Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480

“He Who Shapes,” which was worked into The Dream Master , won a Nebula Award for best novella in 1965. The story is highly original. Its theme of a character entering and manipulating the dreams of others links it to “Dreams Are Sacred” (1948) by Peter Phillips, “City of the...

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“He Who Shapes,” which was worked into The Dream Master, won a Nebula Award for best novella in 1965. The story is highly original. Its theme of a character entering and manipulating the dreams of others links it to “Dreams Are Sacred” (1948) by Peter Phillips, “City of the Tiger” (1958) by John Brunner, and “The Girl in His Mind” (1963) by Robert F. Young. It anticipates such films as Dreamscape (1984) and the Nightmare on Elm Street series, among others.

The Dream Master, a very early Zelazny work, has been praised for its ingenuity, imagination, and style. It is one of the stories that has caused some critics to link Zelazny to the American New Wave writers of the mid-1960’s and early 1970’s. Although the phrase “New Wave” never has been defined carefully, most critics agree that at the least it implies science fiction and fantasy that can be taken as serious literature.

The Dream Master certainly is serious literature. Despite its clever science-fiction frame, it is very much a story about character. Render suffers from excessive pride, a flaw marking the protagonists of many of Zelazny’s early stories. He also is very rigid, a perfectionist, intolerant of others, disaffected, and preoccupied with suicide. He is neurotic but fails to recognize that in himself. Eileen Shallot is equally interesting and even more neurotic. Both figures are developed far beyond the two-dimensional characters who were standard fare in the science-fiction writing of the time. Zelazny links both characters to various mythological and dramatic figures, enhancing them tremendously.

The mythic references are part of Zelazny’s early technique. He does not translate myth in his stories but rather uses it to salt the stories and to deepen them. There are mythic references, for example, to several ill-fated love affairs in the novel—Orpheus and Eurydice, Heloise and Abelard, Apollo and Daphne, Tristan and Isolde, and, in particular, the Lady of Shallot and Sir Lancelot. Those failed love affairs underscore and foreshadow the relationships between both Render and Shallot and Render and De Ville. Similarly, Zelazny uses Arthurian, Jungian, and Nordic references to deepen and underscore the themes of the novel.

The story is rich with other literary devices. The personification of Shallot’s mutant dog, Sigmund, parallels and emphasizes the mythic wolves in the Norse myth of ragnarok who swallow the sun and moon and thus end the world. The interlacing of the text with pieces of the scene of a man walking onto a roadway to commit suicide emphasizes Render’s own metaphoric race toward death. His pride drives him and keeps him from resisting the challenge that Shallot poses to his professional skills.

Zelazny’s language is rich in metaphor, allusion, simile, and symbol. His narrative technique is fresh, and the theme of this novel, a man overreaching himself, is both universal and modern. The story is a classic of its type.

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