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Amber (fictional realm)

The fictional realm of Amber is the setting for the Amber fantasy novels by Roger Zelazny (and for the Amber diceless role-playing game they inspired).

In the Amber stories, Amber and the Courts of Chaos are the only two true worlds; all others, including our Earth, are but "shadows" of the tension between them. Royals of Amber (as well as equivalent Chaos nobility) can freely travel through the shadows and alter them, but they cannot do so to Amber itself.

Inspiration? As inspirations for the Chronicles of Amber go, a compelling argument can be made for the 1946 novel by Henry Kuttner (and most likely C. L. Moore, his wife and unusually symbiotic collaborator) called The Dark World. Zelazny himself (in issue #5 of Amberzine, published by Phage Press), is quoted as saying, "...the Kuttner story which most impressed me in those most impressionable days was his short novel The Dark World. I returned to it time and time, reading it over and over again, drawn by its colorful, semi-mythic characters and strong action. ...looking back, Kuttner and Moore--and, specifically, the Dark World--were doubtless a general influence on my development as a writer. As for their specific influences--particularly on my Amber series--I never thought about it until Jane Lindskold started digging around and began pointing things out to me." Reading the hard-to-find Kutter (and Moore) novel, readers are bound to find similarities in theme and in specific instances: Some character names are common to both works, and they share the fantasy literary device of moving a present day, realistic character from the familiar world into a fantastical, alternate reality world, exposing the character to this shift as the reader experiences it.

Some believe the series was inspired by Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers series, but there are vast differences between the two. The major similarity is that in Farmer's series, individual pocket universes exist. However, the concept of pocket universes, parallel universes, and alternate realities was not, by any means, pioneered by Farmer's series.


Worlds of Shadow

Endless realities. The fantasy of the Amber books is certainly very original. Amberites of royal blood--those descended from Oberon (and ultimately his parents, Dworkin, formerly of the Courts of Chaos, and the Unicorn of Order herself)--are able to "walk in Shadow," mentally willing changes to occur around them. These changes are, in effect, representative of the Shadow-walker passing through different realities. There are apparently infinite realities, either found by the Shadow-walker locating such worlds or by creating them (we're never sure; neither are the characters).

Walking the Pattern

Tough walk. In order to gain the power to walk in Shadow, Amberites must "walk the Pattern." Deep under Amber Castle, in the caves beneath the mountain Kolvir, the Pattern is in a huge cavern, luminescent and glowing. Once the walker sets foot upon the Pattern, he must continue following its labyrinthine course to the center; stopping for too long, or leaving the pathway of the Pattern, results in a terrible death (with a decent special effects display to punctuate it).

Resistances. Walking the Pattern is not an easy task. There is a resistance that slows the walker, as if he is wearing lead boots that get heavier and heavier with every step. During the ordeal, the walker passed through several points of extreme difficulty called "veils"--The First Veil, the Second Veil, and the Final Veil. These points represent intense surges in this fierce resistance; however, "breaking through" a Veil causes the resistance to let up a bit.

Commanding the Pattern. Once at the Pattern's center, the walker has the power to walk in Shadow. As well, being at the center gives him the opportunity then to command the Pattern to send him anywhere he wishes--across the room, back up to Amber Castle, across the world, to another Shadow world, here on Earth, etc.

Other Patterns. Through the course of the ten books, we find the existence of many other alternate patterns. There is the Pattern in Rebma, a reflected version of Amber beneath the sea; there is the ghost-city reflection of Amber in Tir-na Nog'th; there is the Primal Pattern, the one true Pattern that is higher on the reality scale than even Amber; Corwin's own Pattern, off in Shadow; and even imperfect versions of the Pattern found in Shadows very close to the true Pattern.

Negotiating the Logrus

A 3-D Pattern. In the Courts of Chaos, there is no Pattern: there is the Logrus. Where the unchanging, rigid Pattern represents Order, the Logrus represents Chaos. It appears as a tentacular force that must be navigated on a magical/mental level. The Logrus is ever-changing, and once negotiated, the negotiator is considered an Initiate of the Logrus and can move through Shadow.

One Logrus. Unlike the Pattern, there only seems to be one Logrus. This adds to the interesting paradox of Amber representing Order and the Courts representing Chaos: the Pattern, symbol of Order, is found all over the place in many forms, including imperfect ones; but the Logrus, symbol of Chaos, is found in only one location. This mirrors the behavior of the residents of Amber and the Courts, where the royal family of Amber was once noted to appear to be more chaotic than the royal families of the Courts--quite an Order/Chaos irony.

Alternate Realities: The Basis for Amber

The ability to walk in Shadow is the very foundation of the Amber series. The entire series is based on the concept of infinite realities/parallel worlds, domination over them being fought between the kingdoms at the extreme ends of Shadow--Amber, the one true world of Order, and the Courts of Chaos. (Not being able to traverse the multitudes of realities here would be like having two opposing factions on desert islands without rafts to visit each other!).

But Amber is more than fascinating fantasy. Zelazny deals with some interesting philosophical concepts about the nature of existence, compares and contrasts the ideas of Order and Chaos, and plays with the laws of physics--they can differ from Shadow to Shadow; for instance, gunpowder does not ignite in Amber, which is why they all tote swords around. Other Shadows have green skies and blue suns, you can find cities of glass and buy Kentucky Fried Lizzard Partes, and worlds out of our own fiction can come to life.

Existential Soap Opera?

The Amber series could perhaps be best described as a philosophical, metaphysical, magical, mystical, fantasy soap opera. It has all those things, all wrapped around a cast of characters who are conniving, paranoid, dysfunctional, and often heartless.

However, they come across as very believable. Any of the ten books is a fairly brief read--low page counts--but Zelazny packs a lot of story in these books. The dialogue and interaction is intense, believable, and engrossing. The entire original 10-book double-series can be found in The Great Book of Amber, a nearly-1300-page compilation (this is no small trade paperback; this is a 6x9 book with anywhere from 250-500 words per page; Zelazny was as masterful at penning pages of coherent, non-contrived, engrossing dialogue as he was for pages of informative, attention-holding narrative, exposition, and description).

All in the family. Ultimately, Amber focuses on a dysfunctional family that is somehow at the center of a cosmic war between many powers. Nine princes and four princesses of Amber, including Prince Corwin as narrator of the first book series, try to deal with the disappearance of Oberon, their father, and an apparent need for succession of the throne. Nobody trusts anyone, everyone appears to be ready to backstab anyone else (often literally!), and everyone seems genuinely interested in only one thing: himself or herself.

Order vs. Chaos... or is it? In the Merlin series, strife continues in Amber and the Courts, but the focus seems to be on a timeless battle between the superpowers of Order and Chaos, the Unicorn and the Serpent. All the while, the implication seems to be that there is really little difference between Order and Chaos; both are ways we describe such things.

Post Merlin Series There are five Amber short stories and a prologue that have been recently collected in a new book of Zelazny's work, Manna from Heaven. In these five narratives, Zelazny begins to tease the threads of the story into a new configuration. The author died shortly after completing the fifth short story of this small series.

Dawn of Amber. The Dawn of Amber series by John Gregory Betancourt began publishing in 2002. This series was authorized by Zelazny's estate. It is a prequel series focusing on Oberon in the early days of Amber. While officially Amber canon, it has not been nearly as well received as the previous Amber novels.

This has disappointed many Amber fans who, after reading the Merlin series and realizing that Zelazny almost certainly was planning another series to wrap up the story that was, in effect, left hanging, were hoping for just that wrap-up. The Dawn of Amber series at least wisely did not pick up where the Merlin series left off, given Betancourt's somewhat negative response to his writing style and lack of characterization--something Zelazny did masterfully.


Works by Roger Zelazny

The First Amber Series (the Corwin series)

  • 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)

The Second Amber Series (the Merlin series)

  • Trumps of Doom (1985)
  • Blood of Amber (1986)
  • Sign of Chaos (1987)
  • Knight of Shadows (1989)
  • Prince of Chaos (1991)

The Short Stories (these now collected in Manna from Heaven, 2003)

  • Prologue to Trumps of Doom (limited edition of Trumps of Doom, 1985)
  • The Salesman's Tale (Ten Tales, edited by John Dunning, 1994)
  • The Shroudling and the Guisel (Realms of Fantasy, October, 1994)
  • Coming to a Cord (Pirate Writings, Number 7, 1995)
  • Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains (Wheel of Fortune, edited by Roger Zelazny, 1995)
  • Hall of Mirrors (Castle Fantastic, edited by John DeChancie and Martin Greenberg, March 1996)

Individual Works

  • Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber by Roger Zelazny and Neil Randall (1988)

Works by Others

Amber Diceless Role-playing by Erick Wujcik

  • Amber Diceless Role-playing (1991)
  • Shadow Knight (1995)

The Dawn of Amber Series (prequel by John Gregory Betancourt authorized by the Zelazny estate)

  • The Dawn of Amber (2002)
  • Chaos and Amber (2003)
  • To Rule in Amber (2004)

Individual Works

  • The Complete Amber Sourcebook by Theodore Krulik (1996)

Last updated: 12-15-2004 11:46:08