Friday, October 29, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: And Call Me Conrad/This Immortal Bonus Material

Is Conrad the Great God Pan?

 I was going to bundle this in with the second part of the Call Me Conrad review, but I decided to give it its own post in hopes of sparking some debate.

No less an authority than Roger Zelazny himself has said,  “I wanted to leave it open to several interpretations…either Conrad is a mutant or he is the Great God Pan. The book may be read either way.” If this had come from anyone else but Zelazny, I would have discounted it immediately and said it was just scattered metaphor. I mean, it's not like Pan was renowned for smashing robots apart. I never really thought about why Conrad is as he is, but when I read it this time, I was looking for the Pan connection.

So what evidence is there?

I'll leave Conrad's strength and odd appearance and pseudotelepathic wish-fulfillment out of the equation, because they don't support one interpretation over the other.

There's the exchange with Diane.

"I thought all the gods had left the Earth."

"No, they didn't. Just because most of them resemble us doesn't mean they act the same way. When man left he didn't offer to take them along, and gods have some pride, too. But then, maybe they had to stay, anyhow—that thing called ananke, death-destiny. Nobody prevails against it."

So we seem to have evidence of the presence of other surviving gods, and as Faust tells us (as he tells Ananke, actually, in a rather amusing coincidence) "If one imaginary thing exists, then all imaginary things must exist."

But did they really exist, or was Hasan simply transported by the smoke of blossoms of the strige-fleur?

There's the bit with the fauns, where Conrad mesmerizes them with the Pan pipes and one later arrives to deliver him from captivity in the Hot Place.

Myshtigo writes him a message that says

I commend the Earth into the hands of the kallikanzaros. According to legend, this would be a grave mistake. However, I am willing to gamble that you are even a kallikanzaros under false pretenses. You destroy only what you mean to rebuild. Probably you are Great Pan, who only pretended to die.

Even reading it now, in light of the ambiguities, Myshtigo's comment strikes me as something that was not meant to be taken literally. He could have said "You are Alexander the Great returned to life", and I would have taken it to mean that he is someone who embodies Alexander's traits, not someone who is actually Alexander reborn.

Conrad does give it some weight, however, so there may be something there.


Machines don't talk that way, do they?

I hope not, anyhow…

Conrad claims that his parents left him exposed on the hillside when he was a baby, as was the custom as the time,  and when they went to retrieve him, he says "Their baby had been a satyr, they said, and they figured that perhaps some Hot creature had had a sort of human child and had abandoned it in the same way we do them—making a swap, actually."

Well, Pan had goat legs, like a satyr, but if he really is the Great God Pan, then he obviously predates the Three Days War (and Hot creature) by several hundred years. It's possible that he's referring to mythological creature with more modern nomenclature, so I'll give that one a pass. More problematic is the village priest who half-baptized him. Pan would have come well before Christianity and the custom of baptism.

What do I think? On the strength of Conrad's recognition and on authorial word of god, I'm not willing to dismiss the Pan theory outright, but if I had to make a choice, I would pick the mutant explination myself.


  1. You've overlooked a few other clues that Conrad may be Pan, as RZ suggested:

    1) Conrad Nomikos - Nomios, very similar to Nomikos, is a title attributed to Pan.

    2) Jason, Conrad's son, refers to "Immortal Penelope...trusting in the return of her kallikanzaros..." Immortal Penelope is the mother of Pan.

    3) Conrad plays the syrinx for the satyrs. The syrinx is Pan's musical instrument, also called panpipes.

    4) Before he encounters the satyr, Conrad refers to him as a "half-namesake." And Pan had many of the physical features of a satyr.

    5) Jason describes that one of the three fates, the one who measures out the thread of life, was pouting because Conrad's lifeline was wrapped around the horizon with no ends in sight, a clear reference to immortality.

    And there are other tantalizing clues scattered here and there.

    Overall RZ was quite clear that he wanted to leave Conrad's origins and identity open to interpretation, as the quote indicated. To the next reader either Conrad is Pan or he isn't, and either answer is correct. In other words, in keeping with RZ's intent, the answer to your question "Is Conrad the Great God Pan?" should be "Yes. No. Maybe."

    On the other hand, one thing that Conrad isn't is Dionysus. A number of reviewers and readers had deduced that identity, and in some correspondence and interviews RZ declared that interpretation to be incorrect. The misunderstanding appeared to come about because Conrad encounters his son while inspecting a sculpture that details the life of Dionysus. Notably, Conrad points out the satyr in the sculpture...

    I don't have a Live Journal account so I have to post this via the anonymous route. I've been enjoying your commentaries about RZ's work.

    Chris Kovacs
    [co-editor of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volumes 1-6]

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words. I enjoy writing them.

    I've mentioned it in passing, but let me tell you directly that I really enjoy what you put together with the Collected Works.

    And thank you for weighing in. You raise some interesting points and I find myself less certain of my conclusions after reading them. I recalled the line about "Immortal Penelope" but assumed it was a reference to Odysseus, though a moment's research would have shown me that was not correct. I'm pleased that Zelazny can still surprise me after all this time.