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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 620

The concept of parallel worlds is common in fantastic literature. Isaac Asimov used this idea in The End of Eternity (1955), though his method was science fictional rather than magical. C. S. Lewis created an alternate world in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), a series of children’s fantasies with an...

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The concept of parallel worlds is common in fantastic literature. Isaac Asimov used this idea in The End of Eternity (1955), though his method was science fictional rather than magical. C. S. Lewis created an alternate world in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), a series of children’s fantasies with an overt Christian message. More recently, Stephen King embarked on an alternate world epic, the Dark Tower series, begun in 1982 and incorporating elements of horror.

Perhaps the most unusual concept in the Amber series is the ability of some of the characters not only to travel freely among the alternate worlds but also to create new ones in the process. When a prince of Amber travels through shadows, he does so by changing reality bit by bit. The characters speak various languages and have various identities in the worlds they choose to inhabit.

It is also possible for a shadow walker to bring materials from one world into another. In Amber, gunpowder is useless. Corwin, however, discovers that in the shadow world of Avalon, there is a type of jeweler’s rouge that is benign in that world (and contemporary Earth) but highly explosive in Amber. He travels to a shadow world much like Earth except that South Africa has not been colonized by Europeans. There, he easily collects uncut diamonds, which he uses in the Europe of contemporary Earth to buy automatic weapons. He then has these weapons loaded with bullets propelled by the material from Avalon. With these weapons, he saves Castle Amber from invaders.

Unlike most fantasies, the Amber series is not a conflict between good and evil; rather, the fight is between order, represented by Amber, and chaos, represented by the Courts of Chaos. Underlying this theme is a strong suggestion that both Amber and Chaos are projections of something deeper and that one cannot exist without the other. Certainly, there are many characters who owe allegiance to both places. The most obvious is Merlin, who is searching for his father, Corwin of Amber, but was reared in the Courts of Chaos.

The ultimate reality of the situation remains elusive. At several points, various characters have glimpses of the “True Amber,” of which Amber itself seems to be a shadow. There is a mythological assumption that the Houses of Amber and Chaos both spring from Dworkin and the Unicorn. The fate of Amber literally dictates the fate of the universe. All other worlds are shadows of Amber; therefore, if Amber is destroyed, all other places will be destroyed as well.

A final point concerns religious undertones. Although there are no references to gods as such, the Unicorn is more than an ordinary animal, and the princes of Amber themselves appear to be effectively immortal. Like the ancient Greek gods, they can be killed violently, but they do not appear to age as ordinary humans do, and they have amazing powers of regeneration. Corwin was first exiled to Earth during the Middle Ages, where he survived an outbreak of bubonic plague. In modern New York, he is still, to all appearances, a young man.

Amber owes many of its parts to sources from ancient legends and mythology to modern science fiction. The Amber books, for example, incorporate elements of time travel and use fantastic weapons. Sir Lancelot makes a brief appearance in The Guns of Avalon, and both Oberon and Merlin have names stemming from ancient legends.

Roger Zelazny has written many stories, varying from “sword and sorcery” tales to hard science fiction involving spaceships and alien worlds. In most cases, the distinctions between reality and fantasy, and between science and legend, are blurred. In the ten books that make up the Amber series, this is especially evident.

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