Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Continued Chronicles of Amber 4: ‘Hall of Mirrors’, and The Start of Speculation

OK, so I left off our hero Corwin heading down a hall with Luke, and made it sound as though he and Luke would be in dire straits soon.

Well, that’s pretty much what happened. Luke notices the Hall of Mirrors, but does not know what it is. Corwin briefly explains it, then the two enter the hall. They encounter Luke’s mother Jasra, then Oberon … who asks Corwin to stab Luke. Turns out that now both Corwin and Luke cannot be harmed – except by Werewindle or Grayswandir. Both swords start singing, and the swords are able to cut where normal steel does nothing.

At Oberon’s bidding, Corwin reveals to Luke a secret of their swords:

“Back in the early days of creation, the gods had a series of rings their champions used in the stabilization of Shadow."
"I know of them," Luke said. "Merlin wears a spikard."
"Really," I said. "They each have the power to draw on many sources in many shadows. They're all different."
"So Merlin said."
"Ours were turned into swords, and so they remain."
"Oh?" Luke said. "What do you know?"
"What do you deduce from the fact that they can do you harm when another weapon cannot?"
"Looks as if they're somehow involved in our enchantment," I ventured.
"That's right," Oberon said. "In whatever conflict lies ahead—no matter what side you are on--you will need exotic protection against the oddball power of someone like Jurt."
"Jurt?" I said.
"Later," Luke told me. "I'll fill you in."

Note that Oberon specifically mentions Jurt. He then blesses both Corwin and Luke (important?) , who then proceed down the hall and meet Dara, who informs them that they have to fight each other, and she implies the fight is to the death. They then come across Eric, though he happens to be dead he is unaware of it, who laughs at the idea of Corwin dying – he ignores Luke, then they see Dierdre, who also happens to be dead, who clues us on in on the fact that none of the images in the mirrors really knows the truth of what will happen. They are then transported to “the killing ground”, where they arrive unconscious.

They wake up near a bonfire, and decide to investigate. They find about a dozen people, and speak to a man named Reis, who confirms that they have been ordered to witness the fight between Corwin and Luke, by two people wearing hoods, one of them probably a woman. The two are fed and then take places by the fire where, Corwin is told, “the cues will come to you”.

Corwin and Luke mean to give a mock show ending in no decision, but find themselves fighting for real, with some of the action out of their control. Corwin admits, “I grew somewhat afraid”.

As the fight continues, both men decide to allow a minor injury to themselves then end things at that point to prevent more serious possibilities. This too is not to be, as the swords take action pretty much on their own. Recognizing that he may not survive, Luke warns Corwin about the sorcerer he met in Flora’s room, and his appearance from a mirror. Luke also speculates “Could it be that for the first time Amber is starting to reflect Shadow, rather than the other way around?” Just at that moment, Roger writes, “Hello,” said a familiar voice. “The deed is done.” The two hooded figures turn out to be Fiona and Mandor, who arrive mid-fight to see what happens. Corwin warns Fiona that he will come after her, to which she replies “we are not as culpable as you may think” just as Corwin passes out from his wounds.

Corwin and Luke come to in the infirmary by Flora, and learn that no one else knows what has happened. Flora observes that the Hall of Mirrors has become a lot more active than when they were growing up. “Almost as if the place were waking up”. Flora goes on to suggest there is “another player in the game”, which she identifies as “the castle itself”.

So ends the last short story, and we can now move on to speculation about what it all means. To do so, I will for here leave aside the short fragment called “A Secret of Amber” and deal only with the other five stories, not least because there is so much in those stories that builds our setting and context.
To begin, I think the titles of these stories gives us a first impression. “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountain” not only re-inserts Corwin as a major character, but introduces us to Shask, his shape-shifting steed. It also allows Corwin to have a conversation while he is alone from other humanoids without literally talking to himself. The Dancing Mountains are also very important. For one thing, we see in “Hall of Mirrors” that the mountains were part of a spell placed on Corwin, but we also see there a game being played out between Dworkin and Suhuy, which appears to be for control of the universe. Telling that it takes place in a setting which is sometimes orderly and is yet also unpredictable. The very name ‘Dancing Mountain’ is a paradox which Zelazny clearly wants us to keep in mind as we read.

“The Salesman’s Tale” brings us up to speed on what happened when Luke faced off against the Pattern at the Prime Location. We find out that he only spilled tea, not blood, on the Pattern and did that as a diversion to make his escape. Luke also drew the Trumps of Doom for locations near to the Crystal Caves, so he could lure Merlin there in order to take him prisoner. This also confirms why Zelazny titled the first book of the Merlin Cycle “The Trumps of Doom”; the book was basically about a trap set for Amber in general and Merlin in particular, and the trumps drawn by Luke were a key part of that trap. The short story reminds us that many of the story’s characters are really themselves the most when they are in non-royal settings; Corwin as a warrior/mercenary on the Shadow Earth, with a vocation in songs and poems, Merlin as a software designer, and Luke as a salesman. Luke is a character or major and continuing significance to the plot, so his style and character are being emphasized here for good reason, including the fact that Luke contacts Vialle not only to fill her in on Merlin’s situation and the Courts, but also to advance his own position in Random’s court – no mean feat, since Random does not like or trust Luke/Rinaldo.

“The Shroudling and the Guisel” not only brings us up to speed on Merlin after the end of ‘Prince of Chaos’, but also expands our roster of players in the drama. Against Merlin, while at the end of ‘Prince of Chaos’ it seemed that Merlin had secured the Throne of Chaos, but in this story we find out there are six new contenders to deal with – plus a dark-horse entrant who plans on killing off the competition. We also find out, though, that Merlin has a most unusual patron, his old friend and sometime sweetheart Rhanda, who is of a race called Shroudlings. This new enemy not only plans to kill off his rivals to gain the throne, as a hobby he likes to kill Shroudlings. Shroudlings live in a dimension reachable only through mirrors – important, because it turns out Ghostwheel cannot enter that dimension, and also because the mystery sorcerer uses the mirrors as shortcuts and ambush avenues. The bad guy uses a monster known as a Guisel, which is terrifying and seems all but impossible to kill to Rhanda, but as we saw in the Merlin Cycle, Merlin is pretty good at killing near-mythic monsters. So too here, though Merlin has to ask for help from Kergma, a difficult-to-describe playmate of his youth who is, for this story’s purpose, a mathematical lifeform as well as a friend to Merlin, a personal computer in a very real sense. The plot encompassing friends from so many different dimensions begins to show the scope of Merlin’s capabilities, and for the first time he begins to look as if he might be up to the job.
“Coming to a Cord” reminds us of yet another of Merlin’s unusual friends, Frakir. And if we go back for a moment to consider Frakir’s role in ‘Knight of Shadow’, we can see hints of Frakir’s ability and intelligence. Like many of Merlin’s friends, Frakir at first appears to serve in only one or a limited capacity, but events prove the individual to be greater than their initial impression. Also, by now we have seen Merlin build contacts and support in a broad range of places, and in a strategic sense this makes him a lot more formidable, especially since some of them – like Frakir – are unknown to many of his enemies.

“Hall of Mirrors” is the last of Zelazny’s stories, and it opens a number of plot doors for us. The obvious point is Flora’s observation that the Castle itself is acting in its own interest, note also that if this is the case the Castle was acting against Corwin and Luke. This gains even more significance when we go back to that strange game between Dworkin and Suhuy in “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountain”; we are told about playing pieces which include a Fire Angel, a Wyvern, The Unicorn of Amber and the Castle of Amber, the Serpent of Chaos and the Chaos palace Thelbane, Mandor, Corwin, and a female figure we know only as a Chaos figure being manipulated by Dworkin. My point is that since Corwin is a playing piece, we might well expect Luke to be a piece as well, and the forced combat between Corwin and Luke indicates not only that Dworkin and Suhuy can manipulate the players, to at least some degree the pieces can act on players as well.

Next: Putting pieces together

1 comment:

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