A lean, cadaverous figure

Wednesday October 20, 2010 @ 03:35 PM (UTC)

I’m in the midst of two rereads right now: I’m listening to an audiobook of Mansfield Park and blazing my way through the entirety of The Chronicles of Amber. (So far I’ve noticed the restrained and slightly circumlocutory nature of Austen affecting my personal communications more than Zelazny’s mixture of the sardonic and lyrical.) I’m thoroughly enjoying my return trip through Amber and Chaos, and finding things I don’t remember noticing before.

Take this passage, for example, as Corwin descends into the fastness below Amber:

Twisting and winding through the gloom. The torch and lantern-lit guard station was theatrically stark within it. I reached the floor and headed that way.
“Good evening, Lord Corwin,” said the lean, cadaverous figure who rested against a storage rack, smoking his pipe, grinning around it.
“Good evening, Roger. How are things in the nether world?”
“A rat, a bat, a spider. Nothing much else astir. Peaceful.”
“You enjoy this duty?”
He nodded. “I am writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity. I work on those parts down here.”
“Fitting, fitting,” I said. “I’ll be needing a lantern.”
He took one from the rack, brought it to flame from his candle.
“Will it have a happy ending?” I inquired.
He shrugged.
“I’ll be happy.”
“I mean, does good triumph and hero bed heroine? Or do you kill everybody off?”
“That’s hardly fair,” he said.
“Never mind. Maybe I’ll read it one day.”
“Maybe,” he said.
-Roger Zelazny, The Hand of Oberon

I’m not sure how the significance of the dungeon guard’s name escaped me as a teenager and college student (perhaps I did see it, and had just forgotten) but now I find this colloquy very pleasing. Not only does it provide a light beat just where one is needed, but the joke rewards a close reader. It’s not jarring and can even be justified in-universe — if there are (at least) two Lancelots du Lac in the multiverse, why not two toiling authorial Rogers?

I always enjoy meta-discussion of stories within fiction. (“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’” – Tolkien) Making fiction is making meaning, and I feel it makes a narrative richer to have the characters realize that, realize how much even they/we are engaged in telling, justifying, framing things as we go about their/our business. Here it’s fascinating, in the midst of a series so varied in texture, setting and moment, to have an idea of how the author sums it up, what he thinks he is about. It’s playful and daring in a way I associate with Zelazny.

It’s enough to tempt you to meet your own main character and tell them what you are presently writing about. (Would you dare? Note that Roger, here, holds a position where in the first book he presumably {SPOILER} guarded the captive Corwin for four years and few of us have dealt more punishment to our characters than Zelazny has to Corwin.) Of course, most of us wouldn’t be so bold and Puckish as to include this exercise in our published works. And as for me, to my regret, it would be rather glaring if I included a bit player named “Felicity”!

Comments

Felicity is such a cool name, it’s a shame not to be able to use it.

I’m amazed I never noticed, or have no memory of noticing this authorial appearance – makes me think I’ve always read the amber novels in too much of a hurry.

Your imprecations are noted.

To be fair, the frying-pan-to-fire structure of much of the Amber novels encourages speedy reading!

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