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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

As his first novel, This Immortal establishes several key motifs in Roger Zelazny’s work. First, This Immortal exhibits Zelazny’s fascination with characters who possess immortality. Zelazny saw immortality as providing the two benefits of wisdom and extensive experience. Zelazny’s immortals are never distant, dusty beings removed from humanity. Like Nomikos,...

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As his first novel, This Immortal establishes several key motifs in Roger Zelazny’s work. First, This Immortal exhibits Zelazny’s fascination with characters who possess immortality. Zelazny saw immortality as providing the two benefits of wisdom and extensive experience. Zelazny’s immortals are never distant, dusty beings removed from humanity. Like Nomikos, they embrace life fully, suffering the joys and pains of friendship, love, and passionate causes. Their wisdom is deeply rooted in human experience, although centuries of reading the great philosophical and literary works provide a framework for that experience.

Zelazny’s immortals also are sensual beings who fill their lives with artistic, material, and sexual pleasures. In addition, they love exploration and physical adventure. Like Nomikos or Mahasamatman in Lord of Light (1967), they set aside these pleasures when a higher purpose calls, fulfilling the Byronic ideal of a hero.

Mythological concerns lie at the heart of most Zelazny novels, and This Immortal is no exception. Carl Yoke notes in his book Roger Zelazny (1979) the parallels between Nomikos and Hephaestus, the god of fire; Dionysus, the god of wine; Lord Hades, god of the dead; and Karaghiosis, a fertility figure from Greek puppetry.

Zelazny often links his protagonists with dark, rebellious, or sacrilegious gods. For example, Mahasamatman becomes a rebellious, revisionist Buddha in Lord of Light, and in Eye of Cat (1982), Bill Blackhorse Singer’s patron deity is Raven, the dark god of Navajo mythology. In This Immortal, Zelazny uses aspects of underworld and fertility gods to shape his hero, Nomikos.

The reason for this connection between Zelazny’s protagonists and dark mythical figures is that Zelazny believed that these gods are transformational beings, and the sense of them as evil grows from the human reluctance to change. In Zelazny’s view, metamorphosis is the basis of life; without it, individuals and cultures stagnate and perish. For example, in Lord of Light, Mahasamatman brings down the corrupt, static reign of the gods on a distant world; in “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (1963), Gallinger convinces the Martian race to embrace life instead of racial suicide; and in the Amber series (1970-1991), Corwin completely transforms reality.

In This Immortal, Nomikos is a figure of rebirth and transformation; that is why Zelazny incorporates allusions to Dionysus and Hephaestus. By leading the Radpol rebellion and by becoming Earth’s caretaker, Nomikos becomes the locus of Earth’s metamorphosis from a nearly dead planet to a vibrant world. Zelazny symbolizes this renaissance with the metaphorical resurrections of Karaghiosis from the boat wreck and of Nomikos’ lover Cassandra from a deadly earthquake.

With its rich thematic material and keen pace, This Immortal was a solid start to Zelazny’s illustrious career. Although some critics believe that the novel could be stronger in plotting and should have a more sympathetic protagonist, This Immortal (as “. . . And Call Me Conrad”) tied with Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) for the 1966 Hugo Award for best novel.

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