So here we are. The books are written and published, the short stories are completed and Zelazny has left the building. Some time back, I wrestled a bit with the question about whether Roger wanted someone to finish the Amber Chronicles. There’s evidence both ways, but in the end Amber is Zelazny’s world, and no one else could really do it justice. That said, it seems pretty clear that Roger wanted us to know what was going on, and the short stories were a way for Roger to draw a map to unravel the biggest mysteries of the saga. That’s what I’d like to try in these last posts; to pull out the gems hidden in the short stories, and use them to lay out a trail to present the mysteries’ solutions.
The first thing I’d like to point out about Roger’s short stories, is that he wrote them in a short time frame. The five short stories were all completed sometime between 1994 and 1995, and published between 1994 and 1996. As Roger fought his final fight with Cancer, he wanted to make sure he said what he wanted to say. It’s telling that the last story written and published, “Hall of Mirrors”, was introducing still new players to the plot; Roger was telling us that while a book or cycle will reach an end, Amber – with all its twists and surprises – will always continue. He wanted us to think about the family, and he left clues about what was going to happen, even if he could not write out the whole thing in a new cycle.
I presented some observations and guesses in earlier posts. I present them again, and add to them:
The first cycle focused on Amber. The second cycle focused on Chaos. The third, then, will focus on Shadow.
The first book of each cycle featured the imprisonment of the main character. So will the third.
The final book of each cycle saw the death of a King, and a new King. So will the third.
Corwin was betrayed by a love. So was Merlin. This will happen in the third cycle as well.
Corwin depended on his magic word, Grayswandir. Merlin depended on his shadow computer construct, Ghostwheel. The protagonist of the third cycle will depend on a similar artifact specially suited to his person.
In each of the first to cycles, the hero grew through the books from a self-centered person to a duty-focused person. So too, in the third cycle.
All through the books, we saw that people were not as they seemed. Carl Corey discovered he was really Prince Corwin, his buddy Ganelon turned out to be his father Oberon, Dara was Corwin’s lover and the mother of his son Merlin, but she never loved him and wanted Amber destroyed, Merlin’s best friend Luke tuned out to have attempted his murder several times, his girlfriend Julia became his nemesis Mask, and his brother Jurt, who spent his whole life trying to kill Merlin, in the end became his ally and helped him free Corwin Dara and defied the Pattern and the Logrus both. So moving into the last series, we should expect to not only see new characters added, but also see some surprises from the cast in place. Especially from Mandor, Fiona, and – wait for it – Bill Roth.
There is a good reason why both Order and Chaos wanted Merlin for their side. A good reason why Mandor and Dara wanted to protect and support Merlin, and it’s not just genetics.
There is a reason folks don’t just chase down and collect the Spikards. Remember that there is a price for using them, just as there is for the Jewel of Judgment.
What are Delwin and Sand up to? Remember Bleys is working with them, and Bleys has always been a schemer. And by the way, we know from “The Salesman’s Tale” that Delwin was charged with ‘stewardship’ of the Spikards. Yet we know that of the nine, two are the swords Werewindle and Grayswandir, Merlin has two more, Bleys has one, and I strongly suspect Mandor has one (you don’t hand out something that had great potential as a weapon, unless you have something equally potent for your own protection). So at best, Delwin is able to look after the remaining three rings. Losing two out of every three of something does not strike me as great stewardship. I have a suspicion Delwin has not told Vialle much about the Spikards’ whereabouts.
From Luke’s ability to summon Werewindle through a trump he drew, we know the Spikards can be manipulated. We also know from the Spikard’s shifting on Merlin’s finger that it has a will of its own.
Vialle can foretell the future through her sculptures.
Corwin returned to Chaos almost immediately after the end of ‘Prince of Chaos’, or perhaps he was not able to go straight through to Amber through Merlin’s ring after all. What happened?
After escaping from the Pattern, Luke makes his way almost immediately to Vialle. Vialle continues to favor Luke (remember she gave him her ring as a sign of protection, which irritated Random and he – don’t forget – does not like or trust Luke). There is a connection between Luke and Vialle which indicates a subplot.
The name of Brand is important. In the second series, we see that his name is important to Jasra, Dara, and Jurt, and in the short stories the name is important to Delwin (but who is repelled by mention of Jasra).
A race called the Shroudlings, apparently a mix of moralists, assassins, and ghouls, live in a dimension beyond the mirrors accessible only under certain unusual circumstances which they largely control.
An evil sorcerer has found a way to enter the dimension of the Shroudlings, though he is largely unaware of them he sends monsters after them. He also means to kill off rivals in his way to becoming King of Chaos. Rhanda says that "even Mandor considers him a worthy antagonist".
Merlin’s friends include a sentient computer, killing cord, being from an exterior spatial dimension, several demons, and a ‘living equation’.
Apparently bored with horses, Corwin has a steed chosen for him by Merlin which is sentient, can change shapes, and turns to stone at night.
Dworkin and Suhuy are engaged in a multi-dimensional board game, similar to Chess, but which pieces include people and significant artifacts of the Amber universe … including the Unicorn and Serpent themselves. This is so important a point, that I have to stop here and bring up similar hints from other parts of the stories. We read in “Hall of Mirrors”, for example, Flora’s belief that the Amber Castle is actively acting in the conflict, to such a degree that it uses the Hall of Mirrors to force a confrontation between Corwin and Luke, and Luke’s guess in the same story that Shadows are being reflected in Amber, rather than the usual other way around. This brings us to a theme that we should stop and consider …
Losing control. In the Amberverse, everything was Chaos, until Dworkin Barimen rebelled, ripped an eye out of the Serpent of Chaos, and started a family with the Unicorn he encountered while fleeing. I’d call the creation of the Pattern with the Jewel of Judgment to be a case of Chaos losing control. Of course, the pattern and worlds created by Dworkin changed when Brand rebelled, and tried to kill Random’s son Martin on the Prime Pattern, causing Order to be damaged and Dworkin to lose a bit of his sanity. Have to say that is a case of Order losing control. By the end of the first cycle of books, Oberon, Eric, Brand, and Dierdre are dead, and Amber gets destroyed – temporarily – before Random’s forces win the Patternfall War and restore the universe (by the way, telling in that context that the commander of the winning forces is named ‘Random’) . Have to say that’s a case of the Royal Family losing control, especially King Oberon. By the end of the second cycle of books, King Swayville is dead, along with most of the line of succession to the throne, and the fragile peace created by treaty after the war is in danger of collapse. Have to say that’s an indication that Chaos has lost control, again. Never mind that things have reached the point that a half-qualified contender for the throne is able to get the advantage of an elemental force of existence, just because he has a sentient computer and more than a little luck. Now the short stories tell us that all the rules are in doubt, that just about any absolute is past-tense, to the point that the Shadows are acting on the prime forces which created them, and the servants of the Great Powers are able to leverage those same powers to their own advantage.
With that said, going back to Dworkin/Suhuy’s game, Dworkin makes a surprise move with a woman identified only as a ‘chaos figure’. Dara? Or someone else?
Merlin is a klepto. When he visits Brand’s quarters at the end of ‘Knight of Shadow’, he pilfers the ring he finds there without once considering that as it was in Brand’s room, it might be considered part of Brand’s ‘estate’ and therefore be the property of Jasra (OK, no one really feels she’s owed any consideration) or his son, Luke. Merlin also considers swiping the sword Werewindle, and decides to give it to Luke only after he is unable to find something else he could give Luke in its place as a ‘present’. What does it say, really, that Merlin’s idea of getting a gift for a friend is pilfering through his friend’s family property?
Werewindle and Grayswandir are not merely swords, but are Spikards, tools of tremendous power and also seem to have some degree of free will. By the way, from ‘Prince of Chaos’ we get a strong hint that not only was the original pattern drawn with Grayswandir (as was Corwin’s pattern), but parts of the pattern are copied from the sword’s design.
The mystery nemesis/sorcerer in the short stories is short, apparently male, and probably not human. In “Coming to a Cord”, this guy says that meeting Flora the normal way might have caused “horrible complications”. When Flora thinks that means he’s married, the man replies “worse than that”, but does not elaborate. He knows a bit of magic, but seems limited, in that he can’t defend himself from a monster like the one he sent off earlier, for example. Rhanda says that this guy is very good at scheming, and Mandor considers him a ‘worthy antagonist’, but he actually fears Mandor, which is one reason he’s hiding out in the behind-the-mirror dimension . Conquest through cowardice, perhaps?
The sword Werewindle, it turns out, started out as the Spikard Rawg. Does this imply personality?
When Corwin is explaining the Spikards to Luke, he says the following:
“Back in the early days of creation, the gods had a series of rings their champions used in the stabilization of Shadow."
Excuse me? I thought with Oberon being king of the One True World and all, and Dworkin having drawn the Pattern that literally defines the universe, just who would be these ‘gods’ in the ‘early days of creation’? And what happened to them, exactly? And how does all this play out in the story?
It also turns out that the Spikards are different from each other. Corwin implies that it has to do with power sources, but it may well have to do with personalities as well … and maybe choice of users?
In “Hall of Mirrors”, Oberon warns Corwin and Luke about the “oddball power of someone like Jurt.” So what is Jurt up to, anyway? He very abruptly switched from hating Merlin to being afraid of him in ‘Prince of Chaos’, but I suspect a bit of that was Mandor’s doing, as well as the Logrus, which had decided on Merlin. Once Merlin shoved back against the Logrus, we know that new contenders for the throne showed up, and in that indication we should figure on Jurt getting ideas himself about the crown.
Also, we know from “The Shroudling and the Guisel” that Rhanda warned Merlin about Julia pitting Jurt against Merlin. Jurt, from everything we have seen, has been and will be easy for her to manipulate, and it’s close to a sure thing that Julia would be big on trying to get Merlin killed. We’re talking a woman who was so obsessed with Merlin that to get to him she learned a variety of mental and spiritual disciplines, discovered learned and mastered a dimension she only suspected existed, overpowered her master and became a formidable force in her own right. Let’s not forget that she was stabbed by Merlin, and spent her recovery in close proximity with a man whose primary fantasy was murdering Merlin. So, we’re supposed to believe that the very next time she sees Merlin, all is forgiven and she’s ready to be friends with benefits? Not very likely, is it? Considering that by the end of the Merlin cycle, we have discovered that Julia fooled (in succession) Merlin, Rick Kinsky, Victor Melman, Jasra, Sharu Garrul, Merlin again, Jurt … you get the idea. Figure Julia to be a vendetta player, targeting Merlin, Jurt, and probably a few others just for practice.
Which reminds me, we should talk about Dara. When Dworkin used a Chaos figure in his game with Suhuy, it surprised Suhuy, and I immediately thought of Dara. I could be wrong, but Dara’s been playing both sides all through the stories. She first showed up in ‘The Guns of Avalon’, where she seduced Corwin in order to bear Merlin. But don’t forget, in Tir-Na N’Goth Dara was an ally of Benedict, with whose help she reigned. Also, Dara had the support of Oberon in ‘The Courts of Chaos’, indicating either how well she could sell a con or giving us reason to think she as not, in fact, the 100% Amber-Must-Be-Destroyed 9-foot-tall cheerleader and ruthless psychotic we see throughout the Merlin cycle. But if she is, hmm, a double agent, who is she really aligned with (I can’t see her as a dedicated idealist working for Peace, Love, and Unicorn Shrines in every village)? Or is it all about getting her own advantage, an idea I find the most likely?
Speaking of schemers, what about the happy couple of magic, mayhem and marauding, Fiona and Mandor? We know from ‘Prince of Chaos’ that Mandor has literally built a shrine to Fiona (talk about infatuation!), and the two pop up like a dating couple several places in the Merlin cycle. I can easily imagine a typical night for the two – get together, have an appetizer, murder a passing citizen of Shadow for laughs, prepare and enjoy an amazing dinner, explore the demonic realms near the Rim for artifacts of power, compare notes on which sibling they’d most like to torture to death if they took the throne, enjoy a truly transcendent artistic experience, make a prank call or two on the Trumps, pretending to be Oberon’s or Borel’s ghost, and so on.
And what about the Pattern and the Logrus? Neither of these near-absolute Powers seemed to be able to exercise all that much control of their domains. Merlin and Ghostwheel, in particular, have annoyed them both to the point that I would not be surprised to find out they sent emissaries to meet and negotiate a mutual agreement to attack the pattern created by Corwin, and to capture and kill Merlin and Ghostwheel.
Another thing that has to be sorted out is the role of Coral. We know from ‘Knight of Shadows’ onward, that she wears the Jewel of Judgment, surgically placed there by Dworkin. This is a big deal, folks. The Jewel of Judgment, we learned in the two cycles, was originally an eye of the Serpent of Chaos. It so happens that Order came into being after a certain Dworkin ripped the eye out of the Serpent and fled Chaos, and created the Pattern with it (although we now know he also had at least one of the Spikards with him, which now exists as the sword Grayswandir). So it’s significant that the same fellow who ripped it out of the head of the Serpent of Chaos implanted into Coral … and it’s never been in anyone else’s head in between those times! Now, is that a gesture meant to placate Chaos somewhat – Order loses the artifact, and Coral wears it the same way the Serpent did; not quite the same as giving back to the Serpent, but definitely moving the balance a bit – or is it a move to advance Shadow, with a shadow being (Coral) gaining the full use of an object powerful enough to create its own universe? Oh, and by the way, we recall from the first cycle that close proximity to the Jewel, even by an attuned individual, wears them down and eventually kills them.
Assuming Dworkin was not simply finding an especially cruel and temporary setting for the Jewel, he must have provided or shown Coral a way to endure and survive with the jewel as part of her body. In ‘Prince of Chaos’, Merlin probes the jewel and is told by a voice that he is “denied the higher initiation”, which shows that there is a level of attunement beyond even the one used by the Kings of Amber … unless Oberon knew it and never shared. Once again, specific sentience of what was originally considered insentient before is implied. Merlin thought that the voice was Coral’s, but he never addresses whether she was forbidding him the higher-order attunement ... or the Jewel itself made that decision.
Before ending this section, and moving on to completely arbitrary guesswork, I’d like to conclude with some thoughts on Bill Roth, lawyer friend of Corwin and interdimensional man of mystery. I wrote before about how this guy pops up, over and over … and over. He literally saves Corwin’s life at a time when no one else even knows where Corwin is, He’s the author of the Patternfall War treaty, and he just happens to be around at a number of key plot points. Also, consider this description of Roth in ‘Trumps of Doom’:
“He was a short, heavy-set man with a somewhat florid complexion”
Why is this important? Maybe nothing, but our mystery sorcerer also happens to be short. True, no one recognizes him who sees him, but then again, if he’s a shapeshifter, as so many Amberites and Chaosites are, changing his appearance is no big deal. Also, Roth shows up in Amber unexpectedly. He has a reason for how he got there, but it’s an odd thing … like so much else of Bill Roth. I get the sense that Roth is not our mystery sorcerer, but still. Consider this passage from ‘Trumps of Doom’:
“I had told him my father's story, as I had heard it from his own lips, outside the Courts of Chaos, because I'd gotten the impression that he had wanted Bill to know what had been going on, felt he' d owed him some sort of explanation for all the help he'd given him. And Bill actually seemed to understand and believe it. But then, he'd known Dad a lot better than I did. "I've remarked before on the resemblance you bear your father." I nodded. "It goes beyond the physical," he continued.”
Roger also gives a clear hint when he has Bill comment “Two guys as close as you got to be-with no pasts to show to each other." "I guess you're right. What does it mean?" "You're not a normal human being." "No, I' m not." "I'm not so sure Luke is either."And since we know so little, really, about Bill Roth, maybe Bill is not a ‘normal human being’.
The best place to hide, sometimes, is in plain sight.
Actually, there is one last area I’d like to address in this post; who will be the main protagonist in the third cycle. Oh yeah, I think Roger told us who would be his main guy in the third series, and he dropped that hint in the short stories. Consider; in the Corwin cycle, the first character to speak is Corwin, and Corwin – no surprise shows up more than any other character in the books of his cycle. Same for Merlin in his cycle. So we should see the same 1st-person habit and the most appearances in the short stories. So let’s see who shows up in the short stories:
“The Salesman’s Tale” – main characters Luke and Vialle
“The Shroudling and the Guisel” – main characters Merlin and Rhanda
“Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains” – main characters Corwin and Shask, appearances by Dworkin and Suhuy
“Coming to a Cord” – main characters Frakir, Flora, Luke, and the unknown sorcerer
“Hall of Mirrors” – main characters Corwin and Luke, with appearances in the hall of Mirrors by Oberon, Eric, Dierdre, Dara, and Jasra, with appearances at the end by Fiona, Mandor, and Flora.
Now, counting a main character as 20 points and a minor appearance as 5 points, here’s our tally from the short stories, least to most:
5 Points: Dara, Dierdre, Dworkin, Eric, Fiona, Jasra, Mandor, Oberon, Suhuy
20 points: Frakir, Merlin, Rhanda, Shask, the unknown sorcerer, Vialle
25 points: Flora
40 points: Corwin
60 points: Luke
Yes, Luke is the only character to show up in three of the short stories, and he is a major character in all three of them. What’s more, in the first of the five short stories to be published, “The Salesman’s Tale”, the first character to speak is Luke, and he’s narrating his story first-person, the same way Corwin and Merlin narrated their stories in the cycles where they were the main focus. Luke is the protagonist for the third cycle. Also interesting is the king-role; in the Corwin Cycle, Corwin dealt with his ambition to become King of Amber, in the Merlin Cycle, the underlying conflict turned out to revolve around Chaos’ plan to seat Merlin on the throne of Chaos. In the end, neither Corwin nor Merlin wanted to be kings, but served as champions. Telling then, that by the end of ‘Prince of Chaos’ we see Luke has become King of Kashfa, a Shadow realm and by the way he does not really want the job but is doing it out of duty – Luke has become the champion of Shadow, and oh by the way he’s also walked Corwin’s pattern and by right is the owner of both Werewindle and the Spikard that Merlin has been making so much use of. There’s a story to tell, wouldn’t you say?