Xanth: The Lot of Women

[Xanth Content Note: Rape, Misogyny]

Castle Roogna, Part 2

Chapter 2 (Tapestry) continues to hammer home how very awful Dor's life is, what with being the heir to the throne and expected to marry the princess (though only if he wants to, which is a level of choice which isn't really being extended to Irene in any real practical sense) and having the bestest talent for miles, etc. IT IS HARD BEING SPECIAL, YA'LL. And while I would normally be on board with that, I'm kinda being unforgiving here because this is all being used as a vehicle to dehumanize Millie and Irene into objects that Dor does and doesn't have access to, what a shame.

It was his general isolation from others that weighed on him, and his new awareness of Millie the ghost. What a difference there was between a brat like Irene and a woman like Millie! Yet Irene was the one Dor was expected to get along with. It wasn’t fair.

Please note that there is never any suggestion that Millie might not want to become romantically involved with the 12-year-old boy that she has raised since he was born--the book continues to insist that the only real obstacle in the way of Dor having Millie is his rival Jonathan plus some lip-service given to all those pesky adults who want him to hook up with Irene instead because of their political conveniences. The final chapter in this novel will be Dor convincing Millie that she's in love with him before backing away at the last second and throwing Jonathan at her as a distraction and it comes off as just being really really clear that he could have her if he wanted.

Let me reiterate: The narrative does not, for a moment, consider that Millie might have feelings about NOT sexing up her surrogate son that is less than half her age.

I'm just going to leave this dig at Chameleon here without further discussion:

He needed to talk with someone. His parents were approachable, but Chameleon varied so much in appearance and intellect that he never could be certain how to approach her, and Bink might not be sympathetic to this particular problem.

So Dor decides to go talk to Trent and we will establish something that will be repeatedly established in this and the next book: Trent openly and regularly neglects his non-Magician, non-male daughter. Just to be clear, because this is spread out over several passages, Trent goes for days at a time without talking to Irene and she is sad about this.

King Trent always made time for Dor. Perhaps that was one root of Irene’s hostility, which had spread to the Queen and the palace personnel in insidious channels. Irene talked to her father less than Dor did.

Can we all please spare another moment to feel sorry for Irene? The end of this book will establish that (a) almost everyone on earth hates her for being a useless waste of resources and (b) she is aware of this and (c) NO REALLY THIS IS AN OBJECTIVE FACT, not her just "feeling" this way. This is even worse than the sexist reality that the author claims to be kinda parodying/parroting, because in the real world, "useless" princesses are still considered valuable for purposes of marriage alliances because theoretically a king likes his daughter enough to not invade the country that holds her in polite marital captivity.

Also, it was established in Book 1 that people from Magician bloodlines are desirable marriage partners in the sense that their children might be magicians and you might luck out and bear the next king. So even if Irene isn't a magician (VERY DEBATABLE), she should still be the most desirable young woman in Xanth, hands-down, because (a) she's the child of strong magicians, (b) both of whom could make your life very easy and luxurious, (c) and she might bear the next King of Xanth. But, nope, everyone hates her guts and only Dor has the kindness in his heart to look past her uselessness and love her. Him and Jesus Christ Superstar King Trent, no really, the father who neglects her is noted--by her, the narrative, and Dor--as the ONE OTHER PERSON who doesn't hate and despise her. But now I'm jumping ahead.

Crombie was asleep on his feet. Grundy took advantage of this to generate some humor at the soldier’s expense. “Hey, there, birdbeak; how’s the stinking broad?”

One eye cracked open. Immediately Grundy rephrased his greeting. “Hello, handsome soldier; how’s the sweet wife?”

Both eyes came open, rolling expressively. “Jewel is well and cute and smelling like a rose and too worn out to go to work today, I daresay. I had a weekend pass.”

So that was why the soldier was so sleepy! Crombie’s wife lived in underground caverns south of the Magic Dust village; it was a long way to travel on short notice. But that was not exactly what Crombie meant. He had the royal travel-conjurer zap him to the caverns, and back again when his pass expired. Crombie’s fatigue was not from traveling.

“A soldier really knows how to make a pass,” Grundy observed, with a smirk he thought Dor wouldn’t understand. Dor understood, more or less; he just didn’t see the humor in it.

“That’s for sure!” Crombie agreed heartily. “Women—I can take ’em or leave ’em, but my wife’s a Jewel of a nymph.”

That had special meaning too. Nymphs were ideally shaped female creatures of little intellect, useful primarily for man’s passing entertainment. It was strange that Crombie had married one. But he had been under an omen of marriage, and Jewel was said to be a very special nymph, with unusual wit for the breed, who had an important job.

Just a reminder that Jewel loves Crombie because of a magical mind-rape potion. I just. I don't. I can't even. And Grundy knows this, and yet his only interest in all this is to call Jewel names in an attempt to needle Crombie--though why Crombie the Woman-Hater would mind someone calling his wife names is lost on me, I guess once he "owns" one it becomes a point of personal pride?--and to later speculate that he's like to use a magic mirror to spy on Crombie fucking Jewel.

By the way, Iris is really quite ugly, just in case you were wondering. I mean, I really don't know why Dor would have ever seen what she actually looks like, so maybe Bink informed his son from the getgo that Queen Iris isn't a looker. That sounds like something Bink would do.

It was replaced by an image of the Queen herself, regal in robe and crown. She always enhanced her appearance for company; she was sort of dumpy in real flesh.

We're introduced to a magic tapestry that hangs in one of the guest bedrooms (now repurposed as a drawing room) and this will be the vehicle through which Dor travels to the past: the tapestry plays out the stories of the past "in real time" but somehow loops and no, it's never made clear when or how or why that would work so don't ask me. But for right now we get FORESHADOWING about all the things Dor is going to see and witness: 

Why did this swordsman battle this dragon, yet leave that other dragon alone? Why did the chambermaid kiss this courtier, and not that one, though that one was handsomer? Who was responsible for this particular enchantment? And why was that centaur so angry after a liaison with his filly?

That would be the rapist centaur on the front cover, I do believe. Really, I just can't wait for us to get to that lovely little side-plot. Anyway, Dor ends up in a conference with Trent and they talk about Irene and Millie and women-amiright?

Dor found himself at a loss for a polite compliment. Irene was a pretty girl; her father surely knew that already. She made plants grow—but she should have been more powerfully talented. “She—”

“She is young, yet. However, even mature women are not always explicable. They seem to change overnight into completely different creatures.”

Grundy laughed. “That’s for sure! Dor’s sweet on Millie the ghost!”

“Shut up!” Dor cried in a fury of embarrassment.

“An exceptional woman,” King Trent observed as if he had not heard Dor’s outcry. “A ghost for eight centuries, abruptly restored to life in the present. Her talent makes her unsuitable for normal positions around the palace, so she has served admirably as a governess at your cottage. Now you are growing up, and must begin to train for adult responsibilities.”

“Adult?” Dor asked, still bemused by his shame. It was not the Queen-frog who had the big mouth; it was Grundy!

“You are the heir apparent to the throne of Xanth. Do not be concerned about my daughter; she is not Magician level and cannot assume the office unless there is no Magician available, and then only on an interim basis until a Magician appears, preserving continuity of government. Should I be removed from the picture in the next decade, you will have to take over. It is better that you be prepared.”

Yes, King Trent literally just said that Dor doesn't need to be concerned about Irene not liking him explicitly because Irene is not a political threat to Dor. This is how Jesus Trenting Christ is teaching his successor to interact with people: to only care about their feelings if they consist of a political threat or not. And I really cannot stress enough that Trent is supposed to be the moral compass for this series, no I am not joking.

Anyway, Trent solemnly informs Dor that Millie "has one great unmet need", i.e., Jonathan and that "the nicest thing anyone could do for her would be to discover a way to restore Jonathan to full life" so he assigns Dor to do this as a surprise for Millie. No, we don't ask her consent for this or make sure it's something she wants. I mean, maybe Jonathan was her abusive husband in life and she loved him but this is the one form where he can't hurt her anymore or something. But no, we're just going to radically alter their relationship by bringing him back to life without consent from either of them I'm sure that will work out fine.

Now we need to tongue Trent's moral balls a bit more, so ENJOY THIS PASSAGE HERE:

“Ordinary citizens have only themselves to be concerned about,” Trent said. “A ruler must be concerned for the welfare of others as much as for himself. He must be prepared to make sacrifices— sometimes very personal ones. He may even have to lose the woman he loves, and marry the one he doesn’t love— for the good of the realm.”

Give up Millie, marry Irene? Dor rebelled— then realized that the King had not been talking about Dor, but about himself. Trent had lost his wife and child in Mundania, and then married the Sorceress Iris, whom he never professed to love, and had a child by her— for the good of the realm. Trent asked nothing of any citizen he would not ask of himself.

“I will never be the man you are,” Dor said humbly.

The King rose, clapping him on the back so that Grundy almost fell off his shoulder. Trent might be old, but he was still strong. “I was never the man I am,” he said. “A man is only the man he seems to be. Inside, where no one sees, he may be a mass of gnawing worms of doubt and ire and grief .” He paused reflectively as he showed Dor firmly to the doorway. “No challenge is easy. The measure of the challenge a man rises to at need is the measure of the man. I proffer you a challenge for a Magician and a King.”

At time of writing, 11 people have highlighted those bolded passages in the Kindle edition. That makes me sad. I hope we're all highlighting that bit in order to point and laugh at it and not to, like, needlepoint it onto pillows. Because, like, from any other character this is a sentiment that I could maybe get on board with, but just to be clear, the context here is that Trent and Dor will have to make the horrible sacrifice of marrying the prettiest, most magically-talented, most politically desirable women of their generation. And these women will be utterly and completely subservient to them in all things. WHAT A SACRIFICE ALL THE GNAWING WORMS INSIDE. Oh, do the women involved have feels about this? Haha, why should we even care.

Hey, Trent, I kinda think the measure of a man is how he treats politically powerless people like his wife and daughter, but that is just me what do I know.

Here, enjoy some more gender essentialism:

In the morning they feasted on boysengirls berries, the seeds like tiny boys a bit strong, and the jelly girls a bit sweet, so that they had to be taken together for full enjoyment.

Then they get to the Magician Humfrey's castle and Dor suffers doubts as to whether he should be risking his life (lol, like Humfrey would let anything serious happen to him) for a bloody commoner and hey, it's almost like Trent should have been teaching the heir about service and compassion and kindness rather than hyping this up as a great quest because of the inherent magical/kingly challenge.

He was a Magician, probable heir to the throne. Strong men were common; Magicians were rare. Why throw that away—for a zombie?

Then he thought of lovely Millie. To do something nice for her, make her grateful. Ah, foolishness! But it seemed he was also that kind of a fool. Maybe it came with growing up. Her talent of sex appeal—

Eight people have highlighted this one:

He made a mental resolution: no more lying. Not unless absolutely necessary. If a thing could not be accomplished honestly, probably it wasn’t worth accomplishing at all.

Which is a major theme of the next book, and I mean, I again remind you that a major plot point at the end of this one is lying to Millie and Irene about what went on in this book for no reason at all except that giving information to women makes men feel less special and important. So honesty is the best policy between men but fucking telling girls anything amiright.

Incidentally, the Gorgon from the last book is here, serving out a year to Humfrey and pretending to threaten visitors with her magical stoning power except this also apparently requires a low-cut dress because everything in Xanth requires a low-cut dress.

There was a small room paneled in bird-of-paradise feathers. A woman of extraordinary perfection stood facing them. She wore a low-cut gown, jeweled sandals, a comprehensive kerchief, and an imported pair of Mundane dark glasses. “Welcome, guests,” she breathed, in such a way that Dor’s gaze was attracted to the site of breathing, right where the gown was cut lowest yet fullest.

“Uh, thanks,” Dor said, nonplused. This was the worst hazard of all? He needed no adult-male vision to see that it was a hazard few men would balk at.

Then there's, like, a million words about the Gorgon's ankles ("Funny how he had never noticed ankles before!") and her legs and her legs going all the way up and on and on let's get past this. Anyway, the Gorgon came to the castle to serve a year as an answer to the question of whether Humfrey would marry her and Dor is shocked that the magician would make her serve a year for that, but haha there will be an Important Lesson later that this is really the kind and gentlemanly thing to do because Humfrey is letting her see how shitty it would be like to be married to him, so he's trying to scare her off, you see?

And I have all the contempt at this moral lesson that the book is SO FUCKING PROUD OF, because what it's really saying is that Humfrey gets a free pass to be a shitty husband because, hey, he tried to warn her off and she wanted to marry him anyway, so she knew what she was getting into so he literally has a free pass to never be polite to her. Seriously, he just heaps all the verbal abuse on her and she doesn't mind because he's a Nice Guy inside and he cared enough about her to try to scare her off and NO that is not "caring about her" that is caring about covering his own ass so that he never has to feel guilty about his shit behavior. Actually "caring about her" would involve things like "trying not to verbally abuse this person I supposedly love".

Except that she's a woman and verbal abuse is what women are for. Oh, and here's Dor attempting to argue against the Very Important Lesson except that he can't argue effectively because the narrative doesn't WANT us to disagree with the lesson so Dor's arguments to the contrary have to be shit. I just can't tell if the narrative knows that they're shit or not:

“I meant, to make you work a year—why doesn’t he just marry you, and have your service for life?”

As opposed to something like, "If he loves you and you love him, why don't you two work this out via open communication as equals instead of you having to be his slave for a year so that he might dispense lessons to you as his inferior supplicant?" Incidentally, the narrative rushes to reassure us that she's not doing this because she's starved for love (as she was in the last book) because she had some Mundane men, but she needs to be with someone more powerful than her because... because... because...

I knew that if I wanted to be with a man in Xanth, I mean man-to-woman, it would have to be one like him. Who had the power to neutralize my talent.

Enter the man himself:

The Good Magician Humfrey walked in. He was, indeed, gnomelike, old and gnarled and small. His feet were big and bare and, yes, dirty. “There’s not a clean pair of socks in the whole castle!” he grumped. “Girl, haven’t you done that laundry yet? I asked for it an hour ago!”

Also, haha, when she does get clean socks for him, he puts them on over dirty feet because he disdains her work and hates her. TRUE LOVE YA'LL. (DEFINITELY BETTER THAN THAT TWILIGHT NONSENSE THAT ALL THE CHICKS READ.) Then Dor reflects on how awesome the Good Magician Humfrey is being by abusing his girl-slave the Gorgon:

Dor thought about the anomaly of so formidable a creature as the gorgon reduced to being a common maid at the Magician’s castle while she waited to learn whether Humfrey would marry her. Yet wasn’t this the lot of the average woman? Maybe the Magician was merely showing her what she could expect if she married. That could be more important than his actual Answer.

And, just to be clear, this IS "what she could expect" from Humfrey, he isn't overdoing it just to be careful or prove her love or whatever. He fully intends to spend the rest of her life abusing her and just wants to make sure that she can never, ever complain because hey, you knew what you were getting into when you married me.

Just to be clear: I don't expect people to make radical personality changes for their partners. I don't think that's a healthy model for relationships. But I also know that the meme that women expect men to change for them is regularly invoked as an excuse for abusive behavior. "Please do not abuse me" isn't expecting someone to radically alter their personality to suit someone. Men do not have a right-via-personality to abuse women. (Or vice versa, but I'm speaking to a patriarchal norm right now.) What Humfrey is doing here isn't kindness; it's a CYA to cover his "right" to be an abusive fuck for the rest of his life because, hey, she knew what she was getting into.

It's laying the groundwork for him to never, ever need to stop being abusive and for him to never even be burdened with guilt. He's not burdened with guilt now. We're supposed to feel badly for him because he's explicitly not getting sex from the Gorgon because he's exercising his self-control for her. We can talk all day about how abusive Edward Cullen is (HE IS SO ABUSIVE) but he at least feels bad sometimes about how he treats Bella. And Book 4 has him saying something like, "holy shit, I've been an inexcusable jerk to you all this time, gosh I'm sorry and I shall endeavor to stop". We don't get that here. We don't get the idea that something like that would be called for or appropriate. In Xanth, being an abusive husband is considered a good thing that morally-upstanding men do.


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