The Chronicles of Amber
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The Chronicles of Amber is a series of fantasy novels written by Roger Zelazny. The main series consists of two story arcs, each five novels in length. Additionally, there are a number of Amber short stories and other works.
The Amber stories take place in two "true" worlds: Amber, and the Courts of Chaos, as well as the shadows that lie between them. These shadows, including our Earth, are parallel worlds that exist in the tension between the two true worlds of Amber and the Courts. The Courts of Chaos are situated at the very edge of Abyss itself. Royals of Amber who have negotiated the Pattern can travel freely through the shadows. By shifting between shadows, one can alter or create a new reality by choosing which elements of which shadows to keep, and which to subtract. Members of the Courts of Chaos who have traversed the Logrus are also able to travel through shadow.
- 1 The Chronicles
- 1.1 The Corwin cycle
- 1.2 The Merlin Cycle
- 1.3 Short stories
- 1.4 The Dawn of Amber
- 1.5 Other works
- 2 The Amber Multiverse
- 3 Inspirations
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Ten Amber novels were written by Zelazny and released individually between 1970 and 1991. The first novel, Nine Princes in Amber, originally appeared in excerpts in Kallikanzaros No. 1, June 1967 and Kallikanzaros No. 3, December 1967. Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos first appeared in abridged, serialized versions in Galaxy Science Fiction. The Guns of Avalon, and the five 'Merlin Cycle' Amber novels were not serialized or excerpted.
Several "Chronicles of Amber" omnibus anthologies have also been published collecting the 5 novels from the original 'Corwin cycle' or all 5 novels of the 'Merlin cycle' or (as in The Great Book of Amber) all 10 novels.
The Corwin cycle
The first five novels are narrated by Corwin and describe Corwin's adventures and life as he re-encounters his family after an absence of centuries.
Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
Corwin wakes up from a coma in a hospital in New York with amnesia. He soon discovers that he's part of a superhuman royal family that can wander among infinite parallel worlds (called "shadows"), and who rule over the one true world, Amber. He meets members of this newly rediscovered family, and then later is shown and walks the Pattern, a labyrinth inscribed in the dungeons of Castle Amber which gives the multiverse its order. Walking the Pattern of Rebma (a city in Amber that mirrors the true city of Amber, down to the smallest detail, including the Pattern) restores Corwin's memory and his abilities to travel through shadow. In alliance with his brother Bleys, he attempts to conquer Amber, which is currently ruled by his elder brother Eric, who took power after the disappearance of their father, Oberon. Their attempt fails. Bleys falls from the side of Kolvir and Corwin is captured, blinded and imprisoned. Thanks to his genetic regenerative ability, his eyes regrow and he regains his vision. Dworkin Barimen, the mad sorcerer who created the Pattern, enters Corwin's prison through the walls of Corwin's prison cell, and eventually draws on the wall the door through which Corwin escapes.
The Guns of Avalon (1972)
Corwin has escaped the dungeons of Amber, where he was imprisoned by his hated brother Eric, who had seized the throne of Amber. All of Corwin's siblings believe that guns cannot function in Amber, as gunpowder is inert there. But Corwin has secret knowledge: in the shadow world of Avalon, where he once ruled, there exists a jeweler's rouge that will function in Amber as gunpowder should. Corwin plans to raise a legion of shadow soldiers, and arm them with automatic rifles from the shadow world Earth. While gathering these forces Corwin discovers a more sinister problem growing among the shadows. He meets Dara, a woman claiming to be his great-grandniece, and later discovers a threat to Amber; a black road which runs across universes from the Courts of Chaos to Amber. With his newly trained army, Corwin marches on Castle Amber only to find it already under siege. Eric is mortally wounded and passes the Jewel of Judgment to Corwin, making Corwin Regent. The immediate danger passes, but Dara threatens greater peril after walking the Pattern and revealing herself to be a creature of the Courts of Chaos, intent on destroying both Amber and the Shadows.
Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
Eric is dead, and Corwin now rules Amber as Regent. But someone has murdered their brother Caine and framed Corwin. This leads to questions about other missing members of the royal family. Random (another brother) tells of his attempts to rescue Brand (also a brother), and Corwin decides to find out what happened to the latter. After many intrafamily exchanges, Brand is rescued but is stabbed by one of the family in the attempt. In the midst of the ensuing intrigue an assassination attempt is made on Corwin and he finds himself incapacitated on Earth. Before returning to Amber he hides the Jewel of Judgment on Earth. After Brand recovers, he tells Corwin of several incidents leading up to his capture. Corwin travels to Tir-na Nóg'th, the mysterious, moonlit Amber-in-the-sky where he hopes to gain insight into the situation, and upon his return finds himself at the Primal Pattern rather than Amber.
The Hand of Oberon (1976)
Corwin finds the Primal Pattern damaged, with a dark stain obscuring parts of it. On further investigation it is found that the blood of one of the members of his family has created the stain. Corwin descends back to the dungeons and meets with Dworkin who explains how the Pattern might be repaired. After being chased from the Pattern, Corwin eventually discovers that Brand is responsible for the damage and that he now has the Jewel of Judgment. Corwin must now prevent Brand from attuning himself to the jewel or Brand's plot to destroy the Pattern will succeed. Corwin and his family band together to prevent this, eventually recover the jewel, and discover that their father Oberon, the true King of Amber, still lives.
The Courts of Chaos (1978)
Oberon, having resumed the throne, organizes an assault on the Courts of Chaos. Oberon plans to repair the Primal Pattern at the cost of his life, and offers the throne to Corwin with Dara as his Queen. Corwin refuses and is tasked to bring the Jewel of Judgment across the shadows to the battle that will ensue after the Pattern is redrawn. He sets off along the black road and is soon pursued by Brand and a great storm. Through the storm and across the multiverse he comes to doubt his father's success. As he approaches the Courts of Chaos he is assailed by fantastic beings who try to dissuade him, and he finally decides that his father must have failed. Corwin then creates a new Pattern and uses it to get to the Courts. In a final confrontation with Brand, the Jewel of Judgment is stolen and lost. Brand is killed, falling off a precipice into the Abyss, taking Deirdre with him in the process. The Jewel is recovered by a unicorn who bestows it on Random, who is then accepted as the new King. The Trumps and multiverse are restored and Corwin begins to relate the first Five novels to his son Merlin.
The Merlin Cycle
The next five novels focus on Merlin, Corwin's son. These stories are held by some fans to be less of a fantasy classic than the first five due to the difference in writing style, direction and setting. One criticism of the sequence is that it revolved around the dealing with and acquisition of ever more powerful artifacts and entities, in a kind of technological/magical arms race.
Whereas Corwin of the first series was a product of the late 1960s and 1970s and was more of a cross between a hardboiled detective in the vein of Raymond Chandler and a Highlander-like immortal with centuries of experience fighting his way through the stories, Merlin (a product of the late 1980s and early 1990s when computers had become commonplace) is a youthful hacker / magician finding himself in increasingly complex situations in the vein of modern hacker protagonists. The series is a coming of age for Merlin with his heritage as a Prince of Chaos and Amber.
Trumps of Doom (1985)
Merlin has been studying computer science on Earth while constructing a secret project called Ghostwheel, a sentient computer based on the Trumps that Merlin hopes will be able to locate Corwin, who vanished after visiting the Courts of Chaos in the previous novel. Merlin discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend Julia, apparently killed by beasts from another shadow, and subsequently finds himself in sorcerous combat with a lady named Jasra, who has a poisonous sting in her bite. More unnerving is that his best friend Luke apparently knows about both Ghostwheel and Merlin's connection to Amber. He eventually returns to Amber, which is in mourning: the news has just come that Caine has been murdered, and Bleys injured, by a mystery assassin with a rifle – an assassin who demonstrates (with a thrown bomb at Caine's funeral, which misses any other family members) that he has access to something with explosive properties in Amber. After the funeral, King Random orders Merlin to shut down Ghostwheel, but the artifact shows it is capable of self-defense, even against its creator, who is saved by the unexpected appearance of Luke – who thus proves, with the ability to traverse Shadow, that he too is no ordinary human. He soon finds that Luke is in fact Rinaldo, son of Brand of Amber, and has been responsible for yearly attempts on his life, on the anniversary of when Luke found out about Brand's death. Luke imprisons Merlin in a cave of blue crystal which negates his magic abilities and from which he cannot escape. The Trumps of Doom won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1985.
Blood of Amber (1986)
Merlin escapes from the blue crystal cave, meets and confronts Jasra, nearly taking her prisoner, but is forced to retreat when she calls in reinforcements using the Trumps. Further mystery ensues back on Earth when several people who apparently knew a lot more about Merlin than they should, turn out to have no memory of previous meetings. Merlin traces his way back to his first confrontation with Jasra, where he finds himself at a magical fort, the Keep of the Four Worlds, a nexus of magical energies which has recently fallen under the control of a mysterious blue-masked sorcerer calling himself "Mask", who seems to have a vendetta against Merlin. However, the Keep is also currently under siege by Dalt the Mercenary, a known enemy of Amber and friend of Luke/Rinaldo. A meeting with a deserter reveals that Jasra (the previous owner of the Keep – now presumably deposed) is Luke/Rinaldo's mother. Merlin returns to Amber, ventures out into Amber City, escapes an assassination attempt, and is saved by Caine's mistress, Vinta Bayle – who, also, appears to know more than she ought about him. Merlin then finds himself having to rescue Luke from Dalt, the two having apparently come to blows. Luke reveals that Jasra has indeed lost power and is now a prisoner – and has the cheek to ask for Merlin's help. "Vinta" reveals that she is not what she seems, but is a being that has apparently appeared to Merlin in "possession" of several different bodies. Luke ends up in the crystal cave himself – and Merlin, after yet another uncanny encounter with a shape-shifting werewolf (which escapes, minus an ear and with severe burns) and that appears to be backed by Mask. Merlin decides to gain leverage over Luke by "rescuing" Jasra without Luke's help, and then taking Jasra as a prisoner in Amber. He confronts Mask, escapes with the now-petrified Jasra, and returns to Amber, where an unusual Trump summoning imprisons him in the Mad Hatter's tea party from Wonderland.
Blood of Amber was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1987.
Sign of Chaos (1987)
Merlin realises that Wonderland, where he and Luke are trapped, is an LSD-induced hallucination made real by Luke's powers over shadow. (It is Luke who has dropped the acid – he, too, having been taken prisoner in an independent attempt to rescue Jasra, and having apparently been given it as an experiment.) He is ambushed by a creature from Chaos, a Fire Angel, but defeats it with the help of a Jabberwock and a vorpal sword. He leaves Luke to sober up and seeks his stepbrother Mandor, who thinks that their half-brother Jurt may be at least one of the assassins trying to kill Merlin – right now, most likely, for headship of the House of Sawall once its current lord dies, since Mandor (the eldest son) has stepped aside, leaving that office to be disputed between Merlin and Jurt (who was indeed the werewolf from earlier.) They meet up with Fiona and discover that the Logrus is making an attempt to damage Corwin's Pattern: but Merlin refuses to help Mandor and Fiona learn more, and returns to Amber, only to be embroiled in diplomatic controversy: in order to avoid Luke's possible accession to the throne of the Shadow kingdom Kashfa, Random is playing politics to put his own candidate on the throne, and the neighbouring kingdom of Begma objects to that particular candidate's territorial ambitions. The Begman duke's elder daughter Coral, and Luke's old friend Dalt the Mercenary, are both revealed to be bastard Amberites, sired by Oberon out of wedlock: Coral walks the Pattern and disappears completely, apparently held prisoner by it. Dalt challenges Amber with an armed force, demanding Luke be surrendered to him as prisoner, but Luke has sworn off his vendetta and is under Queen Vialle's protection. Negotiations result in an arranged fistfight between Dalt and Luke, which Dalt wins and captures Luke. Coral's younger sister Nayda is revealed to be possessed by the mysterious body-possessing "t'yiga" demon which had previously been Vinta Bayle (and, for a short while, several other people on Earth, in "Trumps of Doom"): but since the real Nayda actually died of a long-standing heart condition just as the t'yiga possessed her (possession is normally harmless), it is now trapped in her form permanently. Merlin calls in Mandor to imprison the t'yiga, which turns out (a) to have been sent with orders to act as a bodyguard to Merlin, by an unknown sponsor, and (b) reveals that Jurt is in league with Mask, and is trying to gain power from the Keep of the Four Worlds in the same way that Brand did, and become a Living Trump. Merlin and Mandor free Jasra, since Jasra is Mask's enemy, and together they wrest the Keep of the Four Worlds from Jurt and Mask. Mask is wounded by Merlin, but then it is revealed that "he" is in fact Merlin's ex-girlfriend Julia, whom he had thought dead. Sign of Chaos was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 1988.
Knight of Shadows (1989)
Jasra is left in charge of the Keep of the Four Worlds, where she had ruled before – as Julia's teacher, before Julia decided to outwit her and take over. She turns out to be exactly the right person to leave in charge there, as she does not wish for the power of the Fount of the Four Worlds herself, but is quite happy to prevent others using it, since gaining its power destroyed the last of Brand's humanity, and she appears to have genuinely loved him, and lost him to his power-lust. Merlin tries to use Trump magic to locate Coral – with the help of Mandor, Jasra and even his own creation Ghostwheel, with whom he is back on good terms – but is ambushed by various ghostly constructs of people that have walked the Pattern and Logrus, and even by Corwin's most recent Pattern-ghost (from his own Pattern, not the Pattern of Amber), and finds himself drawn into a struggle between the Logrus, the fundamental power of chaos, and the Pattern, the fundamental power of order. It is revealed that the Pattern, and its chaotic counterpart the Logrus, are sentient, and wish Merlin to choose a side to tip the balance of the multiverse towards one or the other – with other Pattern- and Logrus-ghosts also taking part in the "trial" to influence him one way or the other. He attempts to refuse the "test" but is confronted by the Powers That Be themselves, the Unicorn of Order and Serpent of Chaos. They try to make him choose between them using ghosts of family members who have traversed their two paths. He attempts to walk the route of neutrality to avoid choosing sides, but ends up being tricked into taking sides twice – firstly by having a Chaos dagger planted on him as he sleeps before attempting to take the middle path in a three-way choice between the extremes of Order and Chaos (this is rather appropriate: he would rather aid neither side, but his chosen method is usually the magic of Chaos), and secondly he is coerced into aiding the Pattern to strengthen its position in Shadows, while rescuing Coral from her imprisonment. During the trial he somehow obtains possession of the Jewel of Judgement: the attempt to return it to Castle Amber provokes a confrontation between the Pattern and Logrus themselves, causing a mighty explosion in which Mandor suffers a broken arm and Coral loses an eye. The ty'iga demon in Nayda's body escapes and tries to return the Jewel to the Logrus, but is captured by Ghostwheel – which, after removing both Nayda and the Jewel, passes its own synthetic "consciousness" through the Jewel, thus traversing the Pattern. Coral's damaged eye is operated on by Dworkin, who replaces it with the Jewel of Judgement. Merlin investigates Brand's old quarters, and finds his old sword Werewindle, and a mysterious and powerful "spikard" ring, which he keeps. Random sends him to the kingdom of Kashfa as the Amberite representative at a coronation ... that of none other than Luke, who is crowned as "King Rinaldo I", having overthrown Random's candidate Duke Arkans, in a largely bloodless coup. Since he has a fairly legitimate claim on the throne himself, is on better terms with his neighbours (Begma, who objected to Duke Arkans), and has given up his vendetta on Amber, Random is letting things stand. Further complications ensue when it turns out that Coral – now Merlin's lover – is actually Luke's long-forgotten wife following a diplomatic arranged marriage in childhood (although Luke seems willing enough to have it annulled in the future). Merlin goes to present Luke with Werewindle as a memento of his father, but they are ambushed by Jurt (again). Jurt is defeated but steals Werewindle as he flees.
Prince of Chaos (1991)
Merlin returns to his birthplace in the Courts of Chaos in order to solve the existential riddle in which he is involved – to find that he is suddenly a lot closer to the throne of Chaos itself than he thought, King Swayvill having finally died of a long-standing illness (aggravated, it is said, by the death curse of Eric of Amber), and many other candidates having either been assassinated or dropped out, which pushes his own house of Sawall unexpectedly to the forefront. Of course, besides there being two other candidates from rival houses, this pushes Jurt very close to the succession too. In a conversation with his mother Dara – mistress of Corwin once, and a descendant of Benedict, also from the royal house of Chaos – he finds that she was the one who sent the ty'iga demon which is now Coral's sister Nayda (and appears to be developing something of an affection for Luke). Merlin realizes he is but a pawn in the hands of the powerful and cynical superpowers that rule the universe, that neither the Pattern nor the Logrus (or their manifestations as Unicorn and Serpent) care much about their "minions", and that someone or something wants him to rule Chaos – and that others will try to manipulate him when he is. Merlin – and a Pattern-ghost of Luke – are both adopted by Corwin's Pattern (which has previously rejected Fiona), at the instance of a Pattern-ghost of Corwin himself, as it appears that his own Pattern is also sentient and resisting incursions from both the Logrus and Amber's Pattern – and taking a hand in the conflict between the two. It becomes apparent that the real Corwin is held prisoner by Dara herself – ironically, in a chapel devoted to Corwin (chapels devoted to Amberites having apparently become a popular cult in Chaos after the Patternfall War: Jurt worshipped Brand, House Hendrake idolised Benedict, and Mandor's patron was Fiona.) Jurt, frightened by the power politics, declares truce on Merlin, and calls off his own vendetta – suggesting that Dara and Mandor intend, themselves, to manipulate Merlin when becomes King, after first putting him on the throne. The assassination of the two remaining candidates throws things into confusion: Coral is kidnapped by agents of Chaos (who want her because the Jewel of Judgement is her eye), and pursued by Merlin and Jurt, who call on the assistance of Luke, Dalt and Nayda: they find themselves having to fight agents of the Pattern as well as the Logrus to rescue her, and finally confront the Pattern itself and threaten to damage it by spilling their Amberite blood on it, if it does not back off from their conflict (the four others are sent safely away while Luke remains: contact is lost just after he says "Shit, I spilled it!") Merlin rescues his father, Corwin, and hides him in Jurt's quarters, and also discovers that the Spikard Ring he found in Brand's quarters was a trap, meant to bring him under Mandor and Dara's influence – except the plan was anticipated by Bleys (who was thought to be in hiding, recovering from his injury four books ago), who replaced it with another identical spikard which Dara and Mandor did not control (previously held by an estranged Amberite, a son of Oberon called Delwin). In the Courts of Chaos, Merlin uses Ghostwheel (which has by now traversed the Logrus as well as the Pattern), his own Spikard, and all his magical powers in the final fight for survival: finally declaring – and forcing Dara and Mandor to accept – that although he did not want to rule, if forced to do so, it will not be as anyone's puppet. Thus both the Pattern and Logrus are forestalled for a time, in their attempts to escalate their conflict: while Corwin begins the journey back to Amber, Merlin – who wants peace with Amber – returns to Chaos to await his coronation.
For the limited 1985 edition of Trumps of Doom, Zelazny wrote a prologue which details Merlin's passage through the Logrus.
After completing the Merlin Cycle, Zelazny wrote six Amber short stories, in which he began to tease the threads of the story into a new configuration. The author died shortly after completing the sixth short story of this small series, and before the first story (co-written with Ed Greenwood) had been completed. Five of the six short stories were collected in Manna from Heaven (2003), along with the Trumps of Doom prologue and 16 non-Amber stories. The unfinished tale "A Secret of Amber" was published in 2005 in Amberzine #12-15. Although several orders for these stories have been proposed by fans, according to Zelazny himself (commentary quoted in the biography "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 6 and in the "A Word from Zelazny" sections that accompany these stories), the correct order of the stories is this (i.e., the order in which they were written):
- "A Secret of Amber" (co-written in alternating sections with author Ed Greenwood, published in Amberzine #12-15, March 2005)
- "The Salesman's Tale" (Amberzine No. 6, by Phage Press, February 1994 and Ten Tales, edited by John Dunning, 1994)
- "Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains" (Wheel of Fortune, edited by Roger Zelazny, 1995)
- "The Shroudling and the Guisel" (Realms of Fantasy, October 1994)
- "Coming to a Cord" (Pirate Writings, Number 7, 1995)
- "Hall of Mirrors" (Castle Fantastic, edited by John DeChancie and Martin Greenberg, March 1996)
"A Secret of Amber" was written in stages beginning prior to any of the other Amber short stories, but was left incomplete at Zelazny's death. It features an interaction between Fiona and Corwin. The latter five stories tell a linked tale from several viewpoints. Zelazny planned to write more and to eventually publish a collection of Amber short stories.
The Dawn of Amber
A follow-up series The Dawn of Amber was authorized by the Zelazny estate and written by John Gregory Betancourt. Betancourt's series tells the story of Corwin's father Oberon. It is set several centuries before Nine Princes in Amber. Four books were published by iBooks:
A fifth, Sword of Chaos (Dawn of Amber), was scheduled but not written. After the death of Byron Preiss, iBooks filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and the series was canceled. The future of the series is uncertain but iBooks has shown renewed interest in the series since being purchased by John T Colby in 2006.
The focus on Oberon disappointed some Amber fans who, after reading the Merlin series and the Amber short stories, believed that Zelazny was planning another series to wrap up the story that was left hanging. Zelazny had written the Amber short stories to tie up some loose ends and at the same time opened doors to new stories for the Amber universe.
The series seems to contradict some ideas in Amber or rules stated in the original ten books. Betancourt talked about some of these concerns in an interview, stating that some of them won't prove valid at end of his series.
Betancourt says one of his primary motivations for writing the new books is to keep Zelazny's books and stories alive and in print and to prevent them from fading into obscurity. He cites how other authors have extended such series as Robert E. Howard's Conan, Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
The decision to authorize the Oberon books has been criticized by several acquaintances of Zelazny, including the writers George R. R. Martin, Walter Jon Williams and Neil Gaiman. They assert that Zelazny was quite averse to the idea of a "shared" Amber setting and that he had clearly stated he did not want any others writing Amber stories. Gaiman wrote:
|“||Well, I remember Roger talking to me and Steve Brust. We'd just suggested that if he did an anthology of other-people-write-Amber-stories that we'd be up for it (understatement) and he puffed on his pipe, and said -- extremely firmly -- that he didn't want anyone else to write Amber stories but him. I don't believe he ever changed his mind on that. (When Roger knew he was dying, though, he did nothing to rewrite his will, which means that his literary executor is a family member from whom he was somewhat estranged — not someone who would have kept Roger's wishes paramount. Which is a pity.) Would I love to write an Amber story? God, yes. Would Steve Brust? Absolutely. Will we? Nope because Roger told us he explicitly didn't want it to happen.||”|
There are two guides to Amber:
- Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber by Roger Zelazny and Neil Randall (1988)
- The Complete Amber Sourcebook by Theodore Krulik (1996)
There are two books similar in concept to the Choose Your Own Adventure series by Neil Randall:
- Seven No-Trump (1988) 'A Crossroads Adventure'
- The Black Road War (1988) 'Combat Command'
- Amber Diceless Role-playing (1991)
- Shadow Knight (1995)
There are two three-part comic adaptations of Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon, respectively, by Terry Bisson (1996).
- Nine Princes in Amber (abridged February 1992, unabridged April 1998)
- The Guns of Avalon (abridged February 1992, unabridged November 1998)
- Sign of the Unicorn (abridged September 1992, unabridged December 1998)
- The Hand of Oberon (abridged October 1992, unabridged 1999) (last portion of the unabridged version read by Bruce Watson)
- The Courts of Chaos (abridged only January 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
- Trumps of Doom (abridged April 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
- Blood of Amber (abridged July 1993, unsure of unabridged date)
- Sign of Chaos (abridged November 1994, unabridged 2002)
- Knight of Shadows (abridged only) (October 1996)
- Prince of Chaos (abridged only) (read by Bruce Watson) (December 1998)
Additionally, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) have also created their own unabridged versions of The Chronicles of Amber. Though they are not read by Zelazny and do not contain special effects, for a time they were the only source for unabridged readings of the later works.
In 2012, Audible released brand new recordings of The Chronicles of Amber with Alessandro Juliani reading the first five books (the Corwin cycle) and Wil Wheaton reading the last five books (the Merlin cycle).
The Amber Multiverse
The series is based on the concept of parallel worlds, domination over them being fought between the kingdoms at the extreme ends of Shadow—Amber, the one true world of Order, and the Courts of Chaos. Amberites of royal blood—those descended from Oberon (and ultimately his parents: Dworkin, formerly of the Courts of Chaos, and the Unicorn of Order herself) —are able to "walk in Shadow", mentally willing changes to occur around them. These changes are, in effect, representative of the Shadow-walker passing through different realities. There are apparently infinite realities, and the characters in the novels are not sure if these different universes are created as one walks through Shadow, or if they already exist and a Shadow-walker is able to slip from one to another. In the Merlin cycle there are references to the Wheeler-Everret interpretation of quantum-mechanics and the Ghostwheel created by Merlin is said to "shuffle" through Shadows, suggesting that the multiverse exists independently, although this is never explicitly stated.
Within this multiverse, Zelazny deals with some interesting philosophical concepts about the nature of existence, compares and contrasts the ideas of Order and Chaos, and plays with the laws of physics—they can differ from Shadow to Shadow; for instance, gunpowder does not ignite in Amber, which is why the characters all carry swords. Other Shadows have green skies and blue suns, cities of glass, and worlds out of our own fiction can come to life.
The Geography of Amber
The Castle and City of Amber rest upon a shoulder of Kolvir, a mountain which dominates the land and sea around it. The city lies below the castle and extends down the mountain’s slopes to a seaport. Part of the eastern face of Kolvir is a cliff, thousands of feet high, which can be climbed using stone steps. These form a switchback stair, a path that is broad enough for two men abreast at the bottom, but soon narrows, wide enough for only for a single person. There are no railings. Below the stairs are a tiger-striped beach and the sea, and the cliff face is riddled with sea caves. Out to sea and to the southeast of Amber lies first the City of Rebma, and then the Isle of Cabra, noted for its lighthouse.
To the north of Amber lie various estates, farms, and small villages and communities, as well as a small port (Balyesport). The great forest of Arden lies to the north, west and south of Kolvir. Also to the south is The Vale of Garnath. This is a lush forest, but “not so thickly or massively wooded as the Arden,” and is where the River Oisen travels to the sea. It is also through Garnath that the forces of Chaos eventually come to attack Amber, using their Black Road. Another important southern location, within the Forest of Arden, is the Grove of the Unicorn.
Prince Julian is generally responsible for patrolling the land approaches to Amber, especially through the Arden, while Princes Caine and Gérard initially shared responsibility for the fleets protecting Amber’s seas. Since Amber "casts Shadow but is not of it," walking in Shadow was not possible in the immediate environs of the City or Kolvir. It was necessary to gain some distance from these locations in order to walk in Shadow, traveling to or from other worlds. This usually meant traveling by sea, or through the Forest of Arden. This is why the sea patrols and Julian's force in Arden were effective.
Reflections of Amber
Amber has two reflections or counterparts. The city of Rebma (Amber spelled backwards) lies under the sea off the coast. Markers on the beach point the way to an underwater stairway (named Faiella-Bionin) which descends to the city. The stairway and city are magical, allowing normal breathing, talking, etc. -- but also allowing one to swim if desired. Leaving the areas of magic returns one to normal water, with the potential of drowning or being crushed by water pressure. Rebma is ruled by Queen Moire. Most inhabitants are a sea people, not shadows of Amberites, and are slightly different in form from humans. They can be resentful of Amber, particularly when strife in Amber causes ripples of trouble in their own home. In times of peace Amberites may visit freely. It was during one such time that Random seduced and abandoned Moire's daughter Morganthe, leading her to commit suicide after she bore his son, Martin. Rebma contains a copy of the Pattern, a mirror image of the one in Amber.
On moonlit nights, the ghostly city of Tir-na Nog'th (cf. Tír na nÓg) appears in the sky above Kolvir. It is an imperfect reflection of the Amber, with inhabitants that are shadows and ghosts of people, including those who once, might have, or never existed. Like Rebma, Tir-na Nog'th is reached by a stair, the bottom three steps of which are of stone rooted on Kolvir, with the rest of the stairs being of the same nature as the city itself. As long as the moon is not obscured, the stairway and the city are solid enough to stand on. Amberites visit the ghost city to seek insights and portents of the future. The passage of time and spatial distances differ in Tir-na Nog'th, versus the world below. When doing visiting there, safety suggests staying in contact with someone via a Trump, since the city may disappear without warning if a cloud passes across the moon. Again like Rebma, Tir-na Nog'th also contains a complete copy of the Pattern (but this copy isn't reversed, as is Rebma's.). Tir-na Nog'th is visited by Corwin in a crucial development of his story.
The cast of characters
Ultimately, Amber focuses on a dysfunctional family that is at the center of a cosmic war between many powers. Nine princes and four princesses of Amber, including Prince Corwin as narrator of the first book series, try to deal with the disappearance of Oberon, their father, and an apparent need for succession of the throne. No one trusts anyone, everyone appears to be ready to backstab anyone else (often literally), and everyone seems genuinely interested in only one thing: himself or herself.
In this respect, the Amber series could perhaps be best described as a philosophical, metaphysical, magical, mystical, fantasy soap opera. It has all those things, all wrapped around a cast of characters who are conniving, paranoid, dysfunctional, and often heartless.
All of the princes and princesses of Amber have super-human strength and regenerative capabilities. For example, Random and Corwin are able to pick up a car that had become stuck on a soft shoulder and place it back on the road, and Corwin is able to regenerate his eyes after they are burned out, although it takes him almost four years. Corwin seems to have the fastest regenerative capabilities in the royal family, something he contemplates after his escape from the dungeons of Amber.
The Pattern and the Logrus
At the two poles of existence are the symbols of Order and Chaos—The Pattern and The Logrus, respectively. Each, when negotiated, gives a person the ability to walk in shadow—across the different possible universes. The Pattern is a single, intertwined curve, laid out in a twisting maze-like design, in size larger than a football field. The Logrus is described as a shifting, three-dimensional obstacle course. Amber's Pattern is located in caverns deep underneath the royal palace.
Initially, readers learn there is the Pattern in Amber, and copies in Rebma and Tir-na Nog'th. Later, more become evident: e.g., there are imperfect or "Broken" copies in other Shadows. These imperfect copies exist in shadows close to Amber, with the first three being the least dangerous to use, but with the danger increasing the further one is from the original. Navigating a Broken Patterns can give an individual some access to magical energies, but it is "foolish" to attempt to use for such purposes any Broken Pattern further than the ninth one from Amber.
The Logrus is not introduced until the sixth of book of the Amber series (The Trumps of Doom). Merlin's walking of the Logrus appears in a prologue to the initial hardcover edition of the book, which is sometimes available on-line (the link provided includes typos that are not Zelazny's). We do not see any other instances of a character negotiating the Logrus. The Prologue has Merlin bleeding and experiencing odd sensory inputs. Later we learn walking the Logrus can leave one mentally unstable for a while afterwards, but this "usually" passes. The Logrus is also described as containing the skeletal remains of those who tried to walk it, but failed.
In the Amber universe, the term “Trump” is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it properly refers to a type of specialized Tarot card. The original decks used by Amberites had some or all of the tarot’s major arcana replaced (or augmented) with images of the royal family and at least one location (Amber Castle). These original decks were created by Dworkin, and a deck was given to family members after they walked the Pattern. Physically, these cards are cool to the touch. The decks may be used like normal tarots for divination, as Corwin does shortly after meeting one of his brothers.
However, their greatest attribute is altogether different: they can act as a means of instant communication, travel, or even of attack. Anyone may use a trump – i.e., they do not need to be an Amberite or of royal blood. By concentrating on a card depicting a person, the user tries to form a type of psychic link with that person. If successful, the users are able to talk to each other, and even see some of the other’s surroundings. Either person has the option of bringing the other to their physical location, or “trumping” them through to the other location (an example of the term being used as a verb). One can also trump through to the other’s location by themselves, without the other's active assistance—but the other person must still be viewing the card (e.g., Dalt's attempt to come through a Trump held by Merlin in Arbor House). The psychic contact also leaves open the possibility of an attack by one person on the other, an attempt to dominate by sheer force of ego and will. This can result in immobilization or worse for the victim of the attack. If the Trump depicts a place, the user is able to transport themselves to that location. Those who witness someone “trumping” away from them see the individual become two-dimensional before disappearing, and there is a prismatic aftereffect. In Trumps of Doom, Merlin also mentions sensing a kind of electrical charge as Jasra trumps into a room where he waits.
Trump contact between people may be blocked by the receiving party, if desired, by an act of concentration. A variety of circumstances can also prevent trump contact from being made, ranging from sheer distance and time differences across shadows, to unconsciousness, amnesia, the particular location(s) where users are, and other factors.
These are the basic attributes of the Trumps. Either party may end a Trump communication, either by passing their hand over the card, or by an effort of will (recipients of trumps contacts need not have a trump card in their hands, but can still end the discussion). As the tale progresses, we learn more: people besides Dworkin can create Trumps. Indeed, the initiates of the Logrus have their own Trump cards, but these are not described to the same level of detail as are the Amber Trumps. If one looks “closely enough” at a Trump, one can see parts of the Pattern or Logrus within their design. Being a Pattern or Logrus initiate is required to create Trumps. Not all characters have the ability to create Trumps, though it may be learned. Those with the ability may create a trump for any person or place desired, provided they are sufficiently familiar with that person or place, and the place is not one in constant motion/change. There are also “variations” of trumps, which do not need to be drawn on playing cards – or even any surface at all, under the proper circumstances and if the creator has the proper resources/conditions.
As inspirations for the Chronicles of Amber go, a compelling argument can be made for the 1946 novel The Dark World by Henry Kuttner (and most likely his wife, C. L. Moore, an unusually symbiotic collaborator). Zelazny himself is quoted as saying:
|“||...the Kuttner story which most impressed me in those most impressionable days was his short novel The Dark World. I returned to it time and time, reading it over and over again, drawn by its colorful, semi-mythic characters and strong action. ...looking back, Kuttner and Moore—and, specifically, The Dark World—were doubtless a general influence on my development as a writer. As for their specific influences—particularly on my Amber series—I never thought about it until Jane Lindskold started digging around and began pointing things out to me.||”|
Reading the Kuttner (and Moore) novel, readers are bound to find similarities in theme and in specific instances: some character names are common to both works, and they share the fantasy literary device of moving a present day, realistic character from the familiar world into a fantastical, alternate reality world, exposing the character to this shift as the reader experiences it.
Zelazny openly admitted that the series was inspired by Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers series, specifically the concepts of an immensely powerful family in a deadly rivalry over the fate of multiple universes.
Given Zelazny's academic interest in the Medieval European period, it is not a stretch to see a possible influence in Henry Adams' 1905 work Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres, wherein he discusses the building of Chartres Cathedral, and the tidal-islet of Mont Saint-Michel, on the Normandy coast of France. However, these possible influences are not supported by Zelazny's own commentary about the origins of the Pattern. He indicated that he loosely based the Pattern in part on the Tree of Life or Sephiroth of Kaballah, and preferred to allow the reader to imagine what the actual Pattern looked like.
More generally, the series draws from many mythological sources as inspirations, especially Celtic (see Tír na nÓg), Norse mythology, and Arthurian legend. Zelazny cited Jessie L. Weston's 1921 book From Ritual to Romance as a key influence: it examined the pagan and Christian roots of the legends of King Arthur, the Wasteland myths, and the Holy Grail. For example, the Celtic Wasteland myth ties the barrenness of a land to a curse that a hero must lift; Corwin's curse is in part responsible for the Black Road.
Philosophical texts have influenced the series as well: many similarities exist between Amber and Plato's Republic (see the Allegory of the cave) and the classical problems of metaphysics, virtuality, solipsism, logic, possible worlds, probability, doubles and essences are also repeatedly reflected on.
Sometimes the references made by Zelazny could be considered foreshadowing, if one knows the reference. One such is the character Ganelon, whose name is taken from the Matter of France: specifically, it is the name of the man whose moniker is more often "Ganelon the Traitor". This suggests that the name is chosen because of Ganelon purposefully losing a battle to spite Corwin. In the Song of Roland, Ganelon is also the stepfather of the main hero, Roland; and on the last page of The Hand of Oberon, Zelazny's Ganelon is revealed as Oberon in disguise.
Allusions to Shakespeare
Throughout the Chronicles, Zelazny alludes extensively to plays by William Shakespeare. It is not stated in the series whether the characters (who are usually well-read) are merely paraphrasing the bard for their own amusement, or if Shakespeare himself was telling stories that are reflections of Amber's history and future. It is implied that both variants are true simultaneously. The allusions include:
- Oberon, the King of Amber, is also the name of King of the Fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, although Shakespeare did not invent the character.
- The Forest of Arden is also the setting of Shakespeare's As You Like It.
- There are greater thematic allusions in the Chronicles, mostly to Hamlet. Corwin describes himself at the beginning of The Courts of Chaos as the "mad prince" of Amber, drawing a parallel between himself and the mad prince of Denmark. In addition, Corwin is contacted by the "ghost" of Oberon several times (before realizing that Oberon still lives), an obvious parallel to the plot of Hamlet. When dining with Lorraine, Corwin even refers to the attempted Trump contact by Oberon as a message from his "father's ghost".
- The rivalry between Corwin and Eric roughly parallels the Wars of the Roses, as portrayed in Shakespeare's "Wars of the Roses" cycle. Corwin's symbol, a silver rose, echoes the House of York's symbol, a white rose, and Eric's chosen color, red, echoes the House of Lancaster's symbol, a red rose.
- "Ill-met by moonlight", Deirdre's response to her rescue in Nine Princes in Amber (chapter 4): "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania", said by Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
- "To sleep, perchance to dream... Yeah, there's a thing that rubs", Corwin muses in Nine Princes in Amber (chapter 6). "To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub", from the To be, or not to be soliloquy in Hamlet.
- Very early in Nine Princes in Amber Corwin thinks to himself, "In the state of Denmark there was the odor of decay." A reference to "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", a famous line from Hamlet.
- When Corwin first meets Eric in Nine Princes in Amber, Eric complains "It's true, that uneasy-lies-the-head bit." "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" is the final line in a monologue spoken by Henry IV in Act III, Scene i, of Henry IV, part 2 wherein Henry is pondering how sleep comes to even the most humble peasant easier than it does to the great.
- When he receives Eric's offer of peace in The Guns of Avalon, Corwin muses "...I believe you, never doubt it, for we are all of us honorable men" (chapter 8). In Marc Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar, he says, "For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all; all honourable men."
- "So Childe Random to the dark tower came", Random recounts in his story of how he tried to rescue Brand. At the end of Act IV of King Lear, Edgar, disguised as the Poor Tom, the crazy beggar, babbles "Child Rowland to the dark tower came", an allusion itself to the fairy tale of Childe Rowland.
- Corwin, when describing the royal family to Ganelon in Sign of the Unicorn, says that Oberon had two other sons with Benedict's mother Cymnea, the first being Osric, who shares his name with a courtier in Hamlet.
- "Good night, sweet Prince", Brand says to Benedict in The Hand of Oberon (chapter 13). These are the words that Horatio speaks at the death of Hamlet.
- After watching his "dream" from Tir-na Nog'th play out in Amber in The Courts of Chaos (chapter 1), Corwin muses, "I looked back once to the empty place where my dream had come true. Such is the stuff." He alludes to Act IV, scene 1 of The Tempest, where, after causing spirits he has summoned to disappear, Prospero delivers the famous speech that includes the line "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded by a sleep."
- A Gadget Too Far by David Langford
- "1985 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- "1987 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
- "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 6, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 6: The Road to Amber, NESFA Press, 2009.
- "A Word from Zelazny" (individual story commentary). In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 6: The Road to Amber, NESFA Press, 2009.
- Betancourt posting (now lost)
- Betancourt followup (now lost)
- Publishers Weekly Article
- Betancourt interview at sfsite.com
- Neil Gaiman statement at zelazny.corrupt.net
- Alberquerque Biz Journal
- "Audible.com audiobooks".
- The Dark World by Henry Kuttner. Downloadable text from ManyBooks.net
- issue No. 5 of Amberzine, Phage Press
- "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 2, by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume 2: Power & Light, NESFA Press, 2009.
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- The Amber mailing-list FAQ
- Series profile at Internet Book List
- The Dying of Ember (Amber parody)
- The Chronicles of Amber at Worlds Without End
- The Dark World by Henry Kuttner. Downloadable text of the novella at Manybooks.net.