village? Because, like, I feel like if you're at the point where you are "revenging" yourself on people who introduced you to your girl/boyfriend, you could just... you know... break-up with that person instead?
I mean, I don't even think we can assume that Crombie is staying with her because of the great hate-fucking or whatever (more on this later, since Sabrina is pregnant, but we don't know if she's slept with Crombie yet or still just planning to in order to trick him into thinking the baby is his), since the first book made a big deal about how Sabrina was saving herself for marriage, and how Chameleon/Wynne could be ruined for marriage if she wasn't a virgin, so this is explicitly a Purity Culture, and I really don't think Crombie has the charisma or charm to convince Smart Sabrina to gamble on him, what with his open and unrelenting hatred of women and marriage and marriage to women.
Anyway, something something Bink balls:
Yet would it be so bad, that date with Millie? All that she had said was true; this was a very bad time for Chameleon, and she seemed fit only to be left alone. Until she phased into her beautiful, sweet aspect, and had the baby.
No, there lay ruin. He had known what Chameleon was when he married her, and that there would be good times and bad. He had only to tide through the bad time, knowing it would pass. He had done it before. When there was some difficult chore or problem, her smart phase was an invaluable asset; sometimes they saved up problems for her to work on in that phase. He could not afford to dally with Millie or any other female.
Then there is this looooooong thing that I finally decided not to quote, wherein Bink counsels Trent regarding sex. The high notes are that (a) Trent hasn't had sex with Iris, (b) Trent feels he should have sex with Iris, because they really do need to try to make a magician-heir for the throne, (c) Trent isn't sure he can have sex with Iris (or any other woman) because he's only attracted to his deceased wife, (d) Trent doesn't think it's a good idea to try to bring his dead wife back to life (NECROMANCY IS PROBABLY NOT THE ANSWER, BINK.) because it would probably work out badly and also he would "be a bigamist".
Which, really, sums up that these men are motivated by self-image and not by what the women involved want. There's no speculation of how Iris or his deceased wife would feel, just a flat "I would be a bigamist" like omg is that not enough reason for you, Bink? And then there's this gem, which I will quote:
Ethically this must involve the Queen. So I shall do it, though I do not love her and never shall. The question is, what form shall I have her assume for the occasion?”
This was a more personal problem than Bink felt prepared to cope with. “Any form that pleases you, I should think.” One big advantage the Queen had was the ability to assume a new form instantly. If Chameleon had been able to do that—
This goes on for pages and there's never any suggestion that Trent should just talk to Iris. (Nor is there a suggestion that she might refuse him or might be anything less than pleased to assume whatever form he wants. She is literally being talked about like she's a blowup doll.) In fact, Trent and Bink go to great lengths to explain why Iris can't know about Trent's problems because
And to fail with her would be to show weakness that I can hardly afford. She would feel superior to me, knowing that what she has taken to be iron control is in fact impotence. There would be much mischief in that knowledge.”
Bink, knowing the Queen, could well appreciate that. Only her respect for, and fear of, the King’s personality and magic power held her in check.
Like, wow, these aren't issues, they're whole subscriptions. It's been carefully established that Iris has zero political power not because of Trent's manly ability to not fuck her, but because they live in a patriarchal purity culture where women are barred from holding power and where everyone from the castle to the country openly speculates about fucking the Queen and she literally feels compelled to show up to fancy dress parties topless, that is how little political power she has. But she's going to become UNMANAGEABLE if she realizes that Trent's mighty man-penis doesn't dominate her in the mighty shadow that it casts.
LIKE, BINK AND TRENT, I'M PRETTY SURE SHE'D STILL BE AFRAID OF BEING TURNED INTO A FROG. For the sake of my own state of mind, I'm just going to head-canon that Iris heard all this and is just shaking her head at the fragile egos of these men. Anyway, Bink decides that since Trent can't make love to another women than his deceased wife, and since he won't ask Iris to assume that form, then the next best thing is to ask Iris to make them both look like complete strangers so that they can roleplay being different people. And then Trent decides that not only is he going to implement this idea, he's going to do it during the fancy anniversary party that Iris has spent months planning, because he's classy like that.
Stuff happens and Bink finds a book that is probably Millie's bones. I know you've been missing Crombie, so this is for you Crombie-fans in the audience:
“What is topology magic?” Crombie asked.
“Changing the form without changing it,” she said.
“Old crone, you’re talking nonsense,” Crombie said with his customary diplomacy around the sex.
I feel that the fact that Crombie is still alive is some kind of statement on privilege. And then I remember that the only reason he is alive is because Bink got him healing potion by threatening to torture a nymph for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I know you're asking yourself if Millie is hot, so the answer is of course she is, and also we're going to compare her to a nymph despite the fact that the narrative keeps insisting that nymphs are not the same as human women, but how can we justify being rapey around women and forcing them to go on dates and stuff if we don't keep dehumanizing them into willing nymphs?
Suddenly the two phased completely. She stood knee deep in the bucket, as lovely a nymph as could be desired, and an astonishing contrast to what they had just seen. “I’m whole!” she exclaimed in wonder.
Then a zombie crashes the party.
Women screamed again. It was one of the foolish, enchanting mannerisms they had.
It's great how everything that Bink hates about women are also the things that turn him on. It's almost like he's turned on by his own breathtaking misogyny. Anyway. During the chaos, a couple of strangers show up and demand to know what is going on, only then the Queen's illusion falters and the King and Queen are standing there in the nude.
Crombie the woman-hater nevertheless suffered a seizure of gallantry. He sheathed his sword, whipped off his jacket, and put it about the Queen’s shoulders, concealing her middle-aged torso. “It is cool here, Highness.”
It's... it's like Piers can't imagine why a soldier/employee in a monarchy would maybe think it was a good idea to stay on the good side of his monarchs/employers. Crombie can't just be prudent or practical or sensible or maybe patriotic to the idea of the monarchy if not the specific people occupying the position, he has to "suffer a seizure of gallantry" by extending common courtesy to a naked woman. But of course Iris' mind is occupied with the ever-present womanly concern of a hotter woman being in the room with her:
The Queen gazed for a long moment on Millie’s splendor. Then she glanced down at herself. Abruptly King and Queen were clothed royally again, she rather resembling Millie, he in his natural likeness, which was handsome enough.
Then Trent whisks Bink off, having correctly intuited that the zombie crashed the party because something something Bink's talent, and he tells the Queen to find a replacement date for Millie and to "make [him] look like Bink" which is a massively creepy thing to say to a literal mistress of illusion, so hopefully he means "vaguely resemble at a glance" and not "identical in all points".
Procure another date for Millie; I have need of Bink’s services in another capacity.”
“But Your Majesty—” Millie protested.
“Make the substitute look like Bink,” the King murmured to the Queen.
And can we here note that if literally everything that ever happens in this world is because of Bink's talent, then we can perhaps conjecture that Chameleon stayed home because of his talent? Yet that never seems to occur to Bink because that would mean he can't keep blaming her for his blue balls and general mopey-feels. Trent expositions that Bink's talent is trying to get him laid, which is very convenient because it means that nothing is ever Bink's fault and he can angst about how the very fabric of reality around him wants him to cheat on his wife, but he's not gonna because he is a loyal husband, even though he really wants to and no one would blame him and most other men would, but manpain.
However, your talent is powerful, not smart. It protects you from hostile magic, but has a problem with intangible menaces. As we know, your situation at home is not ideal at the moment, and—”
Bink nodded. “But as we both also know, that will pass, Your Majesty.”
“Agreed. But your talent is not so rational, perhaps. So it procured for you what it deemed to be a better woman—and I fault its ethics, not its taste. Then it balked when you realized the mischief this would cause. So it stopped you from having your date with Millie. [...] There is no knowing what mischief might have resulted if Millie and the Queen had insisted on completing your date; but we do know the havoc would have seemed to be coincidental , because that is the way your talent operates.
Because Bink couldn't have just NOT FUCKED MILLIE because her talent is sex appeal and hands tied, I guess, also it would be very impolite to not fuck a girl when she asks you and you wouldn't want to be impolite would you, Bink. Then Trent rounds out Chapter 2 with this, and watch it take your breath away:
It is obvious that Millie’s talent is sex appeal; that accounts for her original untimely demise in ghost-generating circumstances. She shall not lack for male company—other than yours.”
“Sex appeal!” Bink exclaimed. “That was why the spell doctor was so amused! She knew what sort of trouble there would be when she restored the spell! And that’s why I was so tempted by her offer, despite—”
“Precisely. I felt it too—and I had just completed my liaison with the Queen, thanks to your suggestion. Here, your jacket.” And the King gravely handed it back.
“It’s my fault all the palace will know—”
“That I am virile as well as Kingly,” Trent finished. “This is no shame. Now Iris will never know the weakness I might otherwise have shown. Obviously at such a moment, I should not have felt any attraction to another woman. I did feel it near Millie. So I knew magic was involved. But you, with a difficult home situation, and Millie’s evident desire for you—Bink, I think we need to get you out of this region for the duration, at least until we get Millie settled.”
“But Chameleon—I can’t leave her alone—”
“Have no concern. I shall invite her to the palace, to be attended by my own staff. In fact I think Millie herself would be an excellent maid for her, until we find a better situation.
WOW, where do we start.
For one, what the fuck at Trent saying that Millie's sex appeal talent explains why she was murdered. (Spoiler: He's pretty much totally right, but we won't find that out until the next book.) That is some breathtaking awful right there: he sees a sexy girl and just assumes that sexy is what will/did get her killed. And this is especially horrifying given that Millie has been and will be repeatedly compared similarly to Chameleon's pretty phase. Bink and Trent, you two are living in a rape culture and doing nothing to combat it.
For two, we're back to the spell doctor being amused because a girl with sex appeal causes trouble. I just hate every inch of this.
For three, Bink is reveling in him being tempted only because of magic. And if you think that's bad (IT IS SO BAD), you're going to love the eight billion times this situation repeats itself in this novel, what with the magical sirens and magical love springs that Bink keeps stumbling into.
For four, again we are just ignoring how Iris feels about any of this. I am so sorry, Iris.
For five, Bink's leaving his wife right before labor is waved away because Millie will be there and also, like, some servants and shit. What more could a woman need? It's not like she might want her husband there to emotionally support her during the birth of their first child, and it's not like Bink might want to be with her if, god forbid, something goes horribly wrong. Or even just to see their child enter the world.
For six, my god, they are assigning Millie to be Chameleon's maid. And this will continue for years through the next book, when their child (Dor) is 12 years old. For twelve years, Chameleon gets to have as a maid a woman who loves her husband, who wants to have sex with her husband, who has sexually-compelling magic, and also Bink feels sorely tempted to have sex with her for emotional as well as physical reasons. It will be literally canon in the third book that Chameleon and Bink avoid home--and therefore their son--because Bink is worried about being around Millie because of the temptation he isn't sure he can resist.
Trent is the worst.
And I'm going to go ahead and post this for tonight because I've had this post open all day working on it and my fingers are tired. More to follow. Probably.