Castle Roogna, Part 1
So, haha, I was feeling so bad during all the Source of Magic stuff because every so often someone would mention that Castle Roogna isn't that bad and I was, like, lolsobbing and rocking myself because haha I TOO THOUGHT THE SAME THING but it turns out my memories were lies made out of candyfloss and unwillingness to remember really awful things.
Like, just for instance? The cover to the left of this text? The one that has the barbarian and the spider meeting the nice centaur? An adorable little subplot in this book is about the centaur deciding (with the help of our protagonist) to rape his wife. HAHA!
So now that I've tantalized you with that little fact (omg one of the three people on the cover of this book is a rapist and we're supposed to find that hilarious and sympathetic) let me back up and give you a plot summary: Heir-Apparent Dor is the 12-year-old son of Bink and Chameleon and his magician-level talent is making inanimate objects talk. He's sad because his mom and dad have spent basically his entire life avoiding him, only it turns out that they've really been avoiding Millie because Bink doesn't trust himself around her sex appeal talent.
During this time, Millie has been a nursemaid for Dor and has dated Jonathan the Zombie, but now that Dor is starting to have pantsfeels for Millie, the Magicians Humfrey and Trent send him back in time on a quest to bring Jonathan back to life in the here-and-now via a special potion that can only be made by a magician who lived 800 years in the past. Dor the 12-year-old will animate the body of an adult barbarian warrior, which will be our first introduction to the Xanth kink of a body with "adult" sexy feels but a mind of a child who isn't sure about all this.
In a nutshell, a big-big-big problem with this book is the character of Millie, who travels with Dor in the 800 years past. She's as stupid and worse-than-useless in combat as Chameleon and Jewel were (almost like we're establishing a pattern!) and the narrative strongly implies that all her gestures of distress are learned/cultivated gestures designed to attract the male gaze, like her "kicking" at monsters is perfectly timed and angled to make sure that any watching men get precisely the best view of her legs and ankles, etc. I pretty much had to make myself stop highlighting Millie passages because ALMOST EVERY PAGE has her swirling her hair and kicking her feet in useless, pretty, almost-not-quite-calculated ways.
And even with me passing over a lot of Millie stuff, we still ended up with 153 highlights to wade through. So let's get that started.
Millie the ghost was beautiful. Of course, she wasn’t a ghost any more, so she was Millie the nurse. She was not especially bright, and she was hardly young. She was twenty-nine years old as she reckoned it, and about eight hundred and twenty-nine as others reckoned it: the oldest creature currently associated with Castle Roogna.
[...] In the interim she had been a ghost, and the label had never quite worn off. And why should it? By all accounts she had been a most attractive ghost.
We're just gonna get this out of the way quickly: I'm not even remotely happy that this entire book is about Millie's past, her love affairs, her death, her years as a ghost, her years as a nursemaid, and her resolution with the restoration of Jonathan and yet her story is told by men. What's even more disturbing is that her story is told by men who outright conspire to keep her own story from her: Dor will run around the distant past sharing who he is and what his quest is with everyone except Millie, because she can't be allowed to know that her 800 years of sorrowful existence as a ghost will eventually have a good resolution.
And the end chapter is basically about how Dor and Humfrey and Trent and Jonathan can all know what happened, but Millie must never know because... because... because... it would be awkward for Dor if she remembered what he did for her? There's really literally no reason to keep all this information from her unless you believe that she's too "stupid" or "fragile" to not handle it, and/or you believe that the men's desire to keep it from her outweighs her right to know her own history.
With that out of the way, there's a lot of male gaze about how Dor is noticing Millie's ass for the first time because her sex appeal talent is starting to work on him now that he's getting older. And, again, the entire quest for this book is about getting Millie married off to Jonathan so that she doesn't keep hanging around Dor's house giving all the men uncomfortable pantsfeels. The plot is NOT about Bink and Dor owning up that sometimes you're gonna have pantsfeels for people and that's okay and not their fault or problem. Then we get to hear about how pretty AND stupid Millie is, which is obviously great because that's not going to get old in love interests for this series, now is it? And also Bink is terrible at teaching privacy because his approach boils down to a quick "don't do that" and then avoiding his son for the next however many years:
Dor remembered years ago when he had talked to the double bed Bink and Chameleon used, and asked it what had happened overnight, just from idle curiosity, and it had said—well, it had been quite interesting, especially since Chameleon had been in her beauty stage, prettier and stupider than Millie the ghost, which was going some. But his mother had overheard some of that dialogue, and told his father, and after that Dor wasn’t allowed in the bedroom any more. It wasn’t that his parents didn’t love him, Bink had carefully explained; it was that they felt nervous about what they called “invasion of privacy.” So they tended to do their most interesting things away from the house, and Dor had learned not to pry. Not when and where anyone in authority could overhear, at any rate.
Millie gets repeatedly described as "like a nymph" which I remind you is series shorthand for "willing sex object who doesn't have feelings you need to worry about", and then Dor thinks about how hungry he is for her, and this just goes on and on okay we get it.
“Are you still hungry, Dor?”
“No,” he said, embarrassed. He was hungry, but not for food. If hunger was the proper term.
Then Jonathan shows up and I'm going to save us a lot of time by blowing through all my notes: the short version is that Dor is jealous of Jonathan-the-Zombie, and Millie has rippling luxurious hair and a firm body and on and on, and then Grundy helpfully explains that Dor is becoming an adult because Millie's talent is starting to work on him.
“Oh, you notice Millie now! You’re growing up!”
Dor whirled on him—and of course, since the golem was in his hand, Grundy whirled too. “What do you mean by that?”
“Merely that men notice things about women that boys don’t. Don’t you know what Millie’s talent is?”
“No. What is it?”
“I thought that was something all women had.”
“Something all women wish they had. Millie’s is magical; any man near her gets ideas.”
And, like, I know that Grundy isn't necessarily a reliable narrator, but still we're once again being introduced to the notion--which is never, ever pushed back on in this book--that all women long and pray and wish to cause boners for men. There are no asexual women in Xanth. Nor are there asexual men, or if there are, they are still at the mercy of Millie's talent, which is frankly very upsetting to me.
Then Dor basically says "not my father or the king" and Grundy explains that they're thinking about Millie, they just have iron self-control and avoid her at all times. That's... that's stellar. I don't know whether to read that as "they avoid her because they don't want to rape her" or "they avoid her because otherwise they'd try to seduce her and OF COURSE she'd go along with it". Both versions seem sickening to me. Oh, and all this means that Dor has been neglected by his family and treated badly at the palace, because of a woman and her dangerous sex appeal. Great.
Irene shows up with her plant-growing talent (which was judged by The Men Who Decide Things to not be a Magician-level talent) and we get an erection joke and again we are 100% tying "adulthood" with "stiff penis" for this entire chapter.
[Dor] “Nothing. I can’t grow a thing.”
“You will when you’re a man,” Grundy muttered.
Please also enjoy this scene, and by "enjoy" I mean "sob with me":
“I hate you!” she screeched at him.
Genuinely baffled, Dor could only inquire: “Why?”
“Because you’re going to be K-King! And if I want to be Q-Queen, I’ll have to—to—”
“To marry him,” Grundy said. “You really should learn to finish your own sentences.”
You might wonder why Irene wants to be Queen when Iris is basically constantly neglected and miserable. I point you to the fact that Xanth has basically been described as No Woman's Land so far where every woman with a talent like "sexy moon cycle" and "sex appeal" is apparently considered legal fair game for every man to "seduce" until he gets tired of all the seduction and just up and rapes her. (And then they have a bullshit trial that he doesn't even have to show up to. And she is ruined for marriage for life and no man will ever protect her again. *jazz hands*)
If all this seems terribly unfair to Irene, don't worry, because she's clearly inferior to Trent and Dor:
A King, to rule Xanth, had to be able to exert his power effectively, as Magician Trent did. Trent could transform any enemy into a toad, and everyone in Xanth knew that. But Magician Trent was also smart; he used his talent merely to back up his brains and will. What would a girl like Irene do, if she occupied the throne? Line the paths with shadowboxing plants? Dor’s talent was far more effective; he could learn all the secrets anyone had except those never voiced or shown before an inanimate object. Knowledge was the root of power.
Incidentally, this book will feature as a contender for the throne Magician Murphy, whose power is literally making things go wrong in coincidental ways and which can be thwarted by Maturity (with a capital M) and a careful attention to detail. Definitely way more useful than girls who can plant and control things like lethal trees and magical plants that can bear any kind of food or luxury good.
And that's Chapter 1, and I'm going to stop there because this post has been up for me to work on for days and I hate to leave everyone hanging any longer.