A long critical analysis of Zelazny’s Amber.

I think the last time I read these books, which I love and have reread on many occasions, was in the 1990s. I recall taking a crack at them sometime more recently but not making headway, back when I was experiencing internet-inflected difficulty with extended readerly concentration, maybe a decade ago.

I’m a more critically-engaged reader now than I was certainly when I first read the books, and I think probably than I was when I last read them – I’ve certainly read more widely and also worked professionally as a writer. So I’m more sensitive to technical aspects of material I read, and likely also to allusive content.

I’m more aware of how Zelazny is using and creatively reshaping the raw material he’s playing with in the books. He’s juxtaposing different genre traditions and then incorporating amusing grace notes such as characters meeting a “cadaverously thin” writer named Roger or experiencing a shift in perception explicitly described and named as cubist. Again and again a minor set piece is presented as a tableau in a scene where one of the the Rider-Waite tarot cards is unquestionably described (The Hermit, as Dworkin leads Corwin up the tunnel from his cell; The Hanged Man, as Corwin and Ganelon interrogate a young deserter in Benedict’s Avalon).

Anyway, the texts are far richer than I understood initally, consuming them simply as fast-paced and accessible adventure fantasy, in ignorance of both many of Zelazny’s witty allusions and the ways in which reading deepens when one questions the work and treats the author and his characters as untrustworthy. In short, it’s better than I knew and I am finding the reread deeply satisfying. It’s also delightful to recognize how clearly the series influenced Zelazny’s friend George R. R. Martin’s own epic series of internecine aristocratic struggle.