Xanth: Ogres, Demons, and Cheating Girlfriends

[Xanth Content Note: Rape, Misogyny, Nasty Stereotypes about Wives/Marriage, "Love Springs"]

Source of Magic, Part 2

Let's continue with Source of Magic. First post here. And you're gonna want to check that first post out, because I don't want to waste everyone's time recapping the plot again here. Instead I'll let the narrative summarize the plot so far as we head cheerfully into Chapter 3:

In the morning they commenced the mission: three males with woman-problems. All professed to be glad to get away from their situations and into adventure.

Just to clarify, their "woman-problems" is that Bink knocked up Chameleon against her consent and she's still a little pissed about that; Cherie had a foal and Chester is annoyed at not being the center of her world anymore; and Crombie hates Sabrina but doesn't know how to break up with a woman.

There are then pages and pages of Bink angsting about how hard it is to be super-special because his friends think he's courageous and awesome, but in reality he just flings himself into battle because he knows he can't be hurt but they can be, so he's protecting them from a position of nigh-invincibility and getting credit he doesn't deserve and ya'll this is so hard for him. This is Xanth, so we're not getting out of here without a misogynistic comparison of his problem with women:

Yet he could not even tell them about this. There was a lot of this kind of magic in Xanth; it was as if magic liked to clothe itself in superfluous mystery, by that means enhancing itself in the manner of a pretty woman.

Then stuff isn't horrible enough to dwell on for a bit because actual battles and puzzles happen and Bink manages to stop thinking about how shitty women are for awhile because instead he's thinking about how awesome his problem-solving abilities are and whatnot.

We get to Magician Humphrey's castle, and the Magician tells him that SHIT GONNA GET REAL and that Bink should probably give up his quest because all his information magic tells him this is an epically-bad idea that might, like, destroy Xanth or something. Bink tells him thanks for the advice, but he'd never give up his EPIC QUEST and I here feel like I have to remind everyone that the literal purpose of this quest is to keep Bink busy for a week until his wife isn't pregnant and ugly anymore. Like, that is the explicit reason that Trent gave, and Bink knows it. He's willing to destroy Xanth over his sexy problems.

“You mean this present mission is going to be worse than the last one?” Bink asked, feeling both excited and appalled. He had only wanted to find his own talent, before.

The Magician nodded soberly. “So it would seem. I can not fathom in what precise manner your quest will threaten Xanth, but am certain the risks are extraordinary.”

Bink thought of giving up the quest and returning to Chameleon, ugly and sharp of tongue as she was at the moment, with Millie the nonghost hovering near. Suddenly he became much more interested in the source of the magic of Xanth. “Thanks for your advice. I’m going on.”

This is part of why when I said last time that Trent is the worst, I was kinda joking. I mean, Trent is the worst, but Bink is worser than Trent and that shouldn't even be possible. And yet here we are. And lest we think that maybe the narrative (or possibly Bink) has legitimately forgotten that his DANGEROUS TO ALL OF XANTH quest to find the source of magic isn't actually an important quest and is instead just busy-work, Humphrey will helpfully remind us of that.

“Payment!” Bink expostulated. “This is—”

“The King’s business,” the Magician finished. “Be realistic, Bink. The King is merely getting you out of his hair for a while until your home life sweetens up. [...much later...] “All my arcane researches interrupted, my castle mothballed—because you can’t wait a few days for your wife to finish her pregnancy and get sweet and pretty again.”

But. Okay. So. Obviously this is getting bogged down again into the woe-is-me-I'm-married misery guts, but the important thing is that we're getting on with the adventure and now adventuring things can start happening. So our heroes plunge into the wilds of Xanth and stop for the night at the home of a vegetarian Ogre who is willing to give them room and board because that's the sort of thing people do for strangers in an adventure novel. Then Bink unilaterally decides that NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO GO TO SLEEP until they've worked out a way to "repay" their host.

After the repast, they settled on the straw for the evening. The others seemed satisfied to sleep, but Bink was bothered by something. In a moment he identified it: “Crunch, among our kind we offer some return service for hospitality. What can we do for you to repay this fine meal and lodging?”

[...] “Want sleep, you creep,” Crunch mumbled.

“Not until we do you some service,” Bink insisted.

“Take heed, no need!” Crunch closed one fist on a handful of straw, squeezed, and when he let go the straw had fused into one spindly stick. The ogre used this to pick at his gross teeth.

Chester argued caution for once. “We can’t force a service on him he doesn’t want.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know he wants it,” Bink said. “We must honor the code.”

I point this out to note that Bink is a massively entitled jerk and tromps on the consent and boundaries of others even when they're not women. I know that for some people that's an improvement over raw misogyny, but I really do feel like it's another symptom of rape culture even if Bink isn't planning to sexually assault the nearby Ogre. He's still prioritizing his (Bink's) needs of "principle" and "code" and "honor" over his host's stated needs of 'I don't want anything from you, let me get the fuck to sleep, I have a full day of vegetarian ogreing to do tomorrow.' Meanwhile, the narrative keeps acting like everyone is selfish and cowardly for not doggedly joining Bink in his decision to force unwanted help onto their host.

“It does seem we’re forcing something unwanted on our host,” Chester said, surprisingly diplomatic.

“There is something Crunch wants, even if he doesn’t know it himself,” Bink said. “It is our duty to locate it for him.” No one argued, though he was sure they all wished he would drop the subject.

In order to satisfy his own self-image as someone who fulfills his debts (eleventy!!1!), Bink will set about a series of events that will end up with them spilling the bottle that Huphrey keeps his demon-friend in, such that the demon is freed from his term of service with the magician. (Which is probably quite a bummer to Humphrey, since it was implied that was where he got a lot of his answers from.) The demon will reveal--what a surprise! in this novel about how marriage is just awful but the sex marginally makes up for it!--that the Ogre is ambivalent about whether to get married, and that Bink can "repay" their host by giving him counsel.

He is of an irrational species, like yourself; you must answer him.”

“Me! I—” Bink broke off, not wanting to comment on his present problem with Chameleon.

“I spoke in the plural,” Beauregard said, a bit condescendingly. “You and Chester and Crombie should discuss your relations with your respective females, and the consensus will provide the ogre with the perspective he needs.

Once again, I remind you that Bink's "present problem" with Chameleon is that HE "screwed up" (which is the most charitable reading I can provide to the situation, and far more charitable than I would like to be) and got her pregnant without her consent. And he has yet to meaningfully apologize as far as we've seen, and indeed only briefly took responsibility before then chalking it up to being unable to control himself around her hot body, and then going back to blaming her for all of his troubles.

At last Crombie squawked. [...] “While I can appreciate the fetching qualities of your lady friend, I must say from my own experience that all females are infernal creatures whose primary purpose in life is to deceive, entrap, and make miserable the males. Therefore—”

Then there's a "hilarious" cultural difference where it turns out that Ogres (or at least this Ogre) like nagging and being miserable, so "nagging" becomes a metaphor for sex.

Chester smiled. “Despite my friend’s recommendation, I must offer a note of caution. No matter how badly the filly nags the stallion, and how unreasonable she normally seems, there comes a time when she births her first foal. Then the dam no longer has much interest in—”

“But in due course,” Bink said, “she is bound to return to normal, often with extremely cutting wit. In any event, I should think some nagging is better than no nagging. So why not rouse your beauty and give her a proper chance? She may make your life completely miserable.”

Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that "rouse your beauty" thing? The lady that the Ogre is thinking about marrying has apparently fallen afoul of a Sleeping Beauty curse (that was thrown at her because of something he did) and needs someone to waken her. I suppose if he'd decided against marriage, he was just going to leave her to rot for the next hundred years or whatever. I honestly have no idea.

But, hey, moving on to important things, does the demon that Bink released get any demon sex? Of course he does, because demonesses are often attracted to money and power and he has both and she knows it. (Obligatory Spaceballs reference.)

I am now virtually assured of my degree. That will qualify me to form permanent liaison with my chosen demoness, who would seem to be worth the effort.

Because he can't just be acquiring a degree because he's interested in learning, it has to be for the sexyies. And it really should be said, again, that if you identify as a man, these books do not seem to think too highly of you. Then we get a Prophecy that adds literally nothing to the narrative and we're gonna have to talk about that for a bit:

He turned to Crombie. “You can not escape your fate in this manner. When you return from this quest—if you return—Sabrina will trap you into an unhappy marriage unless you arrange for a more suitable commitment elsewhere before you see her. Therefore enjoy yourself now; have your last fling and do not be concerned for the morrow, for it will be worse than today. Yet marriage is not after all, for you, a fate worse than death; you will know that when you do face death.”

So here's a quick summary of what's going to happen in this book. For one, this prophecy will never be mentioned again. It's like Crombie, who hates women and hates marriages and hates Sabrina, forgot all about this prophecy. Which makes no sense and means that this revelation never comes up again. (Seriously, I keep looking, like surely this gets mentioned again? but I can't find it ever coming up at all. It's like a weird artifact that was either added right before publishing or was dead code that they meant to trim from an earlier draft that did reference it.)

What will happen is that Crombie will be trapped cooling his heels for awhile in a room that has a magic mirror and pretty much nothing else, so he'll check in on his girlfriend Sabrina. He will then find out that she's cheating on him, and pregnant, but that her lover is married and she is planning to use the pregnancy to trick Crombie into marriage. For extra betrayal points, Crombie will say "Right when she had me on the verge--" which I think is meant to imply that he was on the verge of proposing to her anyway and she just didn't trust him or love him enough. (The sentence is ambiguous though, and could mean "on the verge of breaking up with her", but it reads like more of a manpain than that. It might also mean he was on a sexual verge from Sabrina keeping him at arm's length, but overall I think "on the verge of proposing" reads more naturally in context.)

I need to point out that Sabrina is the sexy-and-smart woman who ruined sexy-and-smart women for Bink because he'd been hurt by a sexy-and-smart woman so he could never love a sexy-and-smart woman again. The thing is, this doesn't work! Sabrina is living in a patriarchal purity culture. The first book noted that she refused to sleep with Bink, and it's implied that she's using her chastity to "hook" him into marriage. (The first book also noted that rape victims would be shunned for otherwise suitable marriages. So, again, purity culture.) Sabrina is dating Crombie not because love, but because he is one of the most influential available men in her area: King Trent is taken, Bink is taken, the Elders on the council seem to all be married, so Crombie as the nearest soldier to the king (possibly the only soldier; we don't see any others) is the top of the marriageable ladder.

For Sabrina to throw away her virginity and risk her relationship with the most marriageable man in the county for a sexual affair with a married man who can offer her nothing is entirely out of character for her smart (and, asserted by the narrative, manipulative) character. We just get this asserted a few pages before the end, I can only presume because if Crombie dumped her for any reason "less" than her being an evil bitch who tried to place another man's child in his household, then we might suffer a twinge of doubt as to whether Crombie the Woman Hater was right to dump Sabrina after his adventure. Instead you don't have to doubt, and all we had to do was stamp all over established characterization!

Anyway. Crombie sees her cheating on another man--he can't hear anything through the magic mirror, so I'm not sure how he knows that she's pregnant with the man's child and planning to pass it off as his, but whatever--and that should be enough to call it quits with her. But we also need to pair him up and sweep up the loose end with the nymph (Jewel) who loves Bink, so Crombie wishes for her to drink from a love spring and fall for Crombie. Thus "arrang[ing] a more suitable commitment", I suppose, except that the prophecy isn't directly referenced.

So there you have it: a demon makes a prophecy that isn't needed or even used in the narrative, a man gets information about his cheating girlfriend that he probably shouldn't be able to glean from a silent image unfolding in real time, a smart-and-sexy woman does things that are incredibly stupid given her society and position within it, and an ancillary love interest is swept under the rug not by getting to know her but rather by using magic without her consent to arrange for her consent to be overridden further.

More next time!


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