The Series Series
Series Series

Roger Zelazny's Amber Series

by Ali Kayn

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"Few people can say of themselves that they are free of the belief that this world which they see around them is in reality the work of their own imagination. Are we pleased with it, proud of it, then?"

Isak Dinesen

Nine Princes in Amber 1970
The Guns of Avalon 1972
Sign of the Unicorn 1975
The Hand of Oberon 1976
The Courts of Chaos 1978
(this is the original story arc, there are more titles)
In pre-patriarchal myth Euryome the Goddess of All Things rose from Chaos to create the world, later bearing a child to the Great Serpent Ophion who she created from the North Wind. According to Zelazny, Dworkin came forth from Chaos and created the world.

After his flight from Chaos the rebel Dworkin discovered a Pattern within the jewel about a unicorn's neck. He transcribed this design by "lightning, blood and lyre" into the rock of a seashore. This process, which has echoed with Dworkin's own brain infected him with the desire to create, a "will to form". He created Amber (THOO, p58).

Nine Princes in Amber, (c) 1972; Orbit, 1989, paperback book cover Dworkin's son, Oberon, was born to the white unicorn, who became the acknowledged patron of the royal house of Amber, although the unknown ancestress. Dworkin took the role of mentor and "power behind the throne", whilst Oberon became ruler of Amber after walking the Pattern in order to gain power over Shadow. The Primal Pattern, drawn by Dworkin, is the essence of reality, its core. Wherever there is a Pattern, there is a center." (TCOC, p 45). This Pattern is repeated elsewhere, for example, in Rebma, Amber, Tir-na Nog'th, the Jewel of Judgement, the Trumps, Corwin's sword Grayswdir, as well as in all those of Dworkin's bloodline. It is a source of power, which can be broken only by the blood of a member of Amber's royal family. To repair this break requires either a member of the family attuned to the Jewel of Judgement to walk the broken Pattern reinscribing the damaged area, or the complete destruction of its counterparts, copies in Amber, Rebma or Tir-na Nog'th that members of the family (and they only are initiated into the system of the Trumps and gain the ability to shift Shadow.

Dworkin created Amber on the mountain Kolvir, one Shadow away from the Primal Pattern to drew of its power. As the first Shadow it is the strongest. The struggles of the royal family influence the Shadows and in a real sense "all roads lead to Amber." At the beginning of the series, the Primal Patter is known only to a few. At this time, Corwin describes the difference between Substance (reality) and Shadow thus: "Of Substance there is only Amber, the real city, upon the real Earth, which contains everything. Of Shadow there is an infinite of things. Amber, by its very existence, has cast such in all directions ... Shadow extends from Amber to Chaos, and all things are possible within it.

Rebma and Tir-na Nog'th are reflections of Amber. Like Amber they posses effective copies of the Pattern although that of Rebma is a mirror image. Rebma is "the reflection of Amber within the sea" (NPIA p 73).

Access to this place is via the Faille-bionin, the stairway to Rebma. The city is peopled by the green-haired subjects of Queen Moire, its inhabitants and visitors being able to breathe under the water as long as they remain within the precincts of Rebma and the Faille-bionin.

The Guns of Avalon, (c) 1972, Avon, 1974, paperback book cover Tir'na Nog-th is "an unusual Shadow" drifting in the sky. It gains its form from moonlight, under which it can be walked by family members. It is "the place of dreams made real, walking neuroses and dubious prophecy ... a moonlit city of ambiguous wish fulfilment, twisted time, and pallid beauty". (THOO, p 168). Family members go there in time of stress to meditate and attempt to find answers in its riddles. Access to Tir-na Nog'th is by a moonlight stairway that joins three stone steps on Kolvir.

Only members of the family of Dworkin, in whose make-up the Pattern is repeated, can walk the Pattern and become attuned to the system surrounding it. In NPIA, Corwin claims that there are only three ways of travelling through Shadow. The first is t walk or ride -- the "hellrides" are an example. This is where the walker's own will affects a change in the environment. The person moves in any direction, adding or subtracting elements in the surroundings until the desired environment, that is, place in space/time, is achieved. For example, the colour of the sky, weather, time of day, shape and texture of plant life are made more and more similar to that of the place required. Zelazny does not explain just how this i achieved r whether these Shadows exist only as the products of the family's imaginations (either for the period of their presence or continuing subsequent to their imagining, or whether Shadows have their own existence. He avoids the issues by claiming that it is not of great importance to the Amberites.

The second method mentioned by Corwin is the Trumps. There are sets of Tarot cards, cast originally by Dworkin with the Minor Arcana as per usual, but a Major Arcana featuring the members of the family in their colours. These cards feature, on their backs, the family unicorn, rampant, on a green field facing to the dexter. The cards were designed to facilitate communications between members of the royal family, allowing mental contact regardless of the user's whereabouts. Having established mental contact, members of the family can bring one another through, extending the contact to physical and even, once contact has been established to bring through non-family.

Trumps were also drawn by Corwin's brother, Brand, and son Merlin. They were not restricted to the Tarot pack, but could also be drawn of places such as the Courts of Chaos and Dworkin's study. Because of the peculiar properties of the Trumps and their images, Dworkin came to be described as an ancient artist to whom space and perspective meant nothing (NPIA, p14). The implication being that in his works, space and perspective are tampered with, and that they possibly exist on a level of their own. (Zelazny does not explain).

The third method is one available after an individual has successfully walked the Pattern, from its centre the walker can travel instantaneously, at will, to any place. As the series continues, however Corwin discovers two other methods of moving between Shadows.

The Jewel of Judgement, in which the Pattern originated can transport its attuned wearer. To become attuned the person must first walk the Pattern whilst projecting him or herself into the Jewel itself. Once this is done, the power of the Jewel is available, and , actually, works to protect the wearer. For example, when an attempt is made on Corwin's life, the Jewel transports him to his own bed on Shadow Earth. The Jewel also has other effects and functions both advantageous and otherwise. Its creation of a time distortion for the wearer (speeding bodily action and slowing temporal sequence saved Corwin's life at the assassination attempt, but its debilitating effect then proceeded to drain his energy just as it had hastened the wounded Eric's death through his attunenment to it.

Sign of the Unicorn, (c) 1975, Avon, 1976, paperback book coverThe other method of transportation was one which at least Brand and Oberon had mastered. They were able to mentally call up the environment/place they required and then walk straight through, or send someone through in the manner of the 'place' Trumps. This method also allowed them to extract items from Shadow. Fiona approached this method with her ability to 'short-cut' through almost an absence of Shadow.

The history of Dworkin and his descendants is complex; complicated by Oberon's unusual origins and his tangled marriages and lovelife. Oberon's heir was, as a result, unclear. Oberon claimed that the choice of heir was left unmade in order to protect the heir from HIS rivals (The 'girls' were not considered.). The relationships within the family were therefore strained although a strong family bond appeared to exist.

"Despite our major hatreds and petty animosities, we Amberites are a very family-conscious bunch, always eager for news of one another, desirous to know everyone's position in the changing picture. A pause for gossip has doubtless stayed a few death blows among us. I sometimes think of us as a gang of mean little old ladies in a combination rest home ad obstacle course. (TGOA p 134).

This jockeying for position resulted in the Wars of Succession after Oberon's disappearance, which in turn ended in the destruction of Amber as it was.

The destructive unsettling influence of the House of Amber and its similarities/dissimilarities with the House of Chaos are summed up by the Jackal in TCOC: "I am a fan of the House of Amber. And that of Chaos. Royal blood appeals to me, Prince of Chaos. And Conflict ... I think of the images of Amber passing through the Shadows of Chaos. I think of the waves of Chaos washing over the images of Amber.

Yet, at the heart of the order Amber represents moves a family most chaotic, just as the House of Chaos is serene and placid. Yet you have your ties, as well as your conflicts." (p85).

Chaos indeed proved more stable and durable than Amber. Chaos was the birthplace of Dworkin, existing prior to his creation of Amber, and it continued to exist even after Amber's destruction. Not much is learned of its peoples though some are mentioned. They appear to live the same courtly life as the Amberites although their peculiar skill is not the ability to move Shadow but to "shapeshift". Both Dworkin and Oberon of Amber exhibit this ability which is supposed to be available to all those whose originals lie in Chaos. Chaos is supposed to represent the antithesis of Amber and stability. Even its environment is constantly changing.

"Standing there, I looked down upon what, at first, seemed a valley filled with countless explosions of color, but when the advancing darkness faced this display away the stars danced and burned within its depths as well as above, giving them the impression of a bottomless chasm. It was a s if I stood at the end of the world,the end of the universe, the end of everything. (THOO p 71).

It features inhuman creatures who flame when wounded and can travel between Shadows only via the Black Road created by the damage to the Primal Pattern. Those who do so include Lintra, the hellmaid who mated with Benedict, their descendant Dara who mated with Corwin, and her son Merlin.


The Series Series
Filed: 2005
Last changed:
Last tested: 5-Jan-2009
A supplement of Festivale Online Magazine
ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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copyright © Ali Kayn 2005 All rights reserved
Filed: Sep-2005
Last Compiled: 3-Jan-2009