Roger Zelazny’s biographer and friend, Ted Krulik, is sharing insights and anecdotes from the author.
In the first chapter of The Courts of Chaos (the last novel in the original Chronicles of Amber), we learn that Corwin has a grown son, Merlin, with whom he had nearly battled in the previous novel without realizing who Merlin was. At the end of The Courts of Chaos, Corwin reunites with his son and recounts the story that comprises the first five novels. Merlin returns the favor in the five novels that form the Merlin Cycle after Merlin rescues his father from imprisonment in the Courts. Full circle. For me, this is a satisfying culmination of the two ends of each Cycle: their reunion, an accounting of what happened, and then, of necessity, the departure of father and son toward separate destinies. For me, The Corwin Cycle and the Merlin Cycle combine to make a fulfilling, well-traveled personal tour of the World of Amber.
Trumps of Doom
“In earlier science fiction,” Roger told me in 1982, “there was a tendency to start a story in the here and now as a point of departure, and then go off into whatever fantastic adventure that was to be the substance of the story.” Our Earth was the starting point for Nine Princes in Amber and, having begun in familiar territory, Roger drew the reader into the plight of Corwin from the start. With fresh characters vaulting into new adventures, Roger takes a similar tact for the opening of the Merlin Cycle.
This is Roger’s explanation:
In Trumps of Doom, I decided to start in the here and now and then go off into more fantastic adventures—following the pattern of Nine Princes in Amber. I wanted to parallel the series in that respect. I liked the way it worked out the first time, so I decided to start this one that way also.
In going around our Earth asking questions of various people, Merle is acting like a detective “pounding the pavement,” as you said, to get answers. The way I’m setting up the novel, there is an element of mystery. I like the patterning of a mystery story. I sometimes try to work that in.
I didn’t want Merle to be another version of Corwin so I made him seem uncritical of others, even a bit naïve. Hopefully, he’s going to be learning as he goes along. Partly, I think, his seeming innocence is justified because most of that first book takes place on Earth, and he is not originally from the Earth. I wanted him to feel a little bit out of place in society, and maybe be a little more trusting. But also I didn’t want to do another series with a character who was just like Corwin. Merle is a nicer guy than his father in many ways. I think I’ve got to get him over being a nicer guy. I’ll try to wise him up a bit as the story moves along.
[About Roger’s secondary characters who support Merle]:
Frakir is a magical entity that is semi-sentient. It appears as a cord around Merle’s wrist. Merle refers to it as female. I described Frakir’s background in the special edition of Trumps of Doom that Underwood/Miller did. They asked me to do something extra for the special edition to give the reader something he couldn’t get in the regular one. I wrote just a couple of pages of introductory material which flashes back. It starts out having Merle negotiate the Logrus back in the Courts of Chaos. It is explained that it is customary when one is going through the Logrus to take some item with him. That particular item, a sword say, becomes a magical sword when the person emerges. Merle had gone through the Logrus with an old piece of cord. The cord, Frakir, is not particularly smart, and it’s not 100% effective. It is sensitive to anyone’s intent to cause Merle harm. However, the magical cord could not anticipate a sudden attack or an accident. It’s a handy thing to have, but Merle can’t rely on it.
[About the nature of Ghostwheel]:
The Ghostwheel is not a completely physical machine. Merle built into it – and that’s another reason why I gave Merle the ability to draw his own Trumps – so that it could look through Shadow. I wanted to place Ghostwheel in a realm where magic was more accessible so that some things I might do later, which could not be explained by the physical function of a machine here, would be allowable there.
The Ghostwheel is a sort of sentient being itself. In the second book, Blood of Amber, it’s not going to play as big a role as it seems it’s going to.
I have to introduce a whole bunch of other elements now because I left an awful lot of things unexplained in Trumps which I want to go back and explain. In the course of doing that, I have to go along two different lines before I can get on with the story. So the second book is not just a simple linear extension of Trumps.
—Necronomicon, Tampa, FL, 1985
Blood of Amber
When I interviewed Roger in his hotel room in Tampa, Florida in 1985, he had been working on the second book in the Merlin Cycle, Blood of Amber. He recounted events of political intrigue and dangerous adversaries that were fresh in his mind. His readers were still a year away from holding that novel in their hands. It would be new territory for them, and all of us, to discover in 1986.
Roger eagerly described his newly created figures and the twists in events that formed the second novel of the Merlin Cycle—stories that would drive us further into Amber:
I’m going deeper into the various characters Merle met in Trumps of Doom. For instance, back in Santa Fe, there was this strange man called Dan Martinez who approached Merle in the lounge and later attacked him on his drive. Then there was the strange business of George Hansen, the neighbor’s boy who acted peculiarly. And then there was Meg Devlin, the girl he picked up. There’s a connection between all three of them. This will come out quite clearly in Blood of Amber.
After Merle makes his escape from the crystal cave in the first chapter, one of the things he does is call Meg Devlin, who claims she never heard of him. He then calls the Hansens to see about the kid. George Hansen is an out-patient; he’s suffering from temporary amnesia. George doesn’t recall anything that happened during that time.
There is an entity capable of moving from body to body which has been following Merle. This entity had been Dan Martinez. When he fell, something like a blue mist seemed to emerge briefly from his mouth. Also the lady who drowned in the lake when he was riding off—there was something about a blue mist merging with the smoke. She was also this thing. I’m going to go into that in much more detail in this book.
There is a reference to Dalt in Blood of Amber. He is the son of Deela the Desecratrix, who had been killed. She had been something of a religious fanatic. She had been desecrating the shrines of the Unicorn. Amber had trade alliances with different Shadow kingdoms which are adjacent to it. I refer to this area as the Golden Circle.
Amber is also willing to defend different small kingdoms which are partly dependent on it, and on which Amber is partly dependent for trade. Years ago, one of these kingdoms had been under attack by this woman and her troops. Oberon had gone in and put down this military threat and captured her at one point. But she escaped. Years later, she raised another band and started causing trouble. Oberon didn’t have the time to go back and deal with it, so he sent Bleys in with some troops. She died in battle.
While Deela had been his prisoner, Oberon had raped her, and Dalt is his illegitimate son who Oberon has no knowledge had ever existed. No one else in Amber knows about Dalt either, except that he is a mercenary in that area who had once led an attack on Amber and had been defeated by Benedict who had actually run him through. They thought he was dead.
Dalt’s personal armorial bearings show a lion rending a unicorn. Dalt had been in the neighborhood of Kashfar, which is where Jasra is from. He had been one of Luke’s best friends as a boy.
That is what the second book is basically about.
—Necronomicon, Tampa, FL, 1985
Alice In Wonderland Bar
Roger enjoyed incorporating great literary works into his own fiction. Here, he explains the aptness of bringing Alice and her world of Wonderland to life:
All three of them, Corwin, Merlin, and Luke Raynard, lived in the Shadow Earth. Corwin for an awfully long time. They know Lewis Carroll’s work.
When Coral appears in Amber and goes on a walk with Merlin, he talks to her about Lewis Carroll. She’s not familiar with Alice in Wonderland but he says he’s got a Thari edition of it in the Royal Library that had been translated from English. Luke also lived on Earth and studied there, so he would know of it.
Yes, I liked the image of Luke and Merlin in freefall down a tunnel when escaping the Jabberwock and Fire Angel. In that scene I made reference to a Jamaica Kincaid story [“What I Have Been Doing Lately” by Jamaica Kincaid, in At The Bottom of the River, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, pp. 40-45]. There was a stylized river in it. Kincaid had a situation of someone falling down a shaft like that. It was a very stylized story that appealed to me. It stuck with me so I used it for that scene in Sign of Chaos.
—I-Con, Stony Brook University, 1992
At the end of my interview with Roger at Stony Brook University in 1992, a young man in the audience asked this question: Some characters in the Amber novels who were dead seem not to be dead; they come back, like Corwin and Caine and Oberon. How do you explain that?
I never said Corwin was dead. They weren’t sure what happened to Corwin. The others you named – anybody who walked the Pattern or crossed through the Logrus representation was recorded by that place. So even if they’re dead, their image, up until the point where they made that journey through the Pattern or through the Logrus representation, they’ve been recorded by the Pattern or the Logrus and they can be reconstructed from that recording.
Of course, they’re blank on anything that happened after that time. So, if the last time they walked the Pattern was twenty years ago, it would be—and Brand was called back, say, it would be the Brand of twenty years ago, if that was the last time he did it. Or, if it was ever recorded, the Pattern could reconstruct it from the point when one desired it. If one wanted it really ignorant, one could go back and find the person when he first walked it and use that Brand who might have been a much nicer guy.
In the course of reproducing such a person, it can play with the person’s mind to the extent of laying certain compulsions on him—like deliver this message here, or go there to do that—and the person will be doing that like someone acting under a posthypnotic suggestion—do this but not sure why, and not caring either.
These are images, of course. They’re temporary constructs. The only way they seem to take on greater permanence in the case of Pattern-ghosts, is if they drink some blood of Amber, which will strengthen them. So, in a sense, they could be given greater permanence, at least in that one way.
—I-Con, Stony Brook University, 1992
Spinning Something Off from the Amber Series
At that same 1992 interview, someone asked about Merlin’s childhood friends Kergma, Gryll, and Glait: Will we see anything further about these three playmates? Roger revealed plans he had for exploring the landscape of Amber further:
Well, I’ll tell you about something I do have in mind which I hope to do sometime. I’m exploring the idea of spinning off something from the Amber series.
I want to write a novel set in the Court of Chaos when Merlin is about thirteen years old with all three involved with Rhanda, the vampire girl. She appeared in one of the stories, “The Shroudling and the Guisel,” before she became a vampire. I thought this had the substance for a few juvenile stories set in the Courts. They would not necessarily bear directly upon the action in the Amber series but would be a sidelight of it in an earlier period. I’m calling it a juvenile only because my protagonist would be young. I think I could write it in such a way that anyone could enjoy reading it. I would like to write that book sometime.
—I-Con, Stony Brook University, 1992
Coffee and Good Friends and Amber
When Roger and I took breaks from our week-long series of interviews in his home in Santa Fe in 1982, we sat at his kitchen counter drinking coffee. Roger made it himself. Not from a container of Instant Coffee; not from an electric coffee maker. No. He offered me a choice from a variety of sacks of coffee beans, ground the beans in a grinder, and brewed them in a coffee machine.
He loved sipping fresh-brewed coffee at his kitchen counter, and talking about art, music, and travels around the country. With our mugs in hand, Roger led me outside to his rear terrace.
“There was a point after I had been writing for a number of years that I saw I was going to be successful at doing this full-time. So we just went around the country looking for a congenial spot.” He gazed out at the view and I saw true contentment in Roger’s eyes. I felt certain that he had found his version of Amber in this place.
Roger went on, “I wanted to live in a small town, but one which had the amenities I enjoy: good restaurants, a theater, opera, lots of big stores. I like to have either mountains or water nearby, if I can. As you can see, we have mountains here.”
—Santa Fe, NM, 1982
Above: Roger Zelazny at his home in Santa Fe, 1982
Top image: cover of Krulik’s The Complete Amber Sourcebook; art by Glen Obik
Theodore Krulik’s encyclopedia of Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels, The Complete Amber Sourcebook, published in 1996 by Avon Books, is still the most exhaustive reference book on that revered series. Through his literary biography Roger Zelazny, published by Frederick Ungar Inc. in 1986, Krulik made accessible to the enthusiast the famed author’s personal concerns. For the first time, aficionados discovered the sources in Zelazny’s own life that inspired his writing. Other literary work includes essays on Richard Matheson in Critical Encounters II for Ungar, edited by Tom Staicar, and on James Gunn’s The Immortals in Death and the Serpent for Greenwood Press, edited by Carl Yoke and Donald Hassler. As a member of the Science Fiction Research Association, Krulik wrote a regular column for their newsletter in the 1980s and 90s entitled “The Shape of Films To Come.” Currently, he is writing a novel about a science fiction writer who gains remarkable powers to see into the minds of others. Krulik hopes to complete World Shaper by the end of 2017.