Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roger Zelazny Casting Call: Jasra

I spend a lot of time complaining about the Merlin books, but even I have to admit it did give us a number of memorable characters. Take the first time we meet Jasra in Trumps of Doom. She's trumping into Victor Melman's apartment because Merlin, pretending to be Melman had answered the phone and pretended to be wounded. After he hangs up, Merlin observes, "I cradled the phone and smiled. I thought it very well played. I'd a feeling I'd taken her in completely."

An instant later she was there-tall, russet-haired, darkeyed, holding what looked like a .38 automatic.

The ashtray hit her in the stomach and she doubled forward with a gasp.

I was there before she could straighten.

I jerked the gun out of her hand and threw it across the room. Then I seized both her wrists, spun her around and seated her hard in the nearest chair. In her left hand she still held a Trump. I snatched ~ it away. It was a representation of this apartment, and it was done in the same style as the Tree and the cards in my pocket.

"Who are you?" I snarled.

"Jasra," she spat back, "dead man!"

She opened her mouth wide and her head fell forward. I felt the moist touch of her lips upon the back of my left forearm, which still held her own right wrist against the chair's arm. Seconds later I felt an excruciating pain there. It was not a bite, but rather felt as if a fiery nail had been driven into my flesh.

Perhaps our first indication that Merlin is not as smart as he thinks he is. I like Jasra. What's not to like? She spent of bunch of time trying to murder Merlin. I can't imagine a more worthwhile pursuit. In fact, my biggest complaint about her hobby is that she wasn't very good at it.

She's fun to read about, and she has real depth. There's a core to Jasra, and it's a testament to Zelazny's skill that she's capable of getting across that same core personality, but emphasizing different aspects to it as she enters into new situations.

We get this description of her in Knight of Shadows:

She had on a low over-one-shoulder (the left) white dress, fastened at the shoulder with a diamond pin, and she wore a tiara, also of diamonds, which seemed almost to be radiating in the infrared range amidst her bright hair.  She was smiling, and she smelled good, too. Involuntarily I felt myself standing straighter, and I glanced at my fingernails to be certain they were clean.

That's the same woman that was in Victor Melman's apartment, but she's presenting herself differently. It doesn't come across as a mask as much as it does a complicated character deciding on which facet of her personality is most appropriate for her environment.

She's the schemer, the assassin, the master, the apprentice, Brand's wife, and Dara's maid. All that, and Luke's hot mom too.

I think the person I see in the role is Francesca Annis.

Annis herself was schooled in a convent and trained as a ballet dancer and she's probably best known for playing Jessica in the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune, where she was the hot mom to a superhuman youth. She mixes poise, sensuality and menace, and is capable of switching between them effortlessly. I think she'd make a fine Jasra.

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