Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497
Jack of Shadows is Roger Zelazny’s tenth novel and falls between the first two Amber novels, Nine Princes in Amber (1970) and The Guns of Avalon (1972). Like many of Zelazny’s novels, Jack of Shadows contains a larger-than-life, immortal protagonist who manipulates as much as he protects or defends. Jack...
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- Critical Essays
Jack of Shadows is Roger Zelazny’s tenth novel and falls between the first two Amber novels, Nine Princes in Amber (1970) and The Guns of Avalon (1972). Like many of Zelazny’s novels, Jack of Shadows contains a larger-than-life, immortal protagonist who manipulates as much as he protects or defends. Jack is less advanced in his moral development than Conrad Nomikos in This Immortal (1966) or Sam in Lord of Light (1967), but the similarities are evident. Sam deliberately assumes the role of Buddha to free the people of Urath from their technologically deified Hindu pantheon, much as Jack creates himself as a ruler. Jack also bears a striking resemblance to Zelazny’s Dilvish from The Changing Land (1981) and Dilvish, the Damned (1982). Dilvish also is a man who has been unfairly punished and returns intent on revenge. Zelazny returned to the character of Jack in the short-story prequel “Shadowjack,” which appeared in The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (1978).
In Jack of Shadows, Zelazny deliberately juxtaposes the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. By centering on a fantasy character, Zelazny is able to use the mythic overtones that often characterize his work. As is common in Zelazny’s work, this high mimetic style built from terse, impressionistic descriptions and greater-than-life characters is often undercut by idiomatic language. Jack may be immortal and live in a wondrous castle, but he is a jerk and quite often deliberately expresses himself using crude language. The humorous contrast in language levels highlights the differences between the two half-worlds within the novel as well as the deliberate bending of the genre boundary between fantasy and science fiction.
Early in the novel, Rosie complains that darksiders are unaware of how time affects daysiders. Time changed her but does not change Jack. Jack himself tells Morningstar that he is not a man and that he does not change. Both Morningstar and the narrative deny this fact. Jack does change: He experiences love and remorse, and he acts, in the end, for the greater good. Furthermore, Rosie discovers that darksiders have souls; therefore, both daysiders and darksiders are conscious individuals. Moral understanding, however, is primarily symbolic and undeveloped among darksiders.
Dayside reflects rationality, science, and technology, but its people can be as superstitious and unreflective as darksiders. They represent the rational mind without the strength and depths of the unconscious. The darksiders exist in a world of myth and will without the organization and moral development of the rational mind. There is some room for individual moral growth in both worlds, but as societies they are frozen, caught in a paralyzing stasis symbolized by Morningstar’s imprisonment on the mountain, waiting for a dawn that cannot come. Jack becomes the agent of this Promethean character. Morningstar’s advice to Jack destroys the stasis and is equivalent to Prometheus gift of fire that frees humankind.
The novel ends unresolved. Jack is falling, and Morningstar is swooping down to save him. Further resolution is unnecessary, however, because Jack has obtained full moral consciousness.