Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Visual Guide to Castle Amber

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny are a fantastic resource, but not one I consult when writing these reviews, simply because the commentary there is so incisive that it would be too easy to unconsciously incorporate the observations there into my own work if I started reading it before I had an idea of the form a particular entry will take. So, if I read it at all, it's right before I publish, to see if I overlooked something blindingly obvious.

That's what I did this time around and I saw that I had pretty much said the same things about it that people have been saying since its release at the end of the 80s and that Chris Kovacs already covered the points that I was going to make when he looked at it in the "And Call Me Roger..." segment.

I'm not sure I even consider it a proper Zelazny book. The book was written by Neil Randall and Roger Zelazny, though Zelazny's contributions seemed to be limited to answering the questions Randall posed to him. I don't feel that's a role to which he's entirely suited, because by his own accounts, he makes up his worlds as he goes along, often having no idea how a story will end when he begins writing it. And it's possible for him to reverse engineer it to an extent, by remembering what he's written, determinging what would lead to that state of events and projecting where they might go in the future, but it's not as if Amber had been rigorously planned from the beginning.

Randall plugs his Amber choose-your-own-adventure books (Black Road War & Seven No Trump) a couple times but I'm okay with that because I happened to like them. My biggest complaint is that I read Black Road War right before I started The Hand of Oberon for the very first time and Zelazny casually mentions that Oberon is Ganelon in the introduction.

It's probably the best semi-canonical work in regards to giving the neglected princesses some real character. Sometimes it's a mess, when it suggests that Gérard played defensive tackle for a college team. We never get an official age in the books for any of the princes, except for Benedict, who by Corwin's account is "several" millennia old. Gerard was at least a young adult when Corwin was banished to the London during the plague and that was several centuries ago. I suppose it's possible that Gérard played football as an undergrad on some adjacent shadow, but a more likely explanation is that Randall or Zelazny just didn't think that one through.

Showing how each royal decorates his or her room was really clever. I like maps of the room, and the little details, like Julian's bearskin rugs or Fiona's Scandinavian decor.  I was amused by the account of Bleys's chess match with Tlingel the unicorn, though it's not something I'm inclined to treat as canon. I especially like the characterization of Diedre as an urbane Manhattanite and "the first to comfort the grieving Yoko Ono", and I will forever after imagine her as Audrey Hepburn wearing a black turtleneck.

I really liked the art in the book with a few exceptions. (Why, exactly, was Fiona's head so flat? Why did you give the unicorn those horrifying goat eyes? Gérard looks like he's really enjoying that goblet of wine.) It got me thinking about the perennial pastime of Amber fans, the casting of the hypothetical Amber movie.

I'm terrible at this, but I have a couple of suggestions:

If the artist is to be believed, we should absolutely go with Timothy Dalton as Corwin. I like him in The Lion in Winter (one of my favorite movies), but he's just too young in that role to play Corwin.

Eric Bana as Eric, naturally.

Christopher Walken as Julian. In my most recent reading of the books, Julian came across as emotionally stunted, what with his awkward wooing of his sister and "his slow, almost impeded way of speaking". There is something...off about each of them and I think Walken would be a great fit. Ideally, I'm thinking young Walken, like from the Deer Hunter or Annie Hall.

"I enjoy slaughtering beasts and I think of my relatives constantly. Please brothers, scooch closer."

Audrey Hepburn as Diedre, as per above.

Brendon Gleeson in his role as Menelaus as Ganelon 

Bernard Hill in his role as Théoden as Oberon

And finally Justin Bieber as Merlin.

Ha ha ha. Fuck Merlin.

 I may be back for the characters I missed, because this was kind of fun.


  1. That last one caught me by surprise and was priceless. Had I been drinking it would have spurted. Justin Bieber, indeed!

    Your selections are quite good and I especially like the choice of Christopher Walken.

    Off the top of my head --

    Scarlet Johannson as Fiona, except she'd have to put on a icy manner.

    Shirley MacLaine as Flora? Since the character is supposed to be somewhat ditzy and scattered?

    Gerard Depardieu as Gerard.

    Robert Downey, Jr as Random.

    Chris Kovacs

  2. Thanks!

    I like the pick of Scarlett Johansson. She wasn't someone who immediately jumped to mind, but I really think she's an actress who could pull it off.

    Also Downey is an inspired choice!

    At first I thought you might have been going with a joke with Gérard as Gérard, but a little research shows he's certainly got the build and the presence to pull it off.

    I'm not familiar enough with Shirley MacLaine to comment on her unfortunately.

  3. I've held off mentioning this but I can't resist. What follows may contaminate your mind. However:

    During the 1980s there was a small group of female fans who loved and dreamed about Pierce Brosnan in his role of Remington Steele, a detective in a then-popular TV series. Pierce Brosnan later played James Bond too, just like Timothy Dalton did. So to some people Corwin would be aptly played by Pierce Brosnan.

    ...so much did Pierce Brosnan seem the perfect actor to play Corwin that a running fanzine serial merged the Amber Chronicles with Remington Steele such that Corwin was detective Remington Steele on our Shadow Earth (our Earth). And he looked like Pierce Brosnan here and in Amber too.

    I dunno. What do you think?

    If you're intrigued by this then the fanzine Shadow Shiftin' contains the story you're looking for with some images of Pierce aka Remington aka Corwin. If you're sickened by the possibility then don't go looking for it.

    I know that Zelazny saw this fanzine because the issues were among his papers, and the editor wrote to him frequently. But whether he ever read the story of Corwin-Pierce-Remington or not, I do not know.

    Chris Kovacs

  4. Wow, thanks for the tip. I have absolutely got to track this down! I'm a big fan of alternate interpretations of Amber. Two of my favorites are Nine Princes in Hong Kong and Amberado.