Castle Roogna, Part 4
Chapter 5 (Castle) lands us at the construction site of Castle Roogna, which is where Trent and Iris hang out in the main timeline and where Dor will live when he is king, so he's understandably curious about its construction. In this chapter we will also get to meet our protagonist and antagonist in the backdrop of war that occurs throughout this book.
Our protagonist is Roogna, whose Magician talent is that he can "adapt" magic into other forms of magic. So, for example, he can turn magic fruit trees into other magic fruit trees. Not a bad talent all things considered, but criminally underused in this book, in my opinion, presumably so that Dor can shine with his talent of talking to walls in the middle of a live war. (Uh-oh, I'm being uncharitable already. MOAR SPYMASTER FIXFIC, STAT.) Roogna is described as old and grandfatherly-looking and much like a working-class gardener. You are supposed to like him.
Our antagonist is Murphy, whose Magician talent is basically Murphy's Law, i.e., anything that can go wrong, will. His talent is entirely contrived for the plot of this book and I'm tempted to use it as a thwacking stick from here on out for every time a woman's talent is deemed non-Magician, because it is the most useless talent ever. Murphy can't control the outcome of what will go wrong or how it will go wrong, and the curse can be easily thwarted by non-Magicians like Jumper as long as they plan meticulously for failure. Murphy is more urbane and attractive than Roogna, and you can basically apply the Trent Template to him: he's "evil" but noble and attractive and good and possessed of understandable motives that he follows nobly, etc. You are supposed to like him.
Here's the catch: Roogna and Murphy are fighting over whether humans in Xanth will be allowed to have a meaningful system of government. This fight is taking place against the backdrop of "will Roogna be able to finish building the castle before Murphy's magic demolishes it". The castle is a proposed seat of rulership, yes, but is also a valuable fallback position of defense for the human population when/if goblins go to war against them, Mundanes invade, etc. Murphy openly admits that a win for him in the Chaotic Anarchy column (which is what he's trying to accomplish) will plunge human Xanthians into a technological Dark Ages where everyone is raped and murdered by all the other races. He's in favor of this outcome because he's a one of those internet trolls who call themselves Social Darwinists (without even remotely understanding social evolution) and he thinks only the strong deserve to live and not be raped.
And this is why we can't like Murphy: he is pro-rape because he thinks rampant rape improves society. And this is why we can't like Roogna: he doesn't just shiv Murphy, instead agreeing to this Gentlemen's Game of other peoples' lives. Because I'm pretty sure if Roogna loses, he's not gonna be the first person in line to be raped, so yeahno, his stakes are not the same as the stakes for someone like Millie. Fuck you, Roogna, and your little privileged circle of white male magicians. To which we will soon add Dor!
Incidentally, Roogna--who I remind you we are supposed to like--immediately dehumanizes Millie into fruit. Because she's sexy. What a great guy.
“And the young lady has the aspect of the West Stockade. They do raise some pretty fruits there.”
Then we get to hear everyone's talent, and I have mixed feels. On the one hand, I want to warm to meta-Millie for not trying to hide her talent, because fuck your slut-shaming in Xanth. On the other hand, of course she has to emphasize that she's innocent and doesn't enjoy her talent to its fullest despite the fact that in the hands of someone sex-positive like, say, Jim Hines, Millie would be cheerily fucking her way across Xanth, enjoying the best possible lovers along the way.
“I am Millie the maid, an innocent girl of the West Stockade village,” she said. “My talent is—” She blushed delicately, and her talent manifested strongly. “Sex appeal.”
Since we have our Trent expy (Murphy) and our Humfrey expy (Roogna), we now need an Iris expy for scheming bitter sorceress who wants power but has been denied it her entire life, so enter Vadne (and try not to weep that we're reading the most derivative plot ever sobsobsob):
There is of course neo-Sorceress Vadne, who would have assisted me had I agreed to marry her, but I declined and so she joined the King. But she is not a dominant figure.
Incidentally, the "neo-" on there means that she's not quite good enough to be called a Sorceress, as determined by a council of shadowy male assholes. This definitely makes sense in the context of a population of 2,000 (more or less, this being the not-so-different past), no other viable Sorceresses of her generation, and marriage lines that you'd think are going to be less about trying to breed the next king and more about "not marrying my cousin".
Dor has ambivalent feels about lying to Roogna and Murphy and/or not changing the past, which will make it all the more ironicterrible when he refuses to tell Millie and Irene the truth because women amiright, and spills everything to Evil Magician Murphy because why wouldn't you really. Murphy then decides that Dor's story of being a 12-year-old boy in a 30-year-old man's body passes the sniff test because he is violent.
One is that what you say may not be true.”
Dor was stung. His body’s hand, responsive in its fashion to his mood, reached over his shoulder for the sword.
Murphy held up a hand, unalarmed. “You sound so uncertain, yet your body reacts so aggressively! This corroborates your story, of course.
I just need to point out again that this sort of thing? Is the thing that feminists supposedly think about men. I've never seen or heard a feminist say stuff like this about men. I've seen lots of anti-feminist men say this sort of thing about men. Just saying.
Millie pops back in for more hair-swinging:
“The King has given me a job!” Millie exclaimed immediately, bouncing and clapping her hands and swinging her hair in such a full circle that it lapped around her face, momentarily concealing it.
That's pretty much all we will ever hear about her job, so I'm disappointed that we missed that conversation. Was Millie allowed to make it very clear if she doesn't want her chambermaid duties to include servicing Roogna on her back? I suspect that kind of negotiation would appall the narrative since (a) it would include a woman being aware of sex and negotiating its boundaries and (b) it would imply that a male authority figure isn't capable of iron self-control around sexy women and (c) it would imply that Millie is allowed to not take Roogna's iron self-control as read simply because he's a male authority figure.
So now that we've solved Sexism (YES WE HAVE SHUT UP), we need to solve Racism. Jumper offers to help the construction centaurs (who are explicitly described as brutish and rough around the edges and less pretty than the more evolved centaurs in Dor's time) and the centaurs call him nasty names and tell him to shove off. Roogna is Outraged and planning to enact Cartoonishly Evil Revenge on the racists (literally, he threatens to turn the centaur tails into lizard tails), and Jumper steps in as the Voice of Reason that sounds just like your "[Insert Race] Best Friend", arguing that, you know, we're all racist, dude, so it's all cool.
“No, Your Majesty!” the web translated, almost shredding itself in its effort to transmit the force of the spider’s conviction. “Do not chastise your workers. They are no more ignorant than my own kind, and they are doing necessary work. I regret I caused disruption.”
Zipping past that, we get to Chapter 6 (Zombie Master) which is just the BEST CHAPTER omg. First the dream team has to visit the Zombie Master to be told off. Millie comes with for literally no reason except that until the castle is finished there's nothing for a maid to do because construction sites are notoriously tidy places, I guess. But that's good news for us because we get to see the trope about distressed women being not only helpless but actively harmful to themselves:
A zombie ogre appeared. Millie screamed and did a little skip back, her hair swinging almost straight up; she must have kicked her feet, forgetting that she was standing on them. Jumper braced her with one leg to prevent her falling backward into the moat, where the moat-monster was trying vainly to slaver.
Haha! Remind me sometime to tell you about the book I read once where the protagonist was so appalled by the smell of a homeless person that she held her breath until she literally passed out. You are wondering why she didn't move away from the smell that so offended her, but you will understand perfectly when I explain that she was trying to but got stuck in the door to Starbucks and had no choice but to pass out right then and there, stuck and breathless.
“We must see the Zombie Master,” Millie said, though pale with fear. In her cute way, she too, had courage.
Anyway, the Zombie Ogre tells them to shove off and so they do, and this gives Dor a chance to slag Millie off again because that never, ever, ever, ever, ever will get old in these books: "likeable" protagonists insulting the women they love in the privacy of their passive-aggressive heads.
A hero would have found some way. But Dor was just a lad of twelve, accompanied by a giant spider and a girl who screamed constantly and who would become a ghost at an early age. No heroes here! [...]
Dor half-expected one of the others to protest, as Grundy the golem always did. But Millie was only a helpless maid, possessing little initiative,
DUDE. She left her hometown on her own and traveled across massively dangerous terrain on her own in order to get to a castle that wasn't even finished yet in the hopes of landing a decent marriage for herself. She has more initiative in her left pinky finger than most of us have in our entire lives, because I don't know about you, but I've yet to bravely face several miles of terrain filled with maiden-eating dragons and goblins and harpies without so much as a butter knife on my person because goddamnitalltohell my DREAMS are over THERE.
More hair-flinging to satisfy the hair-flinging quotient (you thought I was kidding when I said this book reads like a hair-kink, didn't you?):
They marched. Millie made a very pretty marcher, when she wasn’t screaming or kicking her feet; her hair still flung about naturally. He was getting used to her as she was now, and found her rather intriguing. In fact, he wouldn’t mind—but that wouldn’t be right. He had to guard against the thoughts his Mundane body put into his head; Mundanes weren’t very subtle.
Mundanes weren't subtle.
I don't think this is an intentional bit of hilarity after our time with Dor and Bink; I seriously do think we're seeing more of the Nice Guy doctrine. So much of these books is about how the protagonist isn't raping Wynne / Jewel / Millie even when he rilly-rilly wants to rape them, and how practically any other guy would do so given the chance, so please shower the protagonist (and the men who identify with him) with gold stars and praise and, yes, sex, for not being a rapist. "You owe me sex because I didn't rape you like the other guys would" is pretty much the Nice Guy creed on display here.
Speaking of which, it's time for our group to be captured by Mundanes. It's exactly as AWESOME as it sounds:
The man considered. “Yeah, in a moment. But no tricks.” He turned his head and yelled. “Hey, Joe! Come and set guard on a pair here!”
Joe arrived. He was another brutish man, unclean and malodorous. “What’s all this noise about—”
He broke off. His lips pursed in a crude whistle, “Get a load of that babe!”
Oops, Dor thought. Millie’s talent was operating.
Millie made a token scream and stepped back. Joe stepped forward aggressively. “Boy, I could really use a number like this!” His hand shot out, catching her slender arm. This time Millie’s scream was in earnest.
Dor’s body took over. His left hand grabbed at the first Mundane’s bow while his right snapped over his shoulder to whip out the sword. Suddenly the two Mundanes were standing at bay. “Leave her be!” Dor cried.
Millie turned on him, surprised and gratified. “Why Dor— I didn’t know you cared!”
“I didn’t know either,” he muttered. And knew it was a lie. He had resolved to stop lying, but it seemed to come naturally at times like these. Was that part of growing up too: learning to lie socially? He had always cared for Millie, but had never known how to express it. Only the immediate threat to her had prompted his action.
Okay, but no, for reals, the only reason to save a woman from being brutally raped is because you care about her. Otherwise she's fair game and it's probably cockblocking if you step in. Bros before--
I can't finish that sentence, even in bitter jest.
Like, I'm not kidding, this is the second time that Millie has been placed in danger from others specifically so that Dor can react thereby proving that he cares about her, and each time the narrative has made it very clear that he wouldn't react to save her if he didn't care about her emotionally. And this is set against the backdrop of people who aren't reacting to save a lot of implied Millies because doing something actually good like "shiv Magician Murphy" (or banish him to Mundania where his talent won't work or put him in a prison made of null-wood or whatever) would break up the cute little privilege game they're playing. Who cares if people like Millie get raped in the process of this game? It's not like you emotionally cared about them!
*sigh* Dor and Millie get away because Jumper makes a heroic sacrifice, and they run back to the Zombie Master for help before the Mundanes can torture Jumper to death. Millie bribes the Zombie Master with an offer of sex, because that was such a great piece in Source of Magic, that time when Jewel offered sex in exchange for the protection of all Xanthians, so that Bink could call her a whore, and it would be a shame to not reuse that here.
Now the Zombie Master showed some spirit. “So you, a mortal, dare to threaten a Magician?”
“I am a Magician too!” Dor cried. “But even if I weren’t, I would do anything to save my friend, who sacrificed himself for me and Millie!”
Millie put a restraining hand on Dor’s arm. “Please,” she said. “You can not threaten a Magician. Let me handle it, Dor. I am not a Magician like you, but I do have my talent.”
Dor paused, and Millie stepped close to the Zombie Master, smiling with difficulty. “Sir, I am not a forward maid, and no Sorceress, but I too would do anything to help the bold friend who preserved us. If you but knew Jumper the spider—please, now, if you have any compassion at all—”
The Magician looked at her closely for the first time. Dor remembered what her talent was, and knew how it softened men. He was just beginning to appreciate its impact on himself. The Zombie Master was after all a man, and he too had to feel the impact.
“You … will tarry with me?” he asked incredulously.
Dor did not like the sound of that word, tarry.
Millie spread her arms toward the Zombie Master. “Save my friend. What becomes of me is not important.”
A kind of shudder ran through the Magician. “This becomes you not, maid,” he said. “Yet—” He turned to his ogre. “Gather my forces, Egor, go with this man and do as he desires. Save the spider.”
The worst part about this is probably that the Zombie Master--I'm just gonna SPOIL THE SURPRISE by the way, it's Jonathan, aka The Guy That Dor Went Back In Time To Get A De-Zombifying Potion For So That Millie Can Have Her Boyfriend Back--is the least offensive character in these books, by virtue of being blessedly under-characterized. He's quiet and shy and isolated because people think his talent is icky (why, in the context of Zanth, I can't even imagine), and he has nasty notions of propriety to the point where he demands on a chaperone with Millie once they are engaged (but not before their engagement, I can only presume because only wives and future-wives need unassailable virtue whereas sluts are for swiving or something OH MY GOD THESE BOOKS), but he's generally polite and keeps himself off-page and isn't at Roogna long enough to be overly complicit in the not-shiving of Murphy so he gets the closest thing I can give to a pass.
Which means that my favorite Human Man in this series so far is a Nice Guy going SHUDDER RAWRR WANT TO POSSESS YOU BUT NO BY THE POWER OF NICE GUY I WILL RESIST because all the other options are all that, but worse.
His concern for his friend lent him swiftness, and somehow the zombies kept up. Yet even as he ran, Dor wondered whether he had not left Millie to as bad a fate as the one he strove to rescue Jumper from. The spider had sacrificed himself to save the two of them; Millie had sacrificed herself to save the spider. The full nature of Millie’s talent had never been apparent to him, though it was coming clearer; it included holding; and kissing and—
His mind balked. Kissing the Zombie Master? He ran faster yet.
It's so wonderfully, awesomely, amazingly terrific that Dor only cares about Millie when he thinks someone else's cock might be rubbing against her. At all other times, he's insulting her endlessly with thoughts on how stupid she is, how little initiative she has, how mediocre and girly her courage is, how useless she is, etc. True love and true friendship look astonishingly like hatred tempered with jealous possessive lust.
Millie met them at the entrance. She looked all right. Her clothes were still on, and her hair was unmussed. Dor had trouble phrasing his question. “He—did he—?”
“The Zombie Master was a perfect gentleman,” she said brightly. “We just talked. He’s an educated man. I think he’s lonely; no one ever visited with him before.”
I'm sad that the narrative didn't just call him a Nice Guy. I feel like that would cut to the heart of the matter faster and more economically. Then there's this:
“The brutes [who tortured Jumper]!” she exclaimed with feeling. She had seemed a rather innocent, helpless maid before, but now she was reacting to stress and horror with increasing personality. “How can we help him?”
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahahahahasobsobsob. It's like the book is trolling me now, because the author just realized that he wrote Millie as a terribly characterized paper-cutout of a Real Doll and is now trying to excuse that as her having some kind of character growth arc and obviously this is hilarious and wonderful when it comes on the tail of Millie literally offering to let Jonathan rape her if he wants in order to save her friend, which isn't any kind of PERSONALITY or COURAGE or BRAVERY because we all know that personality and courage and bravery only come from wanting to chop people's heads off when they imply you might be a liar. MANPAIN RAWR.
Dor pops off for healing elixir for Jumper and, hey, remember that dryad that Bink threatened to torture for literally no reason? Apparently they're friends now, haha.
Dor had only been to the Healing Spring once with his father Bink, who had needed elixir for some obscure adult purpose. On that trip Bink had reminisced about his adventures there: how he had met Dor’s mother Chameleon, she being then in the guise of Dee, her normal phase, at such and such a spot, and how he had found the soldier Crombie at this other spot, wounded, and used the elixir to restore him to health. Dor and Bink had visited briefly with a dryad, a wood nymph associated with a particular tree, resembling a pretty girl of about Millie’s present age. She had tousled Dor’s hair and wished him well. Ah, yes, it had been a fine trip!
I don't know why this enrages me so much, but it does. Maybe because it just asserts that Bink was totally right to threaten this helpless woman who wasn't causing any harm to anyone and here's PROOF because she didn't MIND and now they're FRIENDS, see? No, narrative, I do not see. I don't believe this in the slightest, and I am calling lying shenanigans on you.
Oh, and Dor asks Jonathan for a healing elixir for his zombie friend in the future and the Zombie Master declines so that we can get more kink about how sexy women manipulate us with our penises, amiright gentle reader?
“Uh, Magician—will you reconsider the matter of the zombie restorative elixir? This is not a political matter, and—”
The Zombie Master glanced at him coldly. Before the Magician could speak, Millie put her sweet little hand on his lean arm. “Please,” she breathed. She was excruciatingly attractive when she breathed that way. Yet she could not know that it was as a favor to herself, of eight hundred years later, that Dor was obtaining this precious substance.
The Zombie Master’s coldness faded. “Since she asks, and you are a good and loyal man, I do reconsider. I will develop the agent you require.” But it was evident that most of the responsibility for his change of heart was Millie’s. And her breathing.
In Chapter 7, which we will save until next time, a literal army of Mundanes will lay siege to a castle full of zombies simply because there's a Hot Girl in that castle who needs raping. This book, ya'll. Best book. Ever.