Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566

The first Chronicle of Amber ends at the Courts of Chaos, where Corwin, Prince of Amber, meets for the first time his son Merlin. Indeed the reader learns that the whole five-novel sequence has been a story told by Corwin to Merlin — a kind of autobiography and apologia. The second chronicle is Merlin's story.

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Merlin is the son of Corwin and Dara, Princess of Chaos, Corwin's onetime lover and more recently his bitter enemy. Thus he is a son both of Amber and Chaos and a pivotal figure in the ongoing struggle between those two opposed realms. While the plot defies easy summary, it turns on Merlin's attempt to discover who is trying to kill him, a quest that involves him in a dizzying array of political machinations, family feuds, and lovers' vendettas. The struggle culminates in what appears to be an ultimate conflict between the powers of the Logrus and the Unicorn, the rival metaphysical entities underlying Chaos and Amber. If this sounds confusing, it is, and Zelazny further complicates the plot by adding characters and plot twists at virtually every turn.

The reader has the strong sense of a writer delighting in making up his story as he goes along, but at least one reviewer has unflatteringly compared the novels to a television soap opera, with the frequent cliffhanger endings, the discovery of new relatives every few episodes, and the general sense of an author writing himself in and out of corners.

The principal theme of the first Amber sequence is the need for a dynamic balance between freedom (or chaos, energy) and pattern (or law, order, form), which are represented by Chaos and Amber. Chaos is the primordial condition of existence; Amber, long thought by its inhabitants to be the original world, is an offshoot of Chaos, the product of the genius of a rebel Lord of Chaos who created a Pattern. Zelazny is here playing a variation on numerous creation accounts which portray the beginning of the universe not as a creation from nothing, but as the triumph of order over chaos. What makes Zelazny's version different is his celebration of balance. There is no suggestion that he regards order as morally or metaphysically superior to Chaos; it is a mistake to regard Chaos as evil and Amber as good. More precisely, his pairs are freedom and law, energy and pattern. None of the Amber books offers the opposition between good and evil seen in Christian-based fantasies like J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). On the contrary, the ideal requires a continuous balance between opposites, not the triumph of one over the other.

While it is impossible to make a definitive pronouncement on the themes of a novel sequence still in progress, Merlin's parentage is perhaps suggestive of the main thematic line. As a child of both Chaos and Amber, one whose sole allegiance has been demanded by each side, Merlin plays a critical thematic role. Through the fourth novel he has resisted efforts of the Logrus and the Unicorn to recruit him, insisting upon his dual allegiance to Amber and Chaos. It is likely that the ultimate resolution of the plot will revolve around Merlin's choices and that the precarious balance of Chaos and Amber will depend upon his ability and willingness to be true to both sides of his heritage, to both poles of his being.

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Characters