Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Zelazny, Roger

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(1937-1995) US writer who in 1962 gained an MA from Columbia University in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. An intense interest in the dark intricacies and metaphysical daring displayed by the dramatists in whom he specialized infused all RZ's best work, giving even to some of his more routine output (in later years) a sense that he could always increase the density and pressure of his storytelling had it suited him to do so.

After "Mister Fuller's Revolt" for Literary Cavalcade in 1954 and various other nonprofessional appearances RZ began publishing sf with "Passion Play" for Amazing in 1962. He will almost certainly remain most admired for the sf – some as by Harrison Denmark – published in the first half-decade of his career. Four for Tomorrow (coll 1967; vt A Rose for Ecclesiastes 1969 UK) and The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories (coll 1971) assemble stories which remain central to the genre; the title story of the second volume, also published as The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth (1965 F&SF; 1991 chap), won a Nebula for Best Novelette. His first novels – This Immortal (1965 F&SF as "... And Call me Conrad"; exp 1966), which won a 1966 Hugo Award, He Who Shapes (1989 dos) (1965 Amazing; 1989 dos), first published in book form as The Dream Master (1965 Amazing as "He Who Shapes"; exp 1966), which won a 1966 Nebula Award as Best Novella, and Lord of Light (1967), which won a 1968 Hugo – are texts which help define 1960s sf.

Some of this material can be partially understood in fantasy terms. "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" (1963) and The Doors of his Face are set in Planetary-Romance versions of, respectively, Mars and Venus; the latter, by incorporating a pattern of references to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), makes its action most clearly understandable as an acting-out of something approaching Archetype. Similarly, the Underlier figure shaping the feats of the Immortal hero of This Immortal is Herakles, though Conrad Nomikos is also a Trickster, and maybe a God; he is the first representative of the kind of Hero RZ was almost obsessively taken with – the self-mocking, immortal, romantic, profoundly sagacious, dusk-ridden jokester Hero of a Thousand Faces (> Monomyth), an emblem of Belatedness (and self-pity), but also the exuberant bearer of human tidings to the gods (and vice versa). Lord of Light – though underpinned as sf – reads for much of its course as full-blown fantasy: only after a while do we learn that a planet has been colonized by the Hindu crew of an exploring human starship, and that long before the crew used technology to make themselves into a Pantheon of Hindu gods, thereafter ruling the world, its human colonists (the ship's passengers) and its natives. Technofantasy may ultimately be subverted by rational explanation in this tale, but the aura of Magic does not fade. Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969) less convincingly places the pantheon of ancient Egypt in a similar position of power over space and time.

Even in his seminal early sf, the pattern of revelation in RZ's work tends not to conceptual breakthrough but to retroactive moments of Recognition; the move of the RZ text is backwards to Myth, and readers normally meet his most common protagonists at a point when their immortality conveys a sense of Time Abyss. The RZ fantasy which exemplifies this pattern most clearly – and the sequence he is most widely known for – is the Chronicles of Amber, which breaks into two linked series. The first, built around the figure of Corwin, is Nine Princes in Amber (1970), The Guns of Avalon (1972), Sign of the Unicorn (1975), The Hand of Oberon (1976) and The Courts of Chaos (1978), all five assembled as The Chronicles of Amber (omni 1979 2 vols). The second, focusing on Corwin's son Merlin, is Trumps of Doom (1985), Blood of Amber (1986), Sign of Chaos (1987), Knight of Shadows (1989) and Prince of Chaos (1991). Two further related texts are A Rhapsody in Amber (coll 1981 chap) and Roger Zelazny's Visual Guide to Castle Amber (1988), the latter with Neil Randall. Amber itself is a central Reality whose ontological substance is denser than the innumerable "Shadow" realities – one of which contains our world and its history – it underlies and which are cast off like spume. Similarly, Corwin and his many siblings – whose names indicate their Underlier roles – are more real than mortals, or the Gods of any Shadow realm. The Story of our world is, therefore, a shadowy semblance of the true story. There may be a touch of Gnostic thought here, though it is scanted; more centrally, RZ makes considerable play with Jungian Psychology, and his characters duly treat various Shadow worlds as though they were dioramas of the Collective Unconscious, which they are privileged to explore and manipulate. But, as the sequence continues, it becomes clear that Amber itself is not an ultimate reality; it shares a Yin-and-Yang relationship with the courts of Chaos, a relationship which generates a sense that whatever ultimate reality exists moves in Cycles.

The sequence begins with Corwin, who seems a human afflicted with Amnesia but who is (we soon learn) one of the sons of Oberon, the supposedly dead king of Amber, and – in the Tarot-based symbology of the sequence – a Fool. Aspects of Dynastic Fantasy – sometimes overcomplex – percolate throughout the tale as the various siblings vie for the throne. So destructive are these conflicts by the second volume that Amber is seen as a Waste Land and Corwin's Quest for self-identity and empowerment also becomes a quest for the Grail; images of Healing proliferate from this point. By the end of the fifth volume, Corwin – by understanding that Chaos underlies Amber in the same way that Amber underlies the phenomenal Universe – begins to be able to bestow something like peace upon the shape of the Land.

The second sequence is much less organized and is fuller of Plot Devices typical of Dynastic Fantasy; it may not conclude with the last published volume, which is absent-minded and digressive.

Two further sequences are of mild interest. The Wizard World series – Changeling (1980) and Madwand (1981), assembled as Wizard World (omni 1989) – parallels Amber through a protagonist who is exiled on Earth and must valorously gain back his role and his world. The Dilvish series – The Bells of Shoredan (1966 Fantastic; 1979 chap), The Changing Land (1981) and Dilvish, the Damned (coll of linked stories 1982) – features another exiled protagonist, who escapes his initial Bondage and engages in Sword-and-Sorcery adventures en route to Vengeance and reinstatement.

Some of RZ's earlier singletons are of strong fantasy interest. Jack of Shadows (1971) is set on a non-rotating world whose light side is understandable in sf terms but whose dark side is run by Magic. The Jack hero undergoes a variety of Picaresque adventures in his Quest for his true name, his revenge and his empowerment. Some fantasy stories are included in The Last Defender of Camelot (coll 1980; exp 1981), Unicorn Variations (coll 1983) – which won a 1984 Balrog AwardFrost and Fire (coll 1989) and Gone to Earth (coll dated 1991 but 1992). Late fantasies include The Black Throne (1990) with Fred Saberhagen, a Recursive fantasy in which Edgar Allan Poe and his Double switch Alternate Worlds, with some lighthearted swashbuckling as a consequence. The Mask of Loki (1990) with Thomas T Thomas (1948-    ) is Science Fantasy. The Azzie Elbub sequence with Robert Sheckley (1928-2005) – Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming (1991), If at Faust You Don't Succeed (1993) and A Farce to be Reckoned With (1995) – centres on Agons in which the forces of Good and Evil contest the moral running of the world. A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) quirkily and succinctly recounts a Gaslight Romance featuring all the usual late-Victorian suspects (Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, etc.) but through the voice of a Talking Animal.

RZ's last books were more powerful than many of those published in the 1970s and 1980s: he may have wished to concentrate once again. His death was premature. [JC]

other works (mostly sf): Damnation Alley (1969); Isle of the Dead (1969) and To Die in Italbar (1973), both featuring Francis Sandow; Today We Choose Faces (1973); Poems (coll 1974 chap); Doorways in the Sand (1976); Bridge of Ashes (1976); Deus Irae (1976) with Philip K Dick (1928-1992); The Illustrated Zelazny (graph coll 1978; rev vt The Authorized Illustrated Book of Roger Zelazny 1979); Roadmarks (1979); For a Breath I Tarry (1966 NW; 1980 chap); When Pussywillows Last in the Catyard Bloomed (coll 1980 chap), poetry; Coils (1980) with Saberhagen; Today We Choose Faces/Bridge of Ashes (omni 1981); To Spin is Miracle Cat (coll 1981), poems; Eye of Cat (1982), which though sf powerfully evokes the classic Night Journey of Native American Shamanism; A Dark Traveling (1987), a fantasy juvenile; The Graveyard Heart (1964 Amazing; 1990 chap dos); Home is the Hangman (1975 Analog; 1990 chap dos); Flare (1992) with Thomas; Way Up High (1992 chap); Here There be Dragons (1992 chap); Wilderness (1994) with Gerald Hausman (1945-    ), associational.

as editor: Nebula Award Stories Three (anth 1968); Warriors of Blood and Dream (anth 1995) with Martin H Greenberg; Forever After (anth 1995); Wheel of Fortune (anth 1995) with Greenberg; The Williamson Effect (anth 1996).

further reading: Roger Zelazny: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980) by Joseph L Sanders; Roger Zelazny (1993) by Jane Lindskold.

Roger Joseph Zelazny


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.