Written by Roger Zelazny in the 70’s the Chronicles of Amber is an epic fantasy series. Its one of the ones that survives the test of time (I know – I’ve re-read it several times over the years now and each time I find something new to enjoy) and only grows better as your perspective changes. Without a doubt the Chronicles have had an impact on other Fantasy writings by other authors and it is only perhaps when you read the series again with this in mind that you will see where the correlations are.
You see – Amber is the one true world and city. It casts a thousand reflections (shadows) and all other worlds (including our own) are simply one of its reflections. All roads lead to Amber and on this world the sons of Oberonare the rulers and lords – they control Shadow and can navigate its complexities picking and choosing worlds as they go.
Old Friends & New Enemies –
At the end of the previous book, Corwin was able to escape from the dungeons of Amber with the help of Dworkin. Recovering Corwin has decided that he must overthrow his brother Eric and sets out to obtain the resources (men and materials) necessary to make this happen.
Corwin decides to set out for Avalon – his one-time home and starts to traverse Shadows to get there. As Corwin nears Avalon, he passes through a land called Lorraine. Lorraine is under siege by forces from the “circle” and as Corwin approaches this land he comes across a wounded knight. This knight is Lance a shadow of the Lance that Corwin knew as a knight of Avalon. Corwin carries Lance back to a nearby fortress, the Keep of Ganelon. Along the way, Corwin slays two giant hellcats — feline demons who call him the “opener”, confirming his fears that he is responsible for the corruption of the vale of Garnath.
Once Corwin has managed to get Lance to safety in the keep, he meets Ganelon. Ganelon is someone that Corwin banished from Avalon to Lorraine for betraying him and it is only because of Corwin’s incarceration in the dungeons of Amber that Ganelon does not recognize him as Corwin. Ganelon had grown from the leader of an outlaw band when Corwin banished him to the protector of the realm now that the forces inside the circle had started to attack the land. Ganelon asks Corwin to stay and help and as Corwin feels that the reason for this infestation is his own curse he agrees to do so.
We can rebuild him –
Corwin quickly realizes that while his withered physique acts as a great disguise, he needs to build up his strength if he expects to defeat the forces arrayed against him and sets out to do so by training with the soldiers in the camp, besting one and all. Corwin also meets Lorraine – a maiden named after the land itself and grows quite fond of her. Together they confront one of the minions of the circle – the winged demon, Strygalldwir, which Corwin is able to kill with his Pattern-sword Grayswandir.
Battle Royale –
Corwin, Ganelon, and Lance lead an army against the forces of the dark circle and in a climactic battle, Corwin is able to slay the enemy leader – a goat headed creature with great strength. He discovers here that the forces of the enemy have come from the Courts of Chaos – as Amber is the pinnacle of order, the Courts function in a similar manner with regards to Chaos itself and here the Shadows themselves cease to follow ordinary rules of reality.
Corwin realizes that before he can take a battle here, he has to obtain leadership of the forces of Amber and still needs to dethrone Eric. Realizing that his only option is to continue his journey to Avalon, Corwin and Ganelon set out on their way. As they approach Avalon, they learn that a man known as the Protector has recently fought a similar battle to theirs and defeated the forces of chaos in Avalon. Corwin and Ganelon journey on and meet the Protector, who turns out to be Corwin’s long-lost brother Benedict, the most formidable swordsman and military strategist in existence. Benedict’s forces have defeated the hellmaids, but he has lost his arm in the battle. Benedict greets Corwin cordially, but refuses to support his claim to the throne. Benedict also reveals that their father, King Oberon, did not abdicate, as Corwin had believed, but simply vanished.
The Butler Did It –
Benedict sends Corwin and Ganelon to his country house where they can rest and recover from their ordeals. Here Corwin meets Dara – Dara is Benedicts great-granddaughter and while Benedict hadn’t told Corwin about her, he believes her and speaks to her about Shadow and the pattern. Corwin learns from her that Benedict has been visited by Corwin’s other brothers – Julian, Gérard, and Brand. In Avalon, Corwin arranges to purchase large amounts of jeweler’s rouge which he has accidentally discovered is the only thing that can act in a similar fashion to gun powder in Amber. Once Corwin has the supplies that he needs he decides to visit Earth where he has the contacts that can transform the jeweler’s rouge into ammunition, but Ganelon informs him that someone has killed some bodies and left them buried. Corwin decides not to get involved in this and sets out to Earth.
As Corwin and Ganelon traverse Shadows to get to Earth they are disconcerted to see a black road that seems to cut through all the versions of Shadow (which should be impossible as each shadow is different). However the black road is similar to the dark circle in Lorraine and Corwin realizes that they are related in some fashion. Corwin is then confronted by Benedict and Corwin fearing that Benedict is angry with him for his dealings with Dara flees – however Benedict pursues and eventually catches him. Benedict accuses Corwin of being a murderer, to Corwin’s surprise, and a duel ensues. Completely outmatched, Corwin tricks Benedict into moving into a patch of the strange black grass that grows on the verge of the road. Once this grass entwines itself around Benedict, Corwin is able to knock him unconscious and he then summons one of his other brothers – Gerard via Trump to care for Benedict.
Armistice is Over –
Corwin is now on Earth and is able with his contacts to transform the jewelers rouge into gunpowder appropriate to Amber. Obtaining rifles for his forces he next recruits an army from another shadow world and sets out to conquer Amber. However, upon reaching Amber, Corwin finds that a battle has already been in progress and while the Amberites are able to win the day with the assistance of Corwin’s forces, Eric is wounded close to death. Before he dies, Eric passes the Jewel of Judgment to Corwin and pronounces his death curse on the enemies of Amber.
Dara also appears from nowhere – she has managed to navigate through Shadow and is hell bent on walking the pattern so that she gains the full abilities of the rest of the family. Corwin, suddenly apprehensive, contacts his brother Random via trump, and has Random teleport him into Amber. They reach the chamber of the Pattern to find that Dara is already walking it, shifting into all manner of strange and grotesque shapes as she does. Completing her Pattern walk, she announces to Corwin in a low, inhuman voice that “Amber will be destroyed”, then vanishes.
Correlations to other Fantasy Series – The Wheel of Time
Perhaps the most obvious linkage is between The Chronicles of Amber and The Wheel of Time. I don’t know if Robert Jordan intended for these similarities or if it was something that was perhaps just in his subconscious as he was writing the series but reading through both books some of the things that jump out at you are:
- Shadow – a huge part of The Chronicles is the ability that the main protagonists have of “walking through Shadow”. Basically a way of exploring different and alternate realities that are present and viewable … a theme explored in many other titles it is very much evident in The Wheel of Time itself. The whole concept of being able to “walk through shadow” is something that is utilized to great extent by the half-men (a Myrddraal) of the Wheel of Time series. In addition the idea of multiple alternate worlds where only some small things are different is explored several times in the Wheel of Time also – perhaps most notably in the 2nd book (The Great Hunt) where Rand, Loial and Hurin are separated from the Shienaran party and transported to an alternate world via a portal stone, a world similar to their own but where the land appears deserted and distorted.
- Pattern – “The wheel weaves as the wheel wills”… a quote often used in the Wheel of Time series it is most similar to the Pattern in the Chronicles of Amber. Here an Amberite can gain power over shadow by traveling through/over/past the Pattern … in fact reflections or shadows of the pattern have a power in itself and it was only through the Pattern that Corwin was restored to his memories. Rand also traveled a pattern of sorts in book 4 of the Wheel of Time (The Shadow Rising) – when he walks through the crystal garden that is the proving ground for Aiel chiefs. He relives portions of the lives of various Aiel before and just after the Breaking.
Correlations to other Fantasy Series – The Number of the Beast
Heinlein wrote a lot of books and series over the years. The thing that caught my attention in this book and the Chronicles though is the bad guys … Heinlein’s “Black Hats” who were trying to take over all the universes and fighting our main hero’s throughout this book seemed to me to be the same as the villains described early on in the Chronicles (Book 1 – Nine Princes in Amber & later again in Book 3 – Sign of the Unicorn). The spurs on the back of the hands. The strength and general appearance all seemed to be very similar and I suspect that in Heinlein’s case this was deliberate vs. subconscious