[Extra Content Note: Ableism, conflation of illogical/unreasonable with mental illness, Sexual Assault]
Source of Magic, Part 4
Alrighty then. We finished Chapter 7 in the last post and there are 14 chapters total, so we're halfway to the end. Maybe we can actually finish out on this one and I can stop being distracted by the awful.
Chapter 8 (Mad Constellations) is about Bink and Co. being overwhelmed by the region of heavy magic because it messes with their powers of perception and their ability to act reasonably. They end up scaling a tree (yes, including the centaur) in an attempt to reach some living constellations and pick a fight with them and/or sex them up. I'll zip through most of this chapter as simply low-level awful rather than really-interesting awful, but will note a couple of Binkisms on his wife:
There were people too—men, children, and several fetching young women. That reminded Bink again of Chameleon. The longer he was away from her, the more he missed her. So what if she had her ugly phase? She also had her lovely phase—
More evidence that Bink doesn't really love variety or smart-Chameleon, since her smart phase is something to be endured and suffered through.
I haven't really belabored this before now, but as a young woman I always got kinda the inkling of a feeling that Chameleon's phases might be a bit of a menstrual metaphor. She's explicitly stated to be a on a moon cycle, and her "ugly" phase is characterized as shrieky and shrewish and rude as opposed to simply being smart and, you know, not-pretty. And, of course, Bink doesn't have sex with her during her ugly phase (this is pretty much canon--he states that he's "turned off" during that phase) which, as a youth, I thought abstinence was de rigueur during menstruation.
I mean, I kinda doubt that the author intended it to be a direct metaphor, but it works out pretty well in my mind and then we're back to the problem that a lot of the women in this series are treated as representational of all women, which makes all the problems that much worse. Oh, and then this, but you've already seen this one, which is a complete and total lie:
Ah, Chameleon! He liked her especially in her “normal” stage, neither beautiful nor smart, but a pleasant middle range. It always seemed so fresh, that brief period when she was average, since she was always changing. But he loved her in any form and intellect—especially at times like now, when he was wet and cold and tired and afraid.
I mean, a couple chapters from now Bink will openly muse on how Chameleon's normal stage is incapable of turning him on. Which, oof, actually may confirm that he likes her best in that stage, if Bink believes that sex is shameful for women. If Fanchon is bad because she turns him off and drives him away, Wynne may be bad for overriding his good intentions and 'making' him want to sex her. Dee, if she neither turns him on or off, may be his favorite because then he can play the chaste lover and see himself as a doting husband without sex being involved. I think I just squicked myself out in trying to work out how to reconcile those two passages so let's move on.
[Edited later to add: The more I think on this, the more I wonder if this isn't the key to a lot of the issue in these books. If you start from the premise that the Best Husband/Man is so in control of himself that he's sexless and chaste, then women are dangerous Sirens and Gorgons because (in the logic of the narrative) they 'make' men have boners. (FLEE THE BONER.) And this would explain why Chameleon is the "greatest threat" to Bink, not because marriage but because boners.
This would also fit perfectly with the theme that Trent is basically better than Jesus Christ Superstar, since Trent has the Most Beautiful Wife, and yet he is so in control of his boner that he never touches her at all unless there is a compelling political need to do so. And then in Book #3, Castle Roogna, there is this exchange:
“About that page I was reading,” Humfrey said. “It seems you have been concerned about manhood. Did it occur to you that you might be more of a man in the declining of the maid’s offer than in the acceptance of it?”
“No,” Dor admitted.
“There is somewhat more to manhood than sex.”
Which, I mean, Humphrey is not wrong if he is linking maturity to a willingness to think through consequences of our impulses. But if he's instead linking manhood to the ability to resist women and their boner-magic (and HAHA by the way that was Millie who was causing the boner in question, with her magical sex appeal talent) then, yeah, Trent is a god-king of self-control and Bink loves Dee best because she is pleasant and attractive without holding boner-power over him. In this hypothetical case, though, I'm not the one who is viewing sex as degrading. Ahem.
Which means, in light of all this, that Bink/Trent slashfic needs to exist. And since there seems to be a hierarchy of sexual-degradation here, by which I mean:
--- Non-humans who are woman-shaped (Nymphs, Mermaids, etc.)
---- Non-humans who are not woman-shaped (Animals)
Then I see no reason why Bink/Trent slashfic would hurt Trent's status as Xanth Jesus Christ. Go ye forth, Jane-the-Internet, and make this happen. Okay, edited side-note is now over.]
Grundy saves them from the region of madness with the help of a fish, and then internalizes Bink's code of honor long enough to repay the fish in helping him find a mate. Because (a) that wasn't already done with the male Ogre, (b) we didn't totally NOT help the female Siren find a mate, and (c) it means we can once again talk about how marriage is the worst.
“The fish!” Grundy exclaimed. “I have to pay him off!” He pried a sliver of wood from the massive stump and affixed it to the fish’s dorsal fin with a bit of his own string. “There you go, bubble-eye,” he said with something that sounded suspiciously like affection. “As long as you carry that, you’ll see everything as it is, in the madness region. So you can spot your lady fish. Once you have succeeded, ditch the wood; I understand it is not good to see a female too realistically.”
Crombie made an emphatic squawk of agreement that needed no translation.
The whole reason the fish needs the wood is because he can't find a mate when other fishes look like anything except fishes because of the rampant illusion spells in the area. So it actually doesn't make sense to throw the wood away since he'll never be able to find his fish-wife ever again, but sense is secondary to slagging off women.
Chapter 9 (Vortex Fiends) rolls around and Bink and Chester visit an underwater community of actors while the other three adventurers stick themselves in a bottle largely because a future prophecy said they would. They have no reason to stick themselves in the bottle and this becomes a huge problem later, but the future prophecy says they will so hands tied, etc. Bink and Chester are not waited on by nymphs, which I know will make you all the sads, but the human women DO dress very scantily so there you go. Bink notices that girls sure do seem to like horses when he's around, and I like believing that they really just loathe Bink.
The meal was excellent, served by fetching young women in scant green outfits who paid flattering attention to the travelers, especially Chester. They seemed to admire both his muscular man-portion and his handsome equine portion. Bink wondered, as he had before, what it was girls saw in horses. The siren had been so eager to ride!
Then the community of actors ask for repayment by having Bink and Chester sit through a show so that they can research their reactions. Bink spends the time musing on how fake women are, and also the men on-stage probably aren't as awesome as he is. (This is especially amusing since Bink's "combat nerve" is outright stated to only exist because he knows his talent will protect him, and his "technical skill" is non-existent because he's fighting with a magical sword. This will come up later when the magic all turns off for a few hours.)
The curtain lifted and it was on: a gaudily costumed affair replete with bold swordsmen and buxom women and funny jokers. The staged duels were impressive, but Bink wondered how proficient those men would be with their weapons in a real battle. There was a considerable difference between technical skill and combat nerve! The women were marvelously seductive—but would they be as shapely without the support of their special clothes, or as wittily suggestive minus the memorized lines?
Once again, we get an interesting peek into Bink's brain when he seems to believe that fidelity is a function of desirability:
Then the play shifted to a scene of music. The heroine sang a lovely song of loss and longing, meditating on her faithless lover, and it was difficult to imagine how any lout, no matter how louty, could be faithless to such a desirable creature. Bink thought of Chameleon again, and longed for her again.
Chester gets caught up in the production and his previously-unknown talent manifests: he can make a silver flute appear in the air and it plays beautiful music. The actors are furious at him for ruining their play and for being a competing source of entertainment, so we get to talk about shoving long things into bodily orifices, har har.
“My insolence—for playing a magic flute?” Chester demanded incredulously. “How would you like that flute up your—”
“Chester!” Bink cried warningly, though he had considerable sympathy for the centaur’s position. He invoked the one name that had power to restrain Chester’s wrath: “Cherie wouldn’t like it if you—”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do it to her!” Chester said. Then he reconsidered. “Not with a flute—”
(Remind me sometime to tell you about the centaur subplot in Castle Roogna which is about giving a centaur-woman surprise sex she didn't want. Haha, these whacky books!)
Stuff happens and Bink and Chester dive into a mysterious vortex in order to escape the murderous actors, and they end up in underground caverns near the real source of magic. Chapter 10 (Precious Nymph) opens and Bink and Chester realize they've gotta find the bottle with Crombie and Humphrey and Grundy in it--they have no clue, no pointing talent (since that's Crombie's ability), and a shard of magic mirror that they can only use to see that they're okay and still in the bottle, but not where they are or how to get there. Bink goes looking for water, drinks, and then finds a nymph.
She was sitting on a stool fashioned of silver, sorting through a barrel filled with precious stones. Their colors reflected brilliantly, decorating all the walls of the room. She was a typical nymph, long and bare of leg with a tiny skirt just about covering a pert derrière, slender of waist, full of bosom, and innocent and large-eyed of face. Her hair sparkled like the keg of jewels. He had seen nymphs like this many times; each had her association with tree or rock or stream or lake or mountain, yet they were all so uniform in face and feature that their beauty became commonplace. It was as if some Magician had established the ideal female-human aspect and scattered it about the Land of Xanth for decoration, attaching individual units to particular locales so that the distribution would be uniform. So she was nothing special. The precious stones, in contrast, were a phenomenal treasure.
Yet Bink glanced only passingly at the stones. His gaze became fixed on the nymph. She—he felt—it was rapt adoration.
Hahahaha, I love how Bink is here being all "meh, another beautiful woman, how strange for me to be attracted to her" when pretty much the defining feature of Bink's wife (that is to say, the wife that he's hoping to see when he gets home) is that she's Hawt, and the defining feature of Millie and the reason he needed to leave was that she's Magically Boner-Inducing Hawt, and literally every woman we've seen in the book thus far has been introduced in terms of how Hawt she is, but now it's just downright weird for Bink to notice such things when this one is so commonplace.
There's a lot of wank-wank-manpain about why his talent let him drink the love potion (it doesn't constitute harm) and whether the love potion was because of his talent ("It must have decided that his wife Chameleon represented some kind of threat to his welfare, so it was finding him another love.") or because his Unseen Enemy that has been dogging their steps the entire novel is trying to slow him down. Bink characteristically spends waaaaaay more time worrying about why this has happened to him, even though it really doesn't make a practical difference, than he spends thinking about how this events may hurt Chameleon and Jewel.
Love potions did not undo existing relations. But now he also loved this nymph—and she was a great deal more accessible.
Even if you sideline for a moment that Love and Lust do not need to keep company, and we charitably handwave that this particular spring was a mixture of both, the fact that Jewel's "accessibility" is even a factor here is just ridiculous. For one, this is rape apologia 101: Bink wants her (because magic) and his control over his actions is compromised (because magic) and she's right there and therefore whooops sorry I raped you, blame the magic spring. For two, they are for the first time in the adventure conveniently "trapped" underground so that Bink can't just turn around and go home to Chameleon so that she is the "more accessible" one. So again, we're in "gosh, is it morally acceptable to cheat on my wife" territory which is, by my count, 80% of this book.
All was fair in magic. “Nymph, come here and tell me your name, or I’ll steal all your treasure!” he yelled.
[...] “What is your name?” he demanded.
“What’s yours?” There was an odor like that of a hesitant deerfly at the edge of a glade.
“I asked you first.” All he wanted to do was keep her in conversation until he could catch her.
“But you’re the stranger!” she pointed out with female logic.
Ah, well. He liked her logic. He knew it was the effect of the potion, but he was captive to her mannerisms.
Just to be clear, we are literally reading from the point of view of someone who is planning to capture and sexually assault a woman. But Bink is still described as "captive" to her, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.
All this just underscores to me how much this subplot didn't need to be rapey. Bink could have drunk from the love spring (it's clarified later that the event happened because of his enemy and not because of his talent) and could have forgotten or not cared about anything except serving Jewel. The plot could have continued because he cared too much to leave Crombie and Humphrey lost, so he does his best to fulfill both his obligation to his friends and his desire to serve Jewel by combining his search for them with her job as a jewel nymph. I mean, this happens in the narrative anyway, but the reason it happens in Piers Anthony's version is because she is serving him, not the other way around.
But if Bink had fallen to his knees before a woman and said I want nothing more in life but to serve you, use me however you will just please don't drive me away, I won't speak to you or touch you or look on you without your directive but I beg that you allow me to be your devoted servant for the rest of my days or whatever, then a woman would have power over a man. Real power, not the sexual power play of "you'll do as I say because you want my body, but I do actually have to give in to you eventually because we both know you can and will take what you want if I don't" bullshit.
To repeat: This plot didn't need to include sexual assault. But the alternative type of love spring--a love spring that enthralls instead of assaults--would have given a woman power over a man. So we didn't go that route.
Anyway. Bink continues to think of women as being "designed" by someone for his pleasure, see also Chameleon being "designed" to be raped and/or sexed as the situation demanded.
“How am I ever going to process all those extra stones?” she demanded with cute petulance. “Usually it takes an hour to place each one, and you have spilled hundreds.” She stamped her sweet little foot, not knowing how to express her annoyance effectively. Nymphs had been designed for appearance, not emotion.
[After realizing that Bink drank from the love spring,] She screamed again, and fled again. Nymphs by nature were flighty. Bink continued his gathering, arranging the surplus jewels in a pile beside the keg, knowing she would be back. He hated himself somewhat, knowing he should leave her alone, but found himself unable to stop himself.
Now that Bink has thoroughly de-personified her into an object created for men's pleasure, and all her objections being merely flightiness and silly female mannerisms (and certainly not REAL fear or meaningful non-consent), he can move on to the sexual assault part of rape culture.
She edged within range. Bink grabbed her. She screamed again most fetchingly, and struggled without much strength. That, too, was the way nymphs were: delightfully and ineffectively difficult. He drew her in for a firm kiss on the lips. She was a most pleasant armful, and her lips tasted like honey. At least they smelled like it.
“That wasn’t very nice,” she rebuked him when he ended the kiss, but she didn’t seem very angry. Her odor was of freshly overturned earth.
She doesn't "seem" angry because Jewel isn't angry; we later learn that her biggest objections to Bink was that he looks like a dirty bearded monster-man right now, and she'll be thoroughly delighted when he cleans up nicely. Eventually she'll be so impressed by his decision to not rape her that she'll fall deeply in love with him and her life will be altered forever because she isn't innocent and nymphy anymore.
However, I'm going to point out like the meany-pants feminist that I am that she might not "seem" angry to Bink because he just took a magical rape potion that alters his perception, and he knows it, so he might therefore think a bit about how well he is or isn't perceiving consent right now. And even if this is supposed to be truthful because it's part of the narrative, it's also possible that Jewel doesn't "seem" angry because she's afraid of the guy who just took a magical rape potion and might hurt her.
Bink cuts in here to say that he needs to find the source of magic and she says that's in the center of the world and she "couldn't go there, even if--" and then cuts herself off. (Almost like she's scared of the guy who just etc. etc.)
Even if she wanted to. Because of course she did not love him. She had not drunk the love-water.
Bink had a naughty idea. “Come and take a drink with me! Then we can—”
She struggled to disengage, and he let her go. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her!
The absolute last thing! Which is definitely why he threatened her livelihood earlier and then grabbed her and kissed her while she was struggling! Which he definitely knew was fake and not actually meant, and we can trust him on that because THE LAST THING he wants is to hurt her. Anything Bink has done or will do to her can therefor be taken as not-hurtful. Because Magic.
Then Bink continues to demonstrate his love and how much he loves all her adorable little foibles and how much he doesn't want to hurt her, all as a result of overwhelming magic, by being annoyed at an interruption and his overall failure to explain things clearly.
“Chester Centaur. Crombie is a griffin. And there’s Magician Humfrey, and—”
“A Magician!” she exclaimed, impressed. “All to look for the source of magic?”
“Yes. The King wants to know.”
“There’s a King along too?”
“No,” Bink said, momentarily exasperated.
Love magic! Strong enough to make you want to cheat on your wife by sexually assaulting a woman, but not strong enough to not make you a mansplainy asshole. Anyway, Jewel decides to feed and care for Bink and Chester and put them up for the night--I have no idea why, especially when one of them has just drunk a magical rape potion, but there's no sense that she'll spend the entire night awake and armed with a kitchen knife, so I guess she's just gonna trust Bink because why wouldn't you--and Bink tries to tie "service" to "sexy" for the host again because this is the FOURTH TIME we've talked about servicing a host and that just never gets old.
“I suppose I’d better show you where there’s water,” she decided. “And food—you must be hungry too.”
“Yes,” he said, reaching for her. “We’ll be glad to do some service in return—”
“Oh, no!” she cried, skipping away with an enticing bounce of anatomy and the scent of hickory smoke.
Then Chester drops that Jewel has to come with them to find a counter-spell because Bink needs to be able to see her in order for the spell to break. Jewel is all like "I don't wanna, I actually do have things to do with my time" and Chester convinces her that she has to come with them because obviously some stranger being in love with her is clearly HER PROBLEM to fix.
“I can’t come with you!” Jewel protested, though she looked at Chester as if wishing for a ride on his back. “I have a lot of work to do!”
“How much will you get done if Bink stays here?” Chester inquired.
She threw up her hands in feminine exasperation. “Come to my apartment, both of you. We’ll discuss it later.”
So anyway, Jewel takes the two men--both of whom are strangers who are infinitely stronger than her, and one of whom has just imbibed a magical rape potion before then sexually assaulting her--back to her apartment to spend the night. Bink then goes around mentally critiquing the apartments of the woman he Loves with a capital-L. (Which is like love only where you still loathe the person because she's a stupid vain woman.)
Above it was a polished rock surface: a mirror. The vanity of the distaff always required a mirror!
Seeing himself reflected was a shock: he was more bedraggled than his clothes. His hair was tangled and plastered over his forehead, and he had a beard just at the ugly starting stage. Cave-dirt was smeared over portions of his face and body, from his crawl through the wall. He looked like a juvenile ogre. No wonder the nymph had been afraid of him at first!
[...] When he emerged from the lavatory [after washing and shaving], Jewel looked him over with surprised admiration. “You are a handsome man!”
So mirrors are a vanity, but they are also very helpful if you are about to shave with a sword (no really), so which is it again, Bink? Not to mention that cleaning up nice seems to do a lot to paper over that whole sexual assault thing from before (ugh).
“We must pay for your hospitality—and for your help,” Chester said [...]
“My hospitality I give freely; pay would demean it,” Jewel said. “My help you seem to be co-opting. There is no pay for slave labor.”
“No, Jewel!” Bink cried, cut to the heart of his emotion. “I would not force anything on you, or cause you grief!”
She softened. “I know it, Bink. You drank of the love-water; you would not hurt me.
EXCEPT THAT TIME WHEN BINK GRABBED JEWEL AND FORCED A KISS ON HER. BUT THAT WAS, LIKE, FIVE MINUTES AGO, SO I CAN SEE HOW YOU BOTH MIGHT HAVE FORGOTTEN.
I mean, this is literally saying that when magic makes it impossible for a man to hurt a woman, he can still sexually assault her by grabbing her and kissing her, because it is not harm. And I don't even think we can handwave and say, well, it's not harm for Jewel, because even if she's okay with that, he had no way to know that at the time. The love spring doesn't give the drinker insight in how to seduce the individual target--it just makes the drinker go full speed ahead with whatever seduction and/or rape methods they can be magically pushed into pursuing.
So either Bink's sexual assault of Jewel objectively isn't harm because magic would have stopped a man from doing it to the woman he loves, or it subjectively isn't harm because Bink didn't view it as harm when he was doing it. And the latter case is a best case scenario, because it merely (haha!) gives us a rapey POV character as opposed to a rape culture imposed by some kind of objective universal law stating that sexual assault isn't harm as long as it keeps itself to forced kisses.
They stay the night with Jewel, and I'm going to wrap up here and continue in a later post, but here's one more bit of Bink moping over his contrived cheating problem:
Yet Bink’s own drink of this water was supremely inconvenient in a personal way. Rationally, he had to stay with his wife, Chameleon; but emotionally—
No, Bink. Emotionally, you want to stay with your wife because you still love her. That was established multiple times; the love potion added to your existing love, it didn't erase or change or alter the previous love you already had for your wife. Which means that rationally you need to either get a counterspell or to get back home so that the other woman you love equally well is "more accessible" than this new one that you love, sure, but no more and no harder than Chameleon.
Unless you don't really love your wife as much as you keep insisting your pure-as-the-driven-snow heart does. Which you're totally allowed to fall out of love with her, but maybe own that and don't keep insisting that the only thing making you consider leaving her is the love potion you whoops drank.