14) The Guns of Avalon, by Roger Zelazny
15) Sign of the Unicorn, by Roger Zelazny
16) The Hand of Oberon, by Roger Zelazny
17) The Courts of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny
I was prompted to relive this early enthusiasm by Lyn Gardner's thought-provoking article in Strange Horizons, "The Solitary Quest: The Hero's Search for Identity in Roger Zelazny's Amber" which fulfilled all that I ask for in a piece on sf - it helped me better understand what I have already read, and gave me pointers to more pieces that I might enjoy. Gardner's basic argument is that the books are about Corwin's journey to his own new identity, and I completely buy it. I would in fact add a few more pieces of evidence which seem to me to support her thesis.
First off, paths and roads are all over the place. There is, most obviously, the Black Road linking Amber to Chaos. The hell-rides, which I've always felt are the most beautifully descriptive passages in the books, are journeys along paths which may or may not be secure. The Pattern itself is a path that must be followed by the initiate. Indeed, if one thinks about Zelazny's other fiction, journeys and roads are perhaps as prominent in his works as, say landscape in Brian Aldiss. In a fascinatingly weird chapter in the final book, Corwin's jouney becomes overtly entangled with concepts of being, where he encounters a philosophical crow, a submerged nihilistic being, and the dancing Spirits of Time while travelling.
Second, while Corwin experiences his goal through the form of a quest, his brother Random undergoes a similar transition, from homicidal little fink to his father's unchallenged successor, basically by being redeemed through the love of a good woman. doyle_sb4 is hoping against hope that Torchwood doesn't turn out to have that plot but I think it's a perfectly viable alternative, and I think Zelazny thinks so too; but he is telling Corwin's story, not Random's. Lyn Gardner is right, I think, to single out Corwin's conversation with Random's wife Vialle near the start of the fourth book as a crucial turning point - perhaps Zelazny is signalling it by writing himself into the story as a minor character two pages later.
Third, I've reflected before on the role of religion (as opposed to mythology) in Zelazny's work. It is striking that (as Gardner perhaps unwittingly makes clear in her essay) the source of Corwin's character transformation is not love, as in Random's case, but his lengthy sojourn on our planet; and when he draws his new Pattern in the final book, it is memories of Paris (and elsewhere on Earth) that inform him. Zelazny was presumably brought up with some Catholic background (and can hardly have been uninformed about Christianity). Is it stretching matters too far to see some parallels with a divine Son who spent a lifetime on our planet? Of course, the effects and outcome are completely different but I can't help feeling there is something there.
Anyway, apart from those reflections, I enjoyed re-reading the books. There are so many great descriptive passages, and succinct one-liners that I had forgotten. This quote, for instance, from near the beginning:
I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.There are flaws as well: the consistency of Corwin's genealogical statements is far from perfect, and the retrospective attempts to work out exactly how he comes to be in hospital at the very start of the story make it rather obvious that the author had no idea how he got there either. The means and motivations of the minor characters - especially Bleys, who allies with Corwin, and Caine, who tries to kill him - are not always convincing. And while Zelazny was generally a master at combining banter in contemporary English style with his fantastic background settings, there are one or two points when it slips. Still, I am no longer reading these books as I once did to strip-mine them for information about the setting, I am just reading them for entertainment, and it is a very pleasurable experience.