Castle Roogna, Part 7
So, uh, Chapter 10. Didn't finish that last time, because all the centaur stuff took front and center. Dor gets to meet "neo-Sorceress Vadne", who is the evil scheming woman in this book (a la Iris) because she is beautiful and intelligent and powerful, and all three things combined strike terror in Xanth men's hearts.
Whereas in the first book, Iris was peeved because having boobs disqualified her in Xanth society from holding the throne (despite it being occupied by a dangerous incompetent in need of replacement),
So they're basically the same character and if you're wondering how the author managed to crank out, like, 50 of these books, we may have just stumbled on the secret: half of the characters are reused wholesale under different names.
“Magician,” a dulcet voice said behind Dor. He turned to find a mature woman standing on the ramparts. “I am neo-Sorceress Vadne, come to assist the defense of this wall. How may I be of service?”
“Neo-Sorceress?” Dor asked with undiplomatic blankness. He remembered Murphy saying something about a Sorceress who was helping the King, but the details had fogged out.
“My talent is judged to be shy of Sorceress level,” she said, her mouth quirking.
I read a Robert Price book once, The Incredible Shrinking Son of God (which I recommend and found very fascinating), and was struck by his point that the literalist streak in a lot of modern Christianity doesn't make sense on a fundamental level because it basically assumes that the people in the past had no greater goals or ambitions than serving as perfect record-keepers for us in the future. And that, as a general rule, people mark down history with other, more-immediate intentions: to persuade, to explain, to justify, and so on, and usually to their more immediate peers and not to folks in the misty future. The point was that it would be wise for us to remember that we are not a universal high priority.
I say all that to say this. Apparently there are only a few hundred people in Xanth in this point in history. There are no Sorceresses in this generation. And even in "modern" Xanth, with its higher population, only one or two magicians are produced per generation (until plot starts ensuring otherwise). And yet despite this place having a population lower than most churches, they totally have a Council Of Deciders who make decisions on who is and isn't "really" a sorceress or magician, and they're super sticklers on the girls (despite the ruling being literally meaningless because "sorceress" carries zero political power with it) because... they really care about being strict for posterity? Like, I literally can see no valuable reason to piss off someone with powerful magic by splitting ridiculous hairs like this, and the only justification seems to be that if they relaxed the rules a little, the future would be in grave peril of doing the same. Which frankly seems like a weird priority in a situation where the basic Maslow hierarchy is barely being met in the one or two small existing communities.
But, hey, character motivation. The same character motivation that all the women villains in these books have: get power, ideally by forcing a powerful husband who hates you to marry you. A+ plan. There are then several pages establishing that Vadne's power sucks because she can "only" use it to transform attackers into ("living") stones to finish the unfinished castle walls, while Dor has the Magician-level talent of making flying arrows insult people which apparently causes devastating in-fighting. Sure. We check back in with King Roogna, who has been urged by both the goblin faction and the harpy faction to let them use the castle as a base of operations; Dor agrees with the King's neutrality (which will ensure that the harpies and goblins both fight the humans and destroy the castle) on the grounds that they're all gross.
“I regret we can not make our facilities available to you. We are not choosing sides.”
That was for sure, Dor thought.Both sides were repulsive.
Future king, also A+. Then we check in with Magician Murphy who is, I remind you, the actual reason why this war is going to happen and all human civilization will be wiped out. (His motives being basically Strawman Darwinism.) Murphy does a poor impression of "nice place you have here" and offers to fix things up.
“You mean you can call off the whole goblin-harpy battle, this whole siege, just like that?”
“Not just like that. But I can abate it, yes.”
[...] “The King’s talent is shaping magic to his own ends. Mine is shaping circumstance to interfere with others’ designs. Alternate faces of similar coins. All we have to determine is whose talent shall prevail. Destruction and bloodshed are no necessary part of it. In fact I deplore and abhor—”
“There has already been bloodshed!” Dor exclaimed angrily. “What kind of macabre game is this?”
“A game of power politics,” Murphy responded, unperturbed.
“A game where my friend was tortured by Mundanes, and my life threatened, and the two of us were pitted against each other,” Dor said, his anger bursting loose. “And Millie must marry the Zombie Master to—” He cut himself off, chagrined.
“So you have an interest in the maid,” Vadne murmured. “And had to give her up.”
“That’s not the point!” But Dor knew his face was red.
“Shall we be fair?” Murphy inquired meaningfully. “Your problem with the maid is not of my making.”
“No, it isn’t,” Dor admitted grudgingly. “I— I apologize, Magician.” Adults were able to apologize with grace. “But the rest—”
“I regret these things as much as you do,” Murphy said smoothly. “This contest with the Castle was intended to be a relatively harmless mode of establishing our rights. I would be happy to remove the curse and let the monsters drift as they may. All this requires is the King’s acquiescence.”
King Roogna was silent.
I don't really know what more to say about this except that, once again, the stakes here aren't a simple bowling trophy. The "acquiescence" that Murphy is requiring from Roogna is that Xanth effectively dissolve any attempt at government and from hereafter switch to a "rule by anarchy" situation in an environment where everyone will probably be killed before they can adjust to the newness of the complete upheaval of their entire political way of life for generations. And Murphy admits this and in fact openly wants this because the elements of humanity who manage to survive will objectively be the best and they will breed super-human X-Men.
I mean, I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. And so while it is relevant that this war will potentially kill Dor and Jumper, and has already resulted in Millie contracting a marriage that might bring her little joy, it keeps being forgotten that this war will also decide the lives and fates of literally every human in Xanth. And we kind of need to forget that, because otherwise we wouldn't accept the book's continued insistence that Murphy is an honorable Randian superman who is the hottest thing since molten lava covered Christian Gray.
“Murphy has honor, once you understand his ways,” Vadne said, glancing at the Magician obliquely. “I once sued for his hand, but he preferred chaos to an organized household. So I am without a Magician to marry.”
“You sought to marry above your station,” Murphy told her. Vadne showed her teeth in a strange crossbreed of snarl and smile. “By your definition, Magician!” Then she returned to Dor. “But I let my passion override me. Where did you say you were from, Magician?”
Dor suddenly understood her interest in him—and was glad he could prove himself ineligible. It would be as easy to deal with Helen Harpy as with this woman, and for similar reason. Vadne was no soft and sweet maid like Millie; she was a driven woman on the prowl for a marriage that would complete the status she craved.
Sigh. So perhaps the best part of this is the exemption of Millie from the "driven woman on the prowl" categorization despite the fact that she is literally in this novel because she left home planning to find and marry the most powerful husband she could snag with her talent. We have decided to forget all that, because only Bad Women make sensible decisions in an oppressive patriarchy.
I do like the implication, though, that Murphy will stay single his entire life for lack of someone in his "station". (Unless ya'll want to get some Roogna/Murphy slash going.) Like, yes, please remove yourself from the marriage pool, asshole. How all this intersects with the frankly bizarre interpretation of evolutionary theory that he lives by is beyond me, but since Murphy's entire character motivations seem to boil down to "be as much of a jerk as possible", I'm just grateful it worked in our favor for one.
Then there is some early skirmishing, none of which is particularly interesting, and thus ends Chapter 10.