Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Roger Zelazny Drinking Game

Note: The Updated Version of the game is found on this page..

Let me open with the disclaimer that I have nothing but respect and affection for Roger Zelazny, both for the writer and the man.  He is my very favorite author, by a considerable margin, and by every account I've ever heard, a profoundly decent human being.

That said, he does have elements that tend to recur in his work with certain regularity, and as I've been reading a great deal of his fiction very closely and in rapid succession, I'm more aware of these elements than I otherwise would be. And once you see the old woman hidden in the curves of the young girl's necklace, you never unsee her.

So here is an affectionate look as what I perceive to be the recurring themes in Zelazny's work. Since this is the Internet, I'll present the list as a drinking game.

Every time you encounter an item on the following list, take a drink (or eat some m&ms or do whatever you do to play your particular version of the game)
  • The Zelazny archetype - Take a drink for each of the traits the protagonist has:
    • Long lived/immortal(includes the serial immortality of Lord of Light)
    • super strong
    • "laid-back.."
    •  "...easy-going..."
    •  "...wise-cracking..."
    •  "...homicidal"
  • If the story is written in an unusual format - Doorways in the Sand's cliffhanger-to-flashback format at the beginning of each chapter, the play/free verse/present tense narration of Creatures of Light and Darkness, Roadmarks' chapter structure, that kind of thing.
  • For every dig at government inefficiency/bureaucracy
  • Prose as poetry - Whenever you read a passage so lyrical that you feel compelled to put down the book for a moment to reflect on it.
  • Free verse poetry - Like Corwin's hellrides or Thoth's account of The Thing that Cried in the night in Creatures of Light and Darkness.
  • Use of Real-World Mythology - If you're reading about a drinking game on a blog dedicated to the works of Roger Zelazny, I trust that this needs no explanation.
  • Use of First person narrative - Ditto
  • Any time you discover a pun
  • Each time you encounter a character with green eyes - see below
  • If the plot involves a missing father figure
  • If our protagonist has female robot sidekick - (Maxine, Flowers or Jenny)
  • Any time a character smokes or talks about smoking
  • Description of techniques or use of specialized terms from martial arts or fencing ("I parried in quarte and riposted.) ("I studied judo. There are three schools of it, you  know: there is the Kodokon, or the pure Japanese style,  and there are the Budo Kwai and the French Federation  systems...")
  • "Hey, I can see Roger's house from here!" - Take a drink every time the story moves to or takes place in New Mexico 
  • Use of the word "arroyo"
  • For use of phrases in foreign languages
    • Two drinks if it's in French
    • Three drinks if you feel compelled to stop reading in order to look up the reference
    • Finish the bottle and toast the author if the reference leads you to discover something incredibly cool which was previously unknown to you

Green Eyes: Green eyes are pretty rare, but you'd never know that from reading Roger Zelazny.

Just off the top of my head, we have:

Corwin, his siblings Fiona, Llewella, Gérard and Brand, his father Oberon, his "grandmother" (depending on how literal Dworkin was being with that claim) the unicorn  in the Amber books, Carol Deith and Don Walsh from the Legion collection, Heidel von Hymack, ("the green-eyed saint from the stars") from To Die in Italbar, Evene from Jack of Shadows, Dennis and Lydia Guise from Bridge of Ashes, Sanza from The Keys to December, Arlata from The Changing Land, Eleanor in This Moment of the Storm, both Red Dorakeen and Leila from Roadmarks, Mara and Maia (and probably more I'm forgetting)  from Lord of Light, and Morgana from The Last Defender of Camelot.

Things I left out of this list.
Suicide is the biggy. Sure, it shows up in He Who Shapes and a A Rose for Eccelsiates, but it's not as pervasive as the other elements. I never saw the obsession with cars other critics have mentioned. Sure, he wrote Auto-de-fé and Jenny and Murdock and there were elements of this in The Dream Master, certainly, but it seems something influenced by the then-recent car accidents in his early life and grew less prevalent as he grew older.

Some quick googling seems to suggest that I'm the first person to put together a Roger Zelazny drinking game. That can't be right, can it? If it is, then I feel kind of happy to have contributed in this way.


  1. Re: Green Eyes. I can't believe I forgot Vramin from Creatures of Light and Darkness. Even his hair was green!

  2. Josh, you missed more than a few. See green/emerald eyes also in:

    The Graveyard Heart
    Nine Starships Waiting
    A Museum Piece
    Power & Light
    The Keys to December
    This Moment of the Storm
    Angel, Dark Angel
    Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming
    Changeling (although it's artificial)
    Damnation Alley
    Eye of Cat
    If At Faust You Don't Succeed
    Isle of the Dead
    Jack of Shadows
    Lord Demon
    The Places of Aache
    The George Business
    Night Kings
    The Shroudling and the Guisel
    He Who Shapes/The Dream Master

    The obsession with cars and car wrecks (which Zelazny admitted to) includes the automobile wreck around which Nine Princes in Amber and its four sequels were centered, Passion Play, Damnation Alley, Roadmarks, Auto-Da-Fé, and others I'm probably forgetting. And it's a big obsession of Render in He Who Shapes/The Dream Master; he keeps dreaming about the accident that killed/drowned his wife and daughter.

    Chris Kovacs

  3. Ah, once again my Zelazny knowledge is trumped (as it were) by a true master! I knew that my list about green eyes wasn't absolutely comprehensive, but I had no idea quite how many I had missed.

    My comment about the cars was that it seemed to be motif of his earlier works and not something that spanned his career, so I opted not to include it. However, when putting together this list, I somehow *completely* forgot about the role of the car wreck in the Amber books. It is a central element in one of his most well known works, so I think you're right in that it is something that should be included.

  4. To be fair, I don't think I'd ever noticed the plethora of green eyes until you called it to my attention. Now that I know how many there are, I'm surprised I didn't see them before.

    I agree that the car motif seemed to occur mainly in his earlier works.

    Chris Kovacs

  5. You've convinced me of the importance of the car imagery and I'd like to update the list with their inclusion. Would you rather I acknowledged you by name or simply as "a commenter"?

  6. I don't mind if you acknowledge me by name. In turn, I hope to be able to revise one of the sections of the "...And Call Me Roger" bibliography to include mention of the recurrent green eyes, or maybe I'll have to fit it into one of the story end-notes, and I'll acknowledge you for pointing it out to me. Although I'll need to know your name for that. I don't know which volume it will be; volumes 1 and 2 have already been revised and reprinted, but volumes 3-6 should be coming up for revision and reprinting within the year.

    Chris Kovacs

  7. Oh, wow, very cool.

    I'm somewhat pseudoanonymous here, since I try to keep some distance between my personal and professional lives. I don't think it would take a huge amount of effort to figure out who I am, but no point in broadcasting it, so can you contact me at my email address at Jugularjosh at gmail dot com?