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 Oberon are the rulers and lords – they control Shadow and can navigate its complexities picking and choosing worlds as they go.
Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
Corwin has lost his memory and awakens from a coma in a hospital after a car accident. With little to no knowledge of who he is or how he got there he quickly escapes and putting together several clues makes his way to New York where he confronts his sister Evelyn Flaumel (Flora).
Due to the untrustworthy nature of his family he is able to trick her into believing that he has recovered his memory and that he is going to take “action”. While he does not know what this means, she does and is very worried about the consequences. Exploring through Flora’s library in her absence, Corwin finds a set of Tarot cards. However these cards are different as aside from the fact that he is portrayed as one of the characters he recognizes the other faces on the cards also and realizes that they are the rest of his family. As he sees each face on the card, memories of them, their actions and personalities gradually come back to Corwin and he realizes that he is part of something larger than he first thought.
While waiting for Flora to return, her phone rings and Corwin picks it up. On the other end of the phone is Random – one of Corwin’s brothers who is running for his life. Corwin offers him protection as he is unsure of what is happening and when Random arrives he is pursued by supernatural creatures that are stronger than normal men. They have spines on the backs of their hands and are able to “travel through shadow” which Corwin does not understand. In a quick and bloody fight, Random, Corwin and Flora are able to defeat these creatures and during that battle Corwin discovers that he is significantly stronger than other men as he hurls a sofa at some of the creatures in the midst of the battle.
Random then asks Corwin whether he wishes to walk the road to Amber, from which Corwin agrees, despite the fact he does not know what he is doing. As Random and Corwin depart in Flora’s car, the road and area gradually change around them. Random explains that he is changing elements of each world to gradually match the image of Amber (which is how you navigate shadow … by gradually making small changes it allows you to move through alternate worlds). They ultimately end up in the Forest of Arden, the territory of their brother Julian.
Julian and Corwin do not get along well at all and as Corwin is unable to navigate shadow himself yet, he and Random are forced to confront Julian. Corwin is able to defeat Julian and unhorses him – threatening him, he is able to obtain some additional information which while useful does not really benefit Corwin as he still has not recovered all of his memories. Releasing Julian after a while, Random and Corwin next encounter Corwin’s sister Deirdre who reveals she fled from Eric’s court. Corwin realizing that he cannot resolve all the issues that he has been confronted with admits to Random and Deirdre that he has actually lost his memory and does not really understand how either of them do what they do.
Deirdre realizes that the only way Corwin can have his memories returned to him is by “walking the pattern” (a labyrinth inscribed in the dungeons of Castle Amber which gives the multiverse its order. ) … he could do this in Amber itself but Eric (another brother of Corwin’s and the one that he suspects tried to kill him in the car crash and also had something to do with his being drugged in the hospital) has closed this avenue off. An alternative though is the Pattern of Rebma – this is an analogue/mirror image of Amber located underneath the ocean.
Traveling to Rebma they meet their sister Llewella and Moire, the queen of Rebma. Corwin walks the pattern in Rebma and his memories and abilities come flooding back to him. In addition he remembers that Eric had defeated him earlier and had stranded him in Elizabethan England during the Plague which is when his amnesia first started. After he completes the Pattern he uses its power to project himself into the Castle of Amber, from which he finds a safe spot and rests.
Corwin confronts Eric in the library in Amber and they have a duel. Initially fearing defeat, Corwin realizes that he has changed and grown in his time on the Shadow Earth and is not the same person that Eric was earlier able to beat. As the duel progresses he is able to wound Eric but is unable to finish the battle due to the arrival of reinforcements for Eric.
Corwin retreats and using a Trump (a Tarot card with a specific individual identified on it) is able to contact another brother (Bleys) and escape. The Trumps allow for instantaneous transport from one universe to another simply by concentrating on the person depicted and once communication has been established reaching across to that person. Bleys is in the midst of planning an assault on Amber to defeat Eric before he crowns himself King and agrees to Corwin joining with him in this endeavor.
Corwin assembles an army and along with Bleys’ forces they launch a two pronged attack on Amber through the Shadows, but Eric has been able to gain control of the Jewel of Judgment. This powerful artifact allows Eric control over the weather and he is able to use this item to decimate the forces that Corwin and Bleys assemble well before they are able to actually assault Amber itself. Although they eventually reach Amber, their forces have dwindled and they barely fight their way up Kolvir, the mountain on which the Castle of Amber is situated. Bleys is ultimately pushed off a cliff, although Corwin throws him his pack of Trumps to allow him to escape the fall but in the final battle the remainder of the forces are killed and Corwin is captured.
Corwin is brought out of the dungeons to witness the coronation of Eric and after this event is taken away and his eyes burned out. Left in the dark for years and only brought out on the anniversary of Eric’s coronation as an example to the rest of the family Corwin is gradually wasting away but as an Amberite and the son of Oberon, his regenerative abilities are substantial and his vision gradually comes back. Realizing that he must escape the dungeons before Eric and his forces realize that he is no longer blind he starts trying to escape his prison and is fortunate that Dworkin Barimen, the keeper of the Pattern, appears out of nowhere, having seemingly walked through the dungeon wall from a neighboring cell.
Dworkin created all of the Trumps and cards used by the family and while many thought he had died he was actually kept confined by Oberon. Dworkin is able to draw a picture of the Lighthouse of Cabra on one of the walls of Corwin’s cell and using this image and Dworkins magic Corwin is able to project himself to that place.
He explains that entered Corwin’s cell by drawing a picture on the dungeon wall and walking through it, and wishes to return in the same way. Corwin gives him the spoon in order to draw a Trump image on the wall, and persuades him to draw the on the opposite wall. With this, Corwin projects himself out of his prison.
Corwin spends some time here recovering and then sends a message to Eric telling him that he will be returning for the throne.
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.