A Spell for Chameleon
So after my FSoG post, I ended up in a conversation with a friend about the Xanth series, and I realized that we are long overdue for a Piers Anthony discussion. Xanth is one of those series that is difficult to explain to newcomers because its popularity is undeniable (I myself devoured the books readily when I was a youngster) and yet they are super-rapey.
And it's one of those things that a lot of us didn't really notice at the time (self included), I think because so much of male-suthored science fiction / fantasy is rapey already. Like, for all that Xanth was rapey, it was light-hearted rapey. As opposed to grimdark rapey, see also the Dragonlance books that were, for me, the main fantasy alternative to Xanth growing up.
So you'll see posts nowadays, since as far as I know Xanth is still going, talking about how Xanth has gotten all rapey these days (like this nice post from Jim Hines who seems to legitimately be the nicest guy, so this isn't a criticism of him in the slightest) except that we have many of us kinda forgotten that Xanth started rapey and any continued rapey is just so much furthering of that status quo.
In preparation for this post, I did two things. One was to dig through the 1977 copy I'd scanned and epubed for myself in order to copy-pasta the egregious stuff for my friend to gawp at. Two was to check Amazon to see if Xanth had finally become available on the Kindle store (it has!) and purchase a copy there.
But! I want to note something. The Amazon copy of A Spell for Chameleon has been radically altered. From the introduction (emphasis mine, as will be true for all quotes in this post):
But because of all this silliness, editor Lester was afraid the story would be taken for a juvenile novel. So at his request I upgraded the language. For example, instead of mentioning a “high place,” I substituted a “lofty promontory.” It didn’t work; children flocked to Xanth anyway. In fact, when I pondered ending the series as a trilogy, I heard from young-at-heart readers suggesting that I use puns. So the series continued, and I let the language sink back into easy reading. But that left the first novel difficult for young readers to assimilate. So in time a reader, Nadine Anderson, offered to simplify the language. She did, and I went over it, and there came to be the simplified edition. It’s the same novel in story and detail, just easier to read. Hence the present volume, which does not replace the original but merely parallels it—like a 2D version of a 3D movie. You can read either one without missing anything.
I text dumped both versions of the novel into a diff-comparison tool and almost every line in the novel has been altered, so alas I can't do a deep dive on differences. But I do want to note two things: one, the version you will read here today has been explicitly altered to be more friendly to children. (Spoiler: They failed.) And two? One major difference I noted, because I'd pointed out this line to my friend, was this paragraph which occurs after a sham rape trial that results in a bullshit not-guilty verdict:
1977: Grim-faced, looking betrayed, the three girls shook their heads, no. Bink felt sorry for his opposite. How could she avoid being seductive? She was a creature constructed for no other visible purpose than ra—than love.
2012: Looking betrayed, the three girls shook their heads no. Bink felt sorry for the girl across from him. How could she not be seductive? She was made for no other visible reason than love.
To be very clear, the 1977 version of this book featured a protagonist who had to mentally correct himself from saying that a pretty girl was constructed for no other visible purpose than rape.
A Spell for Chameleon is the story of Bink, who lives in the magical world of Xanth but has no magic talent of his own. This is a big deal because he is about to be banished on his upcoming 25th birthday if he can't come up with magic of his own. He goes on a quest to find magic, and runs into a girl who (reveal! twist!) turns out to have a magic "talent" such that she's on a moon cycle and her intelligence and beauty change over time and in inverse correlation to each other. So she cycles between super hot-and-stupid and super ugly-and-smart, and she would like a spell to fix this nonsense once and for all. Her name is Chameleon, and the book has bookend quotes that just have to be shared at the outset. First, Bink sees an Omen:
Then suddenly a silent moth hawk swooped down from the sky and caught the chameleon in its beak. There was a thin scream of pain as the lizard struggled; then it hung limply as the hawk rose. The chameleon was dead.
Then, at the end:
He looked at Chameleon, so close now to Dee, the girl he had liked from the outset. A fit of shyness overcame him.
“Go ahead, get it over with,” Trent muttered in his ear. “She’s smart enough now.”
Bink thought about how much of his adventure had centered around Chameleon’s search for a spell to make her normal when she really was quite satisfactory as she was. How many other people spent their lives searching for their own spells—something such as a silver tree or power or fame—when all they really needed was to be happy with what they already had? Sometimes what they had was better than what they thought they wanted. Chameleon had thought she wanted to be normal. Trent had thought he wanted conquest. And Bink had thought he wanted an easily shown talent. But Bink’s real task, in the end, had been to save Chameleon and Trent and himself as they were, and to make Xanth accept them that way.
Bink had not wanted to take advantage of Chameleon in her stupid stage. He wanted to be sure she understood that before he—before he—
Something tickled his nose. Oops! He sneezed.
Iris nudged Chameleon with her elbow.
“Yes, of course I’ll marry you, Bink,” Chameleon said.
Trent laughed. Then Bink was kissing Chameleon—his ordinary, wonderful girl. She had found her spell, all right; she had cast it over him. It was the same as Crombie’s curse. It was love.
And at last Bink understood the meaning of the omen. He was the hawk who had carried away Chameleon. She would never get free.
So are we all on the same page? Men are hawks who swoop up women-lizards and kill them with love. Or something! It is very deep AND I WOULDN'T EXPECT YOU TO UNDERSTAND. Also, I just need to underscore that it is heavily implied--especially in the 1977 version--that Chameleon has been raped many, many time in her "hot and stupid" phase because men take advantage of her when she's not mentally capable of expressing consent. Chameleon is in her "Wynne" (hot and stupid) phase roughly 12 times a year if she's following a lunar cycle. I'd like to just take a moment to let that sink in for a fridge horror moment.
Then I'd like to point out that Bink is heavily implied to be the right man for her simply because he doesn't rape her. (Ish. I mean, he still has sex with Wynne, late in the novel, and she does want to have sex with him, but Anthony side-steps whether she can meaningfully consent at that time. I'm going to err on the side that she can meaningfully consent then, and does, because there's so many other reasons to hate on Bink that I don't need that one.) Bink is the platonic Nice Guy, just to be very clear, and this is a novel about his manpain--despite the fact that one could very easily make a novel about Chameleon's pain at being in a highly vulnerable position for several days every month.
If you're screaming in horror at this point, you're in the right headspace for this post!
Here's a nice palate-cleanser (and all further quotes will be in chronological order):
Sabrina was beautiful, and her beauty was all natural. Other girls used makeup, or padding, or spells, but beside Sabrina all other females looked fake.
Keeping it classy!
[Regarding a man who had been forcibly transformed to a tree against his will,] Bink thought that Justin might really be better off as a tree than he had been as a man. He liked people, but it was said that as a human he had not been handsome. As a tree he was quite handsome.
It should be noted that men are treated almost as badly in the pages of Xanth as women. Well. Minus all the raping, I guess. Speaking of, after this we come to the detail about "sowing wild oats". Xanth is built on puns, so "sowing wild oats" has a literal meaning in this magical world: if a man sows wild oats (and waters them with his urine) then at harvest-time a nymph (i.e., a magical girl) will come to the oats and be bound to him by magic. He can then use her as a Real Doll. Bink's mother is upset about this, not because it is magically raping a sentient creature (and nymphs are sentient in this series, just to be clear, they just aren't smart) but because she's prim and also jealous of a nymph her husband tried to catch.
There had been a family hassle. “How could you?” Bianca cried, her face flaming. But Roland had worked to hide his smile. “Sowing wild oats!” he murmured. “The lad’s growing up.”
“Now, Roland, you know that—”
“Dear, it isn’t as if there’s any real harm in it.”
“No harm!” she cried angrily.
“It is perfectly natural for a young man—” But her angry face had stopped Bink’s father, who feared nothing in Xanth but was a peaceable man. Roland sighed and turned to Bink. “I gather you do know what you were doing, son?”
Bink felt very defensive. “Well—yes. The nymph of the oats—”
“Bink!” Bianca snapped. He had never seen her so angry before.
Roland held up his hands, making peace. “Dear, why don’t you let us work this out man-to-man? The boy’s got a right.”
And so Roland had shown his own prejudice: when his “man-to-man” chat was with Bink, it was with a boy.
Without another word, Bianca had stalked out of the house.
Roland turned to Bink, shaking his head in a way that was only a little negative. Roland was a powerful, handsome man, and he had a special way of shaking his head. “True wild oats taken thrashing from the stem, sown by the full moon, watered with your own urine?” he asked frankly, and Bink nodded, his face at half heat. “So that when the plants grow and the oat nymph appears, she will be bound to you?”
Bink nodded grimly.
“Son, believe me, I understand; I sowed wild oats myself when I was your age. Got me a nymph, too, with flowing green hair and a body like the great outdoors. But I had forgotten about the special watering, and so she got away. I never saw anything so lovely in my life—except your mother, of course.”
BEST FATHER-SON CONVERSATION EVER, OBVIOUSLY. "SON, THAT GIRL I WANTED TO RAPE WAS GOR-GE-OUS, LEMME TELL YOU."
Roland’s face became serious. “To a young man, the thought of a lovely nude nymph may be very tempting,” he went on. “All the physical features of a woman, and none of the mental ones. But, son, this is a childish dream, like finding a candy tree. The real thing will not be all you hope for. One quickly becomes tired of unlimited candy, and so it also is with a mindless female body. A man can’t love a nymph. His eagerness quickly becomes boredom, and then disgust.”
A running theme of this book, I'm just gonna spoil this for you now, is that hot girls are hot but stupid girls are stupid. You'd think you might go after smart girls, but you don't want them to be too smart because that's a boner-killer, and you definitely don't want them to be smart AND hot because those are the ones that will manipulate you. Really, this book is all about how women are basically shit.
Roland understood him, too well. “Son, what you need is a real live girl,” he said. “A figure with a personality who will talk back to you. It is more of a challenge to get to know a complete woman, and often very frustrating.” He looked meaningfully at the door where Bianca had gone out. “But in the long run, it is also far more rewarding. What you looked for in the wild oats was a shortcut, but in life there are no shortcuts.” He smiled. “Though if it had been up to me, I’d have let you try the shortcut. But your mother—well, we are old-fashioned here, and the ladies tend to be the worst, especially the pretty ones.
A FIGURE WITH A PERSONALITY. THAT IS DEFINITELY NOT A CREEPY WAY TO DESCRIBE A WOMAN. *all the lolsobbing* Another palate-cleanser? How about Bink's manpain at liking his mother's sandwiches? The yummy sandwiches just remind him that he is dependent on a woman (but apparently he is not so unhappy about it that this 24-year-old man can't make his own damn sandwiches).
Roland always teased her about that, saying that she had learned the art from an old sand witch. Yet it was unfunny to Bink, for it meant he still depended on her.
Here is Bink ogling a centaur-girl. He does this several times over several pages; I like this quote the best because it is not only male gaze but a hilarious extension of male gaze to human gaze: he keeps thinking how Cherie the Centaur would be so much better if she were human. (Bink, I suspect she's happy with her body the way it is!)
She turned her head around to fix him with a gentle stare. Her body twisted from the human waist to complete the motion. The turn was impressive; her midsection was more flexible than that of a human girl, maybe because it was harder for a centaur to turn her whole body around. But if she had a human lower part to match the upper half, what a creature she would be!
Also here. (And it should be noted that Cherie has both saved Bink's life and is giving him a free ride through dangerous and unfamiliar-to-him terrain. He is repaying her by thinking about haltering her.)
Cherie turned to face him again in a manner that would have been most fetching in a human girl. In fact, it was the same in a centaur girl, especially if Bink squinted so as to see only her human part. It was very fetching despite his knowledge that because centaurs lived longer than humans, she was probably fifty years old. She looked twenty—a twenty that few humans ever were. No halter would hold this filly!
Here's a fun history lesson about Bink being descended from several generations of rape and one planned generation where the rape victims killed their raping husbands and imported new ones. These guys would obviously the best on account of not being too picky about hawts.
The Second Wave women got together and brought in only the finest men they could find. Strong, just, kind, smart men who understood the background. They promised to keep the secret and to uphold the values of Xanth. They were Mundanes, but they were noble ones.”
“The Fourthwavers!” Bink cried. “The finest of them all.”
“Yes. The Xanth women were widows, victims of rape, and finally killers. Some were old or had physical or mental scars. But they all had strong magic and grit; they were the survivors of the upheaval that wiped out all other humans in Xanth. These qualities were clear. When the new men learned the whole truth, some returned to Mundania. But others liked marrying witches. They wanted to have children with strong magic, so they decided that youth and beauty were secondary. They made very good husbands.
Standards in Xanth novels for "good husbands" are, it should be noted, very low. Carrying on, it should be noted that when Cherie has to jump a ditch, Bink slips and starts to fall. (The fall would have been deep enough to be fatal.) He instinctively grabs onto her, which means going from gripping her waist to grabbing her boobs. (Like you do, obviously.) Bink apologizes because he's a Nice Guy, but he's more than happy to laugh about it when a later guy wants to make a joke about sexual assault because Bink doesn't push back on Rape Culture, geez.
“How’d you make it all the way from North Village in one day, then?”
“A lady centaur gave me a lift.”
“A filly! I’ll bet she did! Where’d you hang on to when she jumped?”
Bink smiled. “Well, she said she’d drop me in a trench if I did it again,” he said.
“Haw! Haw! Haw!” the man brayed.
Speaking of rape culture! This charming farmer is willing to put Bink up for the night if he'll attend a rape trial for him as a pretend accused. No biggie! Bink doesn't know it's a rape trial, of course, and if you're guessing that his angst at having to attend a "trial" where he is in literally no danger is played up as WAY WORSE than the victim having to attend a "trial" where her rapist will get off without even a slap on the wrist, well, haha welcome aboard the Xanth train!
Now the farmer got down to business. “Listen, I don’t need no hard labor now. But I’ve got a part in a hearing coming up, and I don’t want to go. Upsets the missus, you know.”
Bink nodded, though he did not understand. He saw the wife nod in agreement. What sort of thing was this?
“So if you want to pay for staying here, you can stand in for me,” the farmer went on. “Won’t only take an hour. No work to it ’cept to agree to anything the bailiff says. Softest job you can find, and easy for you, too, ’cause you’re a stranger. Working with a cute young thing—” He saw the grim look on his wife’s face and stopped. “How ’bout it?”
Good stuff. Now for the trial:
“Do you three ladies swear to tell no truth other than that given in this hearing and to shut up about that?” the bailiff asked.
“We do,” the girls said.
“And do you three louts swear the same?”
“We do,” Bink said with the others. If he was to lie here, but never talk about it outside, did that mean it wasn’t really a lie? The bailiff seemed to know what was true and what was false, so in effect—
“Now, this is the hearing for an alleged rape,” the bailiff said. Bink tried to hide his shock. Were they supposed to act out a rape?
“Among these present,” the bailiff went on, “is the girl who says she was raped—and the man she charges. He says it happened but it was not forced. That right, men?”
Bink nodded along with the others. Brother! He would rather have chopped wood. Here he was, maybe lying about a rape he had never done.
“This is done without using names,” the bailiff said, “so’s to have a recommendation, in the presence of the first parties, without advertising it to the whole community.”
Bink was beginning to understand. A girl who had been raped could be ruined though it was no fault of her own; many men would not marry her for that reason alone. So she could win her case but lose her future. A man guilty of rape could be cast out, and a man accused of rape would be looked at with suspicion, making his future harder. Getting at the truth could be very tricky and was not something either party would want to advertise in a public trial. Win or lose, reputations would suffer badly. Yet how could justice be done if the case never came to trial? Thus this private hearing. Would it be enough?
“She says she was walking down by the Gap,” the bailiff said, looking at his notes. “He came up behind her, grabbed her, and raped her. Right, girls?”
The three girls nodded, each looking hurt and angry. The knee of the girl facing Bink shook, and another ripple traveled up his leg. What an opposite lady, and what a play!
“He says he was standing there and she came up and made a suggestion and he took her up on it. Right, men?”
Bink nodded with the others. He hoped his side won; this was nervous business.
Now the judge spoke. “Was it close to a house?”
“ ’Bout fifty paces,” the bailiff said.
“Then why did she not scream?”
“He said he’d push her off the brink if she made a sound,” the bailiff answered. “She was frozen in terror. Right, girls?”
They nodded—and each looked terrified for a moment. Bink wondered which of the three had been raped. Then he corrected his thought: which one had made the accusation? He hoped it wasn’t the one facing him.
“Were the two known to each other before?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Then I assume she would have run from him at the start had she not liked him—and that he would not have forced her if she trusted him. In a small town like this, people get to know one another very well, and there are few surprises. This strongly suggests she had no strong objection to being with him, and may have tempted him, with a result she later regretted. I would probably, if this case were to come up in court, find the man not guilty of the charge because of reasonable doubt.”
The three men relaxed. Bink became aware of a trickle of sweat on his forehead; it started while he listened to the judge.
“Okay, you have the judge’s ifso,” said the bailiff. “You girls still want to bring it to open trial?”
Looking betrayed, the three girls shook their heads no. Bink felt sorry for the girl across from him. How could she not be seductive? She was made for no other visible reason than love.
Like... isn't everything about that the best thing ever? *deep breath, kinda shaky* Let's dive into that for a bit? I love Bink's mental Brother! at how bothersome it is to have to be here, lying about a rape he had never done. That's such a stellar example of manpain. There is a woman in the room who is a rape victim, and Bink's mind is going over how inconvenient and un-fun this is for him. Classic critical empathy fail.
Then we have Bink mentally acknowledging that rape victims are shunned and shamed in the community, which will make it all the more paranoid-Nice-Guyism when he spends the next twenty or so pages worrying that a woman will falsely charge him of rape. Because clearly that would go very well for her!
It's a subtle but insidious detail that all three women tear up and "look terrified" even though two of them are (presumably) acting and not rape victims. Which fits into the Nice Guy paranoia that women can and will play the part of a rape victim to the hilt in order to revenge themselves on an innocent man.
The judge's verdict I don't even know how to comment on. There is just screaming. And a burning desire to know why a woman would risk her reputation on a rape charge that, even if she won, would result in her being ostracized from the community in order to, what? Punish a man she had consensual sex with, apparently. Like women do.
“Then take off,” the bailiff said. “Remember—no talking outside or we’ll have a real trial for contempt of court.” The warning seemed unneeded; the girls would hardly be talking. The guilty—uh, innocent—man would also shut up, and Bink himself just wanted to get clear of this village.
And then the women are charged with contempt of court if they ever talk about their rape or try to warn their friends. There is only sobbing and screaming.
Bink needs to cross the Gap Chasm, but there's a couple problems: he needs a guide, and there's a dangerous creature that lives in the Gap and is called the Gap Dragon. Remember this, okay? Dangerous Gap Dragon. It is dangerous. And is called the Gap Dragon. And is dangerous.
“There’s a way, but you’ll encounter the Gap Dragon. You’re a nice boy—young, handsome. You did a good job in the hearing. Don’t risk it.”
OH MY GOD, HE IS LITERALLY BEING CONGRATULATED FOR HIS "GOOD JOB" IN THE HEARING. BINK IS THE MOST PRIVILEGED NICE GUY IN THE WORLD. Anyway, the guy who is worried about Bink's life decides that he doesn't mind risking the life of a girl who has lived in this village her entire life. Because girls are worth less than a guy you've known twenty minutes.
Better have Wynne show you.”
“Your opposite. The one you almost raped.” The bailiff smiled, making a signal with one hand, and his cloud vanished. “Not that I blame you.”
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA THIS BOOK.
“Wynne, honey, show this man to the southern slope of the Gap. Mind you, keep clear of the dragon.” “
Sure,” she said, smiling. The smile did not add to her beauty because that was impossible, but it tried.
Bink had mixed feelings. After the hearing, suppose she accused him of—?
The bailiff looked at him understandingly. “Don’t worry about it, son. Wynne don’t lie, and she don’t change her mind. You behave yourself, hard as that may be, and there’ll be no trouble.”
I love the Nice Guy paranoia here. Suppose she FALSELY accused him of rape? (My god, I hope Bink means "falsely" here and isn't flat-out considering raping her except she might tattle on him.) Well, Bink, I suppose that probably the exact same thing would happen: there would be a five-minute trial that you wouldn't even need to show up to if you didn't want, and the judge would be on your side because really she ought to have read your mind and/or just assumed you were a rapist.
They went on in silence for a while. Bink tried again: “What is your talent?”
She looked at him blankly.
Uh-oh. After the hearing, she could not be blamed for taking that the wrong way! “Your magic talent,” he said. “The thing you can do. A spell or …”
She shrugged. What was with this girl? She was beautiful, but she seemed dull.
“Do you like it here?” he asked.
She shrugged again.
Now he was almost sure; Wynne was lovely but stupid. No wonder the bailiff had not been worried about her. She was not much use to the village.
WELL, THAT'S NOT FAIR, BINK, YOU ALREADY NOTED THAT SHE WAS CONSTRUCTED FOR THEM TO RAPE!! *vomits*
Bink is right about Wynne being stupid, but he's right because the narrative is outright cheating on his behalf. Please note that a girl who doesn't want to make small talk after her rapist was just declared not-guilty because she wasn't a mind-reader might not feel super-chatty. Also? I just want to note again that it's strongly implied in the novel that the men in the village make a habit of raping Wynne when she (Chameleon) is in her "stupid" phase. I can kinda see how (a) she might not like the village much but (b) she might not know how to phrase that without landing a bullshit contempt of court charge. Bink shouldn't have a hard time putting two and two together here.
In fact, shockingly, Wynne would like to leave the town where she gets raped all the damn time:
“Can I go with you?” Wynne asked.
Uh-oh. Maybe she thought he could tell her more stories. She did not think about the hardships of travel. In a while her body, not made for hard work, would tire, and he’d have to carry her. “Wynne, I’m going a long way, to see the Magician Humfry. You don’t want to come along.”
“No?” Her pretty face clouded up.
Still thinking of the rape hearing, he said it carefully. [...] When he glanced up at her, he got distracting looks at her thighs. There seemed to be no part of her body that was not perfect. Only her brain had been overlooked. “It is dangerous. Much bad magic. I go alone.”
“Alone?” She was still confused, though she was handling the path very well. Nothing wrong with her balance! Bink found himself surprised that those legs could be used for hiking.
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The 1977 version--i.e., the NOT FOR CHILDREN version--says "Bink found himself a bit surprised that those legs could actually be used for climbing and walking." It's... it's so epically male gazey. "You can use those legs for something other than wrapping around my back while I fuck you? Really? Huh!"
“I need help. Magic. The Magician charges a year’s service. You would not want to pay.” For the Good Magician was male, and Wynne had only one obvious way to pay. No one would be interested in her mind.
BINK. Who, I will remind you, is the perfect husband for this woman. Ordained by whatever heavenly bureaucracy is in charge of handing out Omens.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Wynne cupped her ear, listening, though the noise could plainly be heard. With the change in her balance, she began to slide down the steep slope. He jumped to catch her, and then he lowered her to the channel floor. What an armful she was, all softness and slenderness!
She turned her face to him, brushing back her hair as he stood her back on her feet. “The Gap Dragon,” she said.
For a moment he was confused. Then he remembered that he had asked her a question: now she was answering it.
“Is it dangerous?”
She had been too stupid to tell him before he asked. And he had not thought to ask before he heard it. Maybe if he hadn’t been looking at her body so much. Yet what man would not have looked?
THIS IS WHAT I MEAN ABOUT THE NARRATIVE CHEATING FOR BINK. It is not "stupid" to answer a question when the answer is "there's a big fucking dragon coming this way". And it is not "stupid" to not volunteer that the dragon is dangerous when that is like the defining feature of dragons!! And dragons are a THING in this world! Bink KNOWS that dragons are dangerous! He talked about dragons with Cherie the Centaur! Also Bink has been told TWICE and Wynne was there to hear it that the Gap Dragon is dangerous! But the narrative insists that she's the stupid one, because the narrative is a cheating asshole.
Anyway. But. So. Bink lives, alas.
The thought of lovely girls reminded him of Wynne; he would not be human if he didn’t react to her fantastic face and body! But she was so stupid, and anyway he was engaged already, so he had no business thinking of her.
Then he goes on to meet Iris-the-Conniving-Bitch who, hmm. Okay, settle in. Xanth can only be ruled by a King with "Magician-level" magic talent. Iris has magician-level talent, but she's a woman so they call her a Sorceress and she can't be king. She's spent her life being pissed about this, and after 40 years of life has decided to find and install a figurehead king while she rules behind the scenes. She will be "neutralized" at the end of this novel by marrying the new king, and becoming queen, which gives her zero political power and ends with her in an unhappy marriage to a man who doesn't love her and won't touch her, so it's unclear why she agreed to any of this except that Anthony's women are phenomenally passive and stupid.
Like, seriously, she is so passive that she's just been waiting for figurehead candidates to walk by her beach. Going out to get one would have been hard, I guess. But Iris is great for us (Spoiler: NO IT IS NOT GREAT) because we get to hear about her trying to seduce Bink with the ultimate trump card: statutory rape.
But the Sorceress herself was lovely. She wore very little, and she looked eighteen.
“What do you want in a woman?” she asked him. “A full figure?” She suddenly had an hourglass figure. “Youth?” Suddenly she looked fourteen, very slender, and innocent. “Maturity?” She was herself again, but better dressed. “Ability?” Now she was about twenty-five, very shapely but very able-looking. “Violence?” The Amazon again, sturdy but still lovely.
“I don’t know,” Bink said. “I’d really hate to choose. Sometimes I want one thing, sometimes another.”
“It can all be yours,” she said. The fourteen-year-old appeared again. “No other woman can make this promise.”
Bink was suddenly, forcefully tempted. There were times when he wanted this, though he had never dared admit it openly.
I just... I just wanna point out that Anthony could have written any ages in there. Bink is twenty-five. Iris could have started at a sexy, mature 30-something and then come down to a sexy 18 or 19 year old. Hell, Anthony could have put 16 in there if he just couldn't sleep at night without being edgy. Instead he gave us a 14 year old and then used that age as the secret desire that Bink wants but can't tell others about. *sets keyboard on fire*
Bink wanders off and gets to a forest where a dryad is mildly rude to him because he keeps stabbing trees with his knife. (SUCK ON THAT, JUSTIN THE HANDSOME TREE.) So naturally when Bink needs help from the dryad, he doesn't politely ask her: he leads with threatening to torture her.
“I can’t do anything for you. I’m no doctor, and if I move you, you may die. I will return with medicine,” Bink said. “I must borrow your sword.”
“Return soon or not at all,” the man said. He gasped as he raised the hilt.
Bink took the heavy weapon and climbed out of the ditch. Then he went to the tree of the dryad. “I need magic,” he told her. “To heal wounds, stop a fever. Tell me where I can get them, or I will chop your tree down.”
There's literally no reason for him to threaten her. I've read and re-read it several times thinking I must have missed something, but nope. He just... that's how Bink rolls. Tortures girls to get their cooperation. To be fair (AHAHAHAHAHAHANO), he feels bad about it in a manpainy way.
By the way, the soldier he saves is great; he can locate anything with magic and tries to locate the source of the greatest threat to Bink: his magic points out Chameleon. Because, get it? Bink is destined to fall in love with her, just like the hawk fell in love with the tiny lizard it killed? And so she's a threat to him because...? Um...? The book doesn't know and eventually drops this thread because it would imply that being married is the worst thing that can happen to Bink. (That's for the next book to explore, silly!)
You did me a good turn; I’ll do you a good turn. I can help a lot. I’ll show you.” He closed his eyes again, held out his hand, and turned. When he stopped, he said: “That’s the direction of the greatest threat to you. Want to test it?”
Oh, and of course some more violence to women:
There was a scream. Bink jumped, and Crombie held his sword at the ready. But it was only a woman.
“Speak, girl!” Crombie roared, waving his wicked blade. “What do you plan?”
“Don’t hurt me!” she cried. “I am only Dee, lost and alone. I thought you came to help me.”
“You lie!” Crombie cried. “You mean harm to this man, my friend who saved my life. Confess!” And he lifted his sword again.
“For God’s sake, let her be!” Bink yelled. “You made a mistake. She’s obviously harmless.”
“My talent’s never been wrong before,” Crombie said. “This is where it pointed to your greatest threat.”
“Maybe the threat is behind her,” Bink said. “She was only between it and us.”
Crombie paused. “Could be. I never thought of that.” He was clearly a good man beneath the violence. “Wait, I’ll find out.”
The soldier moved to the east of the girl. He shut his eyes and turned. His finger came to rest pointing at Dee.
The girl burst into tears. “I mean you no harm, I swear it. Don’t hurt me!”
SUCH A GOOD BOOK. But this scene is important! It is necessary in order to establish that Bink is the Nice Guy here and is willing to be reasonable and give this random girl a chance to explain herself. DESTINED TRUE LOVE.
“Women are the curse of mankind,” Crombie said hotly. “They trap men into marriage, and they torment them the rest of their lives.”
“Now, that’s unfair,” Dee said. “Didn’t you have a mother?”
“She drove my father to drink and loco-berries,” Crombie said. “Made his life hell on Earth, and mine, too. She could read our minds. That was her talent.”
A woman who could read men’s minds? Hell indeed for a man! If any woman had been able to read Bink’s mind—ugh!
BINK IS SO AWESOME, YA'LL.
It's been awhile since we've insulted Wynne, so here have a picture of her for Bink to look at:
Now the girl Wynne looked out. Yes, she was pretty, too, though too stupid to be worthwhile. Some men would like that very well. On the other hand …
BUT NOT BINK. You can tell he's a good guy because he isn't the sort to like a girl better for being stupid. No, you can tell he's marriageable material because when he meets a stupid girl, he is repulsed by her and constantly mentally criticizes her.
Maybe it's a good thing we can't read your mind, Bink!
Now let's judge more pretty women!
Humfrey laughed. “Who in his right mind would want to be King? It’s a boring, hard job. I am not a ruler but a scholar. Most of my work is in making my magic safe and refining it for greater use. I am getting old. I can’t waste time. Let those who wish the crown take it.”
Bink cast about for someone who wanted to rule Xanth. “The Sorceress Iris—”
“The trouble with dealing with illusion,” Humfrey said seriously, “is that one begins to be fooled oneself. Iris doesn’t need power half so much as she needs a good man.”
Even Bink could see the truth in that. “But why doesn’t she marry?”
“She’s a Sorceress, a good one. She needs a man she can respect, one who has stronger magic than she has. But I’m really too old for her. And of course we would be a mismatch; I deal in truth, she in illusion. I know too much; she imagines too much.
I need to be clear that not only is this being said by a man whose whole thing is being never-wrong and full of all-the-information, this is also canon according to the narrative: Iris needs a powerful man (Trent) who doesn't love her, won't touch her, and can only have sex with her once (in an attempt to generate an heir) by having her disguise them both as totally different people. That's how repulsed he is by her. And this completely brings her under his heel and curbs all her previous ambitions of power. She literally spends the next two decades doing nothing except manipulate her daughter to marry Bink's son, who is the heir to the throne.
Palate-cleanser of Bink thinking about his awesome quest!
Yet his long side trip had not been a total loss. He had taken part in the rape hearing, helped the shade, seen some wonderful illusions, saved Crombie the soldier, and learned a lot more about Xanth. He wouldn’t care to do it all over again, but the trip had made him grow.
FONDLY REMEMBER THAT WHOLE RAPE TRIAL THING. MMMM.
You know what we need? We need a summary of all the women in the novel so far.
And Sabrina—what then of her? She, too, had refused to cheat. Yet he felt she lacked the commitment of his parents. She would have cheated had she enough reason. Her love had not been deep enough. She had loved him for the magic talent she had thought he had as the son of strongly talented parents. The absence of that talent had undercut her love. She had not really loved him for who he was.
And his love for her was shallow. Sure, she was beautiful. But she had less personality than, say, the girl Dee. Dee had walked off because she had been insulted, and she had stuck by her decision. Sabrina would do the same but for a different reason. Dee had not been acting; she really had been angry. Sabrina would have done it with more art and less feeling—because she had less feeling.
Which reminded Bink of the Sorceress Iris again. What a temper she had! Bink respected temper; it was a window to the truth at times. But Iris was too violent. That palace-destruction scene, with storm and dragon …
Even stupid what’shername, the lovely girl of the rape hearing—Wynne, that was her name—had feelings. He had, he hoped, allowed her to escape from the Gap Dragon. There had not been anything false in her. But Sabrina was the perfect actress, so he had never really been sure of her love. He realized that she had been a picture in his mind to be brought out in time of need, and he had not really wanted to marry her.
Whatever it was that he wanted in a girl, Sabrina lacked. She had beauty, which he liked, and personality—which was not the same as character—and magic. All these things were good—very good—and he had thought he loved her. But when the crisis came, Sabrina’s eyes had been turned away. That said it all. Crombie the soldier had spoken the truth: Bink would have been a fool to marry Sabrina.
Bink smiled. How would Crombie and Sabrina get along together? The most demanding and suspicious male, the most artful and changing female. Would the soldier become a challenge to the girl? Could they, after all, have a lasting relationship? It almost seemed they might. They would either have an immediate and violent falling out or a just as violent falling in. Too bad they couldn’t meet, and that he could not be there to see such a meeting.
Are we all caught up? Sabrina is smart and beautiful, which makes her manipulative and shallow. She doesn't love Bink, which means she doesn't have feelings. (He doesn't love her, but he still has feelings! How could you doubt that? Look at his manpain!) She should be hooked up with that soldier who tried to stab Dee based on no evidence at all of her doing anything wrong. That sounds like a great plan, Bink!
Anyway. Bink goes into exile outside the magical deadly shield-stone cutting off Xanth from modern-day Florida and SURPRISE! the Evil Magician Trent is on the other side with an army and he needs information from Bink in order to invade Xanth. And then WHOA! a woman is brought into camp and claims that she is a self-exile from Xanth which is pretty unusual. She gets tossed into a pit with Bink and that's just WEIRD because she's smart but ugly so why would she be put down there with him if she were a spy for Trent??
If she had been beautiful, they might have thought she could charm him into talking. But as ugly as she was, there wasn’t a chance. Pairing them in the same pit just didn’t seem to make sense.
In Bink's worldview, there is no way for a woman to get information from a man than to seduce it out of his cock. I feel like Bink must read a lot of Penthouse letters or something.
“I wasn’t cast out, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Fanchon had interrupted Bink’s thoughts. “They don’t cast out people for being ugly. I came out on my own.”
“On your own? Why?”
“Well, I had two reasons.”
“What two reasons?”
She looked at him. “I’m afraid you won’t believe either one.”
“Try me and see.”
“First, the Magician Humfrey told me it was the easiest answer to my problem.”
“What problem?” Bink was hardly in a good mood.
She stared at him again. “Must I spell it out?”
Bink found himself reddening. Clearly her problem was her appearance. Fanchon was a young woman. She was not just plain but downright ugly—living proof that youth and health did not mean beauty. No clothing or makeup could help her enough; only magic could do it. Which seemed to mean that her leaving Xanth was nonsense. Was her judgment as warped as her body?
Needing to change the subject, Bink fixed on another objection: “But there’s no magic in Mundania.”
Fanchon was as difficult to talk with as look at!
“You mean that magic makes you what you are?” he said.
She did not scold him for his lack of social grace. “Yes, more or less.”
“Why didn’t Humfrey charge you his fee?”
“He couldn’t stand the sight of me.”
Worse and worse. “Uh—what was your other reason for leaving Xanth?”
“I shall not tell you that at this time.”
It figured. She had said he wouldn’t believe her reasons, and he had believed the first one, so she wouldn’t tell him the other one. Typical female logic.
I really need to reiterate that Bink is the destined perfect husband for this poor woman.
“I have been thinking about your cases,” Trent said. “Fanchon, I can transform you into any other life form, even another human being.” He looked down at her. “How would you like to be beautiful?”
Uh—oh. If Fanchon was not a spy, this would be a tempting offer. The ugly one changed to beauty.
OH MY GOD, BINK. I know it is really hard to believe, but we women do not walk around constantly wondering how to give you better boners. Incidentally, this scene is a clue because Fanchon says that it wouldn't fix her problem. The reason we are later given is that it would just change the cycle so that she'd be pretty-and-smart at one end of the spectrum and then ugly-and-stupid at the other end.
This would be a disadvantage for Fanchon because... um... I'm not sure why. Since Bink literally believes that men take advantage of Wynne because (a) she's pretty and (b) her stupidity makes her easy prey, you would think that according to that logic, Chameleon would at least be safer if her cycle was switched up. I mean, in the real world Rape Is Not A Compliment, but in the Xanth world it very clearly is intended to be. I don't even know what this is supposed to convey, but I think the message is that a smart-and-hot girl would be even worse off because a guy like Bink wouldn't want to marry her. (He explicitly says later that Sabrina has ruined him for hot-and-smart girls.)
Anyway, Fanchon is planning an escape and asks for a poo-bucket and a privacy curtain. Bink finds this weird because when you're ugly, why would you want privacy or modesty?
Fanchon set the pot in one corner and took pins from her straggly hair to tack the cloth to the two walls, forming a small chamber. Bink wasn’t sure why a girl of her appearance should be so modest. Surely no one would gawk at her flesh. Unless she really was sensitive. In that case it did make sense. A pretty girl could show shock if someone saw her bare body, but privately she might be pleased. Fanchon had no such need to pretend.
Bink felt sorry for her, and for himself. Things would be much more interesting if his company were good-looking.
That is an actual sentiment in an actual book: that, goddamnit, if I must be held captive, it would have been better if the poor soul held in captivity with me was smoking hot. IT IS LIKE THE UNIVERSE HAS IT OUT FOR BINK, GAWD. (For added empathy points, Bink doesn't even consider that in his Rape Is A Compliment universe, a pretty woman being captured by Trent and his soldiers might be especially not "interesting" for her.)
Palate-cleanser! Fanchon asks Bink to talk about pretty girls he's met (as a distraction for the guards) while she makes bricks for their escape:
“My fiancée, Sabrina, was beautiful—is beautiful—and the Sorceress Iris seemed beautiful, but I met others who weren’t. Once they get old or married, they—
The day after the wedding, man. Bloom right off the rose. (I literally had men tell me, growing up, that a woman was prettiest on her wedding day and everything after that was downhill. They thought this was sweet and romantic... somehow.)
In other news, ugly people are so not-human-y and hard to like because oh my god ugly:
She sighed in the dark. She sounded very human; it was easier to like her when he couldn’t see her.
Have I reminded you recently that Bink is the perfect, fate-ordained husband for this woman? Because he is. Then Trent transforms them into basilisks in order to prove that he can, and Fanchon says that she didn't like it much:
“We were real,” she said, grimacing with renewed horror. “I’m sure of that now. For the first time in my life, I’m glad for my human form.” Which was quite a statement for her.
Because she's ugly, you see. Or possibly because in a couple of weeks she'll be raped again. Hard to say, since they're both pretty bad. But she won't be raped by these soldiers, because these men are good honest men who just want to rape cows and horses in the shape of women!
“He’s promised you all the spoils of Xanth?” Fanchon asked with an edge to her voice.
“No, just farms or jobs for all of us,” he said.
“No killing, no loot?” She clearly did not believe him.
“None of that. This ain’t the old days, you know. We just protect him and keep order, and he’ll give us land where nobody’s settled yet. He says Xanth’s underpopulated. And he’ll ask the local gals to marry us so we can have families. If there aren’t enough, he’ll bring in gals from the real world. Meanwhile, he’ll transform some smart animals into gals. I thought that was a joke, but after what I hear about those cocks—” He grimaced. “I mean those basks—” He shook his head and grimaced again in pain.
“Keep your head still,” Fanchon told him, too late. “It’s true about the cockatrice and the basilisks. We were them. But animal brides—”
“Oh, it wouldn’t be so bad, miss. Just temporary until real gals arrived. If she looks like a gal and feels like a gal, I wouldn’t blame her for being a bitch before. I mean, some girls are bitches.”
“What’s a bitch?” Bink asked.
“A bitch? You don’t know that?” The sailor grimaced again. Either he was in a lot of pain or it was his natural expression. “A female dog. Like Jennifer. Hell, if Jennifer had a human body—”
“Enough,” Fanchon muttered.
IT IS DEFINITELY NORMAL TO THINK ABOUT TRANSFORMING YOUR PET INTO A WOMAN AND FUCKING HER. NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU OTHERWISE.
Bink and Fanchon escape in a boat but neither of them know anything about boats or the sea and so they end up being nearly carried into the deadly magical shield that cuts Xanth off from modern-day Florida. I cannot stress the "deadly" part of this enough. So naturally Bink gets distracted by thoughts of tits. (I may have mentioned this, but if you identify as a man, Piers Anthony does not seem to think much of you.)
He put forth a great effort. But it was not enough. A storm was coming up. In the rising wind, they were going to miss the rock and lose their only chance at a handhold. The dreaded Shield loomed nearer.
“I’ll help!” Fanchon cried. She set down the bottle, crawled forward, and put her hands next to his on the oars. She pushed, timing her efforts with his.
It helped. But Bink was distracted. In the moonlight her naked body lost some of its shapelessness. Shadow and imagination could make her halfway good-looking. That embarrassed him because he had no right to think of such things. Fanchon could be a good companion if only—
The boat smashed into the rock and tilted. “Get hold! Get hold of the rock!” Fanchon cried as water surged over the side of the boat.
How much do I love that a brave, intelligent, clever, amazing woman who has saved his life by helping him escape from captivity could be a good companion if only she had nicer tits? ALAS. Later Bink will dwell on this again (and again and again and again):
Bink was impressed again with her intelligence. Every time he caught her doing something that he thought was stupid, it turned out to be the opposite. She had a mind that worked very well. She had planned their escape from the pit, and had stopped Trent’s invasion. Now she was at it again. Too bad her looks fell short.
Bink, you know, some of us would just stop thinking that women axiomatically do stupid things, then you wouldn't keep being surprised when you're wrong, but maybe that's part of the fun for you. Want Fanchon's take on the situation?
That means we are not yet out of trouble.”
“Bink’s an outcast, you’re banished, and I’m ugly,” Fanchon muttered. “We’ll never be out of trouble.”
...yeah. You know what, that's depressing. Let's instead go back to Bink thinking how great Fanchon would be if only she weren't so ugly:
Where was Fanchon? Why hadn’t she come to help him? She must have heard his cries for help—if she still lived. There was no way she could have been unaware of the fight. So this must mean—
No! She had to be somewhere. Maybe down by the sea, catching fish, out of hearing. Without her he could never have escaped the power of the Evil Magician. For intelligence and personality, she had it all over the other girls he had met. Too bad she wasn’t—
Never let it be said that Bink can't beat a dead horse. Over and over again. So, hey! Remember when Fanchon asked for a privacy curtain when they were being held captive? And how that was a really weird request because obviously a man would never want to look at an ugly naked woman? And how even a pretty girl wouldn't mind being oogled while naked because she'd be privately pleased at her boner-making powers? Well, now even clothes are a weird affectation of ugly people:
Fanchon spotted a fabric plant and made tunics for all of them. The men tolerated this with good humor. Had Fanchon been a well-formed woman, there might have been more reason for clothing. Still, Bink remembered how she had seemed modest in the prison pit so as to gain a private area in which to hide the bricks. She probably had her reasons this time, too.
I... literally don't know what to say about that. It's worth pointing out again that the narrative ensures that Bink is never wrong; in this case, the "reason" Fanchon doesn't want to walk through a hostile forest in the nude is because she knows she's going to start turning pretty soon. And she doesn't want to be naked while pretty. The narrative seems to believe that she just doesn't want to be stared at (BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO BEING PRIVATELY PLEASED AT OUR BONER POWERS? MY WOMAN-BRAIN IS CONFUSED!!), but I can't help but assume that she's afraid nudity would encourage Trent or Bink to rape her. And that breaks my heart.
He woke at dawn. Fanchon was asleep beside him, looking less ugly than he recalled. In fact, she did not look ugly at all. Would it ever come to the point where Trent seemed noble and Fanchon seemed beautiful?
Trent, the Evil Magician who transformed people like Justin The Tree into things against their will. That level of evil seeming noble is definitely comparable to an ugly-yet-wonderful woman seeming beautiful because of love. And please note that this is horrific to Bink; he doesn't want to sympathize with Trent because he believes that would make him a moral monster. So for the analogy to really work, he must be horrified at having a boner for ugly-Fanchon. That's... that's... ideal husband material. Anyway, Bink works out that Fanchon is Dee is Wynne is Chameleon, and is confused why she would follow him into exile:
“But you said you followed me.”
“I did. You were kind to Wynne. My mind may change, but my memory doesn’t. You saved her from the Gap Dragon, and you didn’t take advantage of her when she—you know.” Bink remembered the beautiful girl’s willingness to undress. She had been too stupid to think through the results of her offer, but Dee and Fanchon, later, would understand.
LITERAL NICE GUY FANTASY. Bink is rewarded (and, in fact, is the ideal husband such that she would follow him into exile) because he didn't rape Wynne. Which would seem to indicate that Fanchon--who is the smartest woman in the world--believes that every other single man in Xanth would rape Wynne given the chance. Can we pause for a moment and consider why she would think that? (And why the narrative insists that she's probably right?) Because the only answer I can come up with is that she's experienced this to be true. And yet this story? Is a story about Bink's manpain, not Chameleon's pain at being raped all the damn time. *rage*
But! I hear you asking: Sure, we can all see why Chameleon loves Bink, what with him being all not-rapey and everything, but would Bink have loved Dee out in Mundania when clearly he could get better tail if he really wanted to, what with her being all average and shit?
It had been a good idea. Bink liked Dee. She was not so ugly as to turn him off and not so lovely as to make him distrust her after his experience with Sabrina and the Sorceress Iris. But she was also not so stupid as to make it pointless. Just an average girl he could have loved, especially in Mundania.
THIS MAN IS A FUCKING PRINCE. WHERE IS GODDAMN EDWARD CULLEN AND CHRISTIAN GREY BECAUSE THEY BETTER BE TAKING FUCKING NOTES FROM PRINCE BINK. (hahahahaha, of course I mean King Bink because of course he gets to be king later for five minutes.)
Anyway, Trent should probably notice that Fanchon is starting to look supremely fuckable, since men in the Xanth 'verse literally cannot look at women without assessing their current state of hotness. (I am not using "literally" figuratively there.)
“Why were we herded here?” Chameleon demanded.
Trent looked at her, his gaze lingering. “I believe this area is good to you, Fanchon.”
“Never mind that,” she said. “I’ll be a lot prettier before I’m through, more’s the pity.”
“She is Chameleon,” Bink said. “She changes from ugly to pretty and back again, and her intelligence changes in the opposite way. She left Xanth to escape that curse.”
“I would not see that as a curse,” the Magician said. “All things to all men in due course.”
“You’re not a woman,” she snapped.
I cannot emphasize enough that Trent is basically Jesus Christ in this novel, only if Jesus Christ were more badass and had an angsty backstory to prove how incredibly awesome he is. And he looks at a woman who any fool can guess has been raped in this crapsack world and thinks that the spell she calls a curse can't possibly be BECAUSE WHY? Because she exists to bring all varieties of women to "men"--plural, so we can't even pretend he's talking about her future husband which in itself would still be bad.
Anyway, the trio get trapped in a haunted castle and Bink and Fanchon want to leave but apparently this desire to escape doesn't carry over to Wynne because the first thing to go when you lose your smarts is all your non-sexy, breathy, doe-eyed goals and dreams and drives: Wynne just wants to moon at Bink and be all pretty at him.
It seemed she differed each time, never repeating herself. But she was also becoming less smart, and was no help with the problem of leaving the castle. She was much more interested now in getting friendly with Bink, and he could not afford that at the moment.
First, he had to get away from here; second, he was not sure he wanted to be connected with a person who changed so much. If only she were beautiful and bright. But that would not work either. He understood now why she had not been tempted by Trent’s offer to make her beautiful. That would only have changed her stage. If she were beautiful when she was smart, she would be stupid when she was ugly. She needed to be free of the curse. And even if she could be fixed with both beauty and brains, Bink would not trust her, for he had been hurt by that type, too. Sabrina— He choked off that memory. Yet even an ordinary girl would be dull if she had no more than normal intelligence or magic.
Can we all savor for a moment that Bink--KING OF MANPAIN--can never love a smart and beautiful woman because he's been ruined by that girl that he admitted he never loved and instead was only into her because she was hot? So I'm not sure how Bink could have been "hurt" by Sabrina not loving him enough to follow him into exile, when he didn't love her and probably wouldn't have followed her into exile, except haha I can because clearly she hurt him by not loving him. The fact that HE didn't love HER is immaterial; Bink deserves to be loved by all the women because he doesn't rape anyone. (Duh.)
Can we also savor that if Chameleon had said she could never love Bink because she'd been raped by too many guys that she thought she could trust, I'm pretty sure the narrative would have considered that the most uncharitable thing ever? NOT ALL MEN, CHAMELEON. GAWD. YOU MAN-HATING FEMINISTS, ETC. Anyway, we are here saved from further ranting by a literal huge explosion:
Bink heard the explosion and came running. Chameleon, quite pretty now, was huddling in a corner of the kitchen. “What happened?” Bink demanded, looking about.
“Oh, Bink!” she cried, running to him. Her homemade dress was in shreds, showing her finely formed breasts above and her firm round thighs below. What a difference a few days made! She was not at the height of her loveliness, but she was close enough for the need.
The need? Bink found her in his arms, aware that she was ready to do anything he might ask. It was hard to steel himself against it, for she also had much of Dee in her—the stage he had liked before. He could take her now, make love to her, and none of her stages would blame him.
But he was not a casual lover. He pushed her away gently, the action taking more effort than he cared to show. “What happened?” he asked again. “It—it banged,” she said. He had to remind himself that her dullness was the other side of her curse. Now it was easier to hold her off. A body without a mind did not attract him.
WHAT HAPPENED, HE DEMANDED. Not "are you okay" or silly womanly stuff and nonsense. Take notes, Edward Cullen! You still have a way to go to be as perfect as Bink! Why? Because as much as you already think about raping Bella (like Bink!), you don't also salve your conscience by reminding yourself that she wouldn't blame you (unlike Bink, boo!)! Shed that self-loathing, Edward, and instead control your lust for Bella by hating her for tempting you with her sluttish ways. (I believe in you!)
And again, I just... I need to reiterate that Bink sees a woman that he kinda-sorta-maybe loves. She's naked and frightened and just about nearly killed herself by accident. He doesn't know if she's still in danger or even if she's safe. He just knows that she's traumatized and running to him for comfort and help. And he's thinking about raping her. Because she's naked. My god, Fanchon was right to make tunics for them. I just... there are only tears in my head. I am so sorry, Chameleon.
Can you imagine this novel from Chameleon's point of view? All three of her personas love Bink. But Fanchon had to make a tunic for her body because she knew, she knew, that in a few days time Bink would think about raping her if he saw her naked. She had to take steps to ensure that the man she loved wouldn't rape her. And then she had to feel herself growing more and more stupid each day, had to surrender herself to time and a curse she can't fight, and just pray that when she comes out on the other end as Fanchon again, she won't have to deal with knowing that Bink raped her.
That would be an I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream horror story that I would read. But we don't have that here. I'm not sure we have that anywhere. Because classic fantasy is about the man who wants to be doing the raping and only stops himself because he is "not a casual lover". *keyboard smash*
Trent then world-builds by announcing that Xanth is running out of humans because all the inbreeding with animals (no, really) and cross-species (no, really) creates non-human babies. Bink is horrified at having sex with animals and cross-species, which is weird because it's like he hasn't been in this ENTIRE NOVEL up to this point:
“Have you ever been tempted by a pretty mermaid? Or a lady centaur?” Trent asked.
“No!” But a memory of the firm mermaid breasts came to him. And Cherie, the centaur who had given him a lift. When he touched her, had it really been accidental? She had threatened to drop him in a trench, but she hadn’t been serious. She was a very nice filly—oops, person. Honesty made him correct himself. “Well, maybe.”
“And surely there were others less honest than you,” Trent went on firmly. “They might do it, might they not? Just for variety? Don’t the boys of your village hang around the centaur grounds as they did in my day?”
Bink remembered boys like Zink and Jama and Potipher, bullies and troublemakers, who had caused anger in the centaur camp. Of course they had gone to see the bare-breasted fillies, and if they caught one alone—
Bink knew his face was red. “What are you getting at?” he demanded, trying to cover his embarrassment.
I didn't cut anything there. Bink literally went from the realization (realization? or existing, firmly-held knowledge? it's impossible to tell with this rape-world!) that boys in his village, boys he grew up with, either would or do rape centaur women to his embarrassment that, okay, yes, you got me there, sometimes he has a hard-on for mermaids and such. That's... that's how much rape doesn't ping on his radar: yes, he lives in a small village where everyone knows everyone else and the guys he grew up with probably rape women in the next settlement over. Heigh-ho.
Hey, it's been awhile since we talked about how worthless pretty-but-stupid women are, hasn't it?
She was growing lovelier by the hour. Her personality was not changing much except that she was less complicated. He liked that personality, and now he had to admit he liked her beauty, too. She was of Xanth, she was magic, she did not try to trick him, and she was his type of girl.
But he knew that her stupidity would turn him off, just as her ugliness had. He could not live with a lovely idiot or an ugly genius. She was attractive only right now, while her intelligence was fresh in his memory and her beauty was real to his sight and touch. To believe otherwise would be foolish.
And you know what's fascinating about all this? Bink knows that Wynne and Dee and Fanchon are the same person. They have differences in appearance and mental capabilities, but their dreams and goals and personalities and characters and loyalty and bravery and drive to be free of the curse are all essentially the same. But Bink--IDEAL HUSBAND--doesn't latch onto that commonality in this one woman he loves. Instead, he continues to treat her as literally three people, based entirely on the two things that change over time: her beauty and her brain.
That's horrifying to me. Bink literally treats Chameleon as three people rather than the one person she is because he can't look beyond her brains and beauty to see the person she actually is underneath. But he's perfect for her, because he's managed to not rape her yet, despite her being all naked and willing and stuff. And, I mean, he hasn't not-raped her because rape is wrong and he would never do that to the woman he loves; he's not-raped her because (a) he doesn't want to be a "casual lover" and (b) he finds her stupidity a turn-off. His non-rapeyness comes from his pride in himself and his loathing of women.
Anyway. They escape the castle and SIDE-QUEST there is a dangerous swarm of dangerous worms that they need to kill or Xanth will be destroyed. That seems important and all, but I know you're wondering if Chameleon is still boner-food? I mean, it's been awhile since we saw her and all, so I can see why we'd need to check.
He ran after her. “Chameleon! Turn back!” She paid no heed, faithful to her task. He caught up and spun her about. “The fire’s getting the wiggles. We have to get out of here.”
“Oh,” she said faintly. Her once-fancy dress was ragged, and dirt smeared her face, but she was still lovely.
I... think the author meant to say she was "still safe" or "still in one piece", because the wiggles literally bore holes into people, and so it would be natural to worry if Chameleon had been wounded in action (as many nameless others were), but it's strange to condense her safety into "lovely", but maybe I can be charitable here...
Bink wrapped his arms about Chameleon and lifted her onto the hermit’s back. She was very flexible, slender of waist and round of thighs. Not that he had any business noticing such things at the moment. But his place behind her as her belly slid onto the centaur made the thoughts come anyway. He gave her graceful bottom one last shove and then scrambled up himself.
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA NEVER MIND. This book can be tossed into salamander fire now.
We need a big climatic battle between Trent and Bink, though, so here comes Iris to fix that for us.
Trent thought about that. “Yes, it would be very hard for me to win [against Iris' threats]. I believe I should accept your [marriage] offer, Sorceress. There are some details to work out, of course—”
“You can’t!” Bink cried, shocked.
Trent gazed at him with mild puzzlement. “It seems reasonable to me, Bink. I want to be King; Iris wants to be Queen. There is power enough to share that way. It would be a marriage of convenience, but I have no present interest in any other kind.”
“Well, now,” Iris said, smiling.
Just to be totally clear: the existing king is about to die. According to the rules of succession, only Trent (who is evil and was banished after he tried to depose the king once before) or Humphrey can be king. Humphrey doesn't want to be king and might refuse the crown. If Trent isn't acceptable to the Elders who do the ostensible picking of the king, and that's entirely possible what with the whole civil war thing, then they will be fresh out of king-options unless they decide to bend that "no girls allowed" rule.
So of course Iris agrees to help Trent get the crown in return for a loveless marriage in which he keeps her effectively under his iron thumb and gives her zero political power whatsoever. And where it will be impossible to topple him and take the throne once he's on there and has the trains running and everyone has decided that he's not as bad as they remembered.
I will here remind you that Iris is both (a) supposed to be smart and (b) one of the reasons why Bink doesn't trust smart women. Because if you're not careful, smart women will agree to give you everything you've ever wanted in return for subjugating their dreams and their happiness entirely unto you and being miserable for the rest of her life in order that you might be happy and fulfilled. ...There's a downside in there somewhere, I just don't know what it is.
The throne must go to a Magician.”
“To a good Magician!” Bink said, “not to an evil transformer or a power-hungry sluttish mistress …” He paused, tempted to end it there, but he knew that wouldn’t be honest. “Of illusion.”
“You dare speak of me like that?” Iris screamed, sounding much like a harpy. She was so angry that her image wavered into smoke. “Trent, change him into a stinkbug and step on him!”
Trent shook his head, hiding a smile. He clearly had no strong feelings for the Sorceress, and he shared a male enjoyment of the insult Bink had made. Iris had shown them all how ready she was to sell her body for power.
...I have no words that aren't incoherent swears.
I mean, I'm pretty sure that Trent just sold his body for power, since he was the one who agreed to marry Iris in order that she not defeat him with her schemes and elevate him to power, but I guess the "oooh, whore!!" burn wouldn't work as well against Virile Naked Badass Jesus Christ.
But, hey, you know what would be awesome? Bink having sex with Chameleon at this exact moment because she just peaked at the height of her beauty and the lowest trough of her mental capabilities.
He turned to Chameleon to beg her pardon—and saw again that she was very beautiful. She had seemed lovely before, but now she was as he had first met her, as Wynne. Had it really been only a month ago? Now she was no stranger, though. “You’re great just the way you are, Chameleon.”
“But I can’t help you plan. I can’t do anything. You don’t like stupid people.”
“I like beautiful girls,” he said. “And I like smart girls. But I don’t trust brains and beauty together. I’d settle for an ordinary girl, but she’d get dull after a while. Sometimes I want to talk with someone, and sometimes I want to—” He broke off. Her mind was like that of a child; it really wasn’t right to talk about such ideas with her.
“What?” she asked, turning her eyes upon him. They had been black in her last beauty stage; now they were dark green. They could be any color and still be lovely.
Bink knew his chances of surviving the day were less than even, and his chances of saving Xanth worse than that. He was afraid, but he also had a deep awareness of life right now. And of loyalty. And of beauty. Why hide what was in his mind? “Sometimes I want to make love,” he finished.
“That I can do,” she said, her eyes brightening with understanding. How well she understood what he said, Bink wasn’t sure.
Then he was kissing her. It was wonderful.
“But Bink,” she said when she had a chance. “I won’t stay beautiful.”
“That’s the point,” he said. “I like variety. I would have trouble living with a stupid girl all the time, but you aren’t stupid all the time. Ugliness is no good for all the time, but you aren’t ugly all the time either. You are variety. And that is what I want, and what no other girl can give me.”
“I need a spell,” she said.
“No! You don’t need any spell, Chameleon. You’re fine just the way you are. I love you.”
“Oh, Bink!” she said.
After that they forgot about the duel.
...and of course she doesn't need a spell because, like Iris, she just needed a man. Literally. That is literal canon in this book. Whereas, you know, I might want a spell because I might not like having my mind and body constantly shifting without any control over it. Is just a thing I think I might like to have. But clearly I just underestimate the power of the love of a man like Bink.
If we don’t stop him, he’s very likely to take over Xanth.”
“Would that be bad?” It was just one of her stupid questions.
But it bothered him. Would the Evil Magician really be worse than the present King?
I just have to point out that, for one thing, this is right after Bink and Chameleon have slept together and he's said he loves her. He's still thinking of her questions as "stupid". Which is obviously so kind and loving. (NO! It is manly and telling-it-straight! Take notes, Edward!)
Second, this question is "stupid" when Chameleon asks it, despite Bink grappling with the same question internally for days now. Hell, Fanchon raised this philosophical question back before Bink even knew she was Chameleon. So it's stellar to have Bink and the narrative assure us that this can't be either Wynne being smart within her limitations or Chameleon demonstrating internal consistency, NOPE! This is just Chameleon being all stupid-head. Hush, honey, the men are thinking.
Trent turns Chameleon into a winged deer during the "duel" between him and Bink, but then has trouble transforming Bink because of Bink's mysterious talent:
But the winged deer charged from the side, threatening to push over the Magician. Trent heard her coming and spun to focus on her. As she reached him, she became a lovely butterfly, then a very pretty wyvern. “No problem there,” Trent remarked. “She’s good-looking in whatever form I put her, but at least my spells are working.”
The small winged dragon turned on him, hissing, and suddenly it was the winged deer again. “Scat!” Trent told her, clapping his hands. Startled, the deer bounded away. She was not overly bright.
I just... have to highlight that. Bink insisted that the duel be to the death. Trent then transformed Chameleon, the woman Bink loves, into the most helpless of prey animals: a little doe with pretty little wings. If Bink wins and Trent dies, then Chameleon will probably never return to normal. (They never returned Justin The Tree to normal.) And, indeed, it's a big plot point at the last minute that if the Elders execute Trent before he can (or will) turn Bink back into a human (later), then Bink could be trapped as a bird forever.
So. Again. If Bink wins and Trent dies, the woman Bink loves will never be a woman again. If Trent wins, he probably won't return Chameleon to her true form since she's a witness to this duel. So there is literally not an option here where Chameleon will ever be human again; as far as Bink can see into the future, she will be eaten by a predator and will die in her doe form. And the only thought he and the narrative can spare for her is how pretty and stupid she is.
This is Xanth. This isn't what Xanth "became", some thirty-five novels later. It's what it is and was and always was from the beginning. And I loved these novels growing up, and I can still find bits and pieces of decent writing in them, but I really do need to stress that this series is incredibly fucked-up towards women and always was from the start.
We still need to wrap up that business with the Evil Ex-Girlfriend:
Now Sabrina came up to him. She was as lovely as he had ever seen her. “Bink, I’m sorry about what happened before,” she said. “But now that everything is cleared up …”
She was like Chameleon in her beauty state, and she was intelligent, too. A fit bride for almost any man. But Bink knew her too well now. His talent had stopped him from marrying her by keeping itself secret. Smart talent.
And we need to make it clear that Iris is still awful and Bink shouldn't feel bad that he doesn't get all the variety she promised because Chameleon is loads better:
The Sorceress was in her natural form, but she was so neatly dressed and groomed that she looked lovely, and Chameleon was almost back to her “center” stage.
The Queen did not pretend to have affection for Trent. But her pleasure with the position and her excitement about the castle were real.
“This place is wonderful!” she cried. “Chameleon has been showing me around. All the room and splendor I ever wanted—and it’s all real. And it wants so much to please. I know I’m going to love it here.”
“That’s good,” Trent said. “Now put on your pretty face; we have company.”
The middle-aged woman was replaced by a stunning young lady in a low-cut dress. “I just didn’t want to embarrass Chameleon—you know, her normal stage,” Iris said.
“You cannot embarrass her in any stage,” said Trent. “Now apologize to Bink.”
Iris made a curtsy to Bink. She was ready to do anything to stay Queen—and to stay human. Trent could make her into a warty toad, or he could make her into the way she now looked. He could probably make her young enough to bear a child. Trent was the master, and Iris seemed to lack even the desire to question this.
The dripping hatred here is just so visceral. Iris in her natural, 40-year-old form, no matter how neat and groomed and lovely she is, is still unacceptable to be seen in public. Instead she has to be YOUNGER and show CLEAVAGE because obviously that is what we want in women and queens. And I remind you that this is the powerful position she was jockeying for all this time: the right to be the Queen of Xanth which means whipping your hot tits out any time the King says so.
Iris, Chameleon, Sabrina, Wynne, Dee, Fanchon, Cherie, and all the other women in the book: I am so goddamn sorry that the narrative treated you this way. You deserved a better novel, one that treated you with respect and empathy and basic decency. Or at least, if you were going to be treated like crap, let you Win At Patriarchy at the end instead of making you into a decoration desperate not to be transformed at any moment into a toad.