Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tarot Imagery in Roger Zelazny’s “Chronicles of Amber”

In much of his writing, Roger Zelazny uses the metaphor of the Tarot effectively to create symbolic layers of meaning.  An excellent example of this is his epic fantasy series “Chronicles of Amber.”
According to biographer Theodore Krulik (1986), Zelazny became interested in the Tarot through his studies of the writings of Carl Jung, particularly those about parapsychology and the collective subconscious (Krulik, 1986, 117).  Jung saw the Tarot as a collection of archetypes – “those of birth, rebirth, death, power, magic, the hero, the child, the trickster, God, the demon, the wise old man, the earth mother, the giant, many natural objects and many manmade objects such as rings and weapons” (Hall & Nordby, 1973,  p. 25)

The main character of the series, Corwin of Amber, is represented by a card called “The Fool.” This card shows a young man about to blithely and unknowingly step off a cliff. This card “represents the beginning of all creativity and the desire to accomplish impossibly beautiful goals” (Gray, 1973, p. 96). As the story begins, Corwin is in this state of creative potential, as he awakens with no memory and must reclaim his life (Krulik, 1986,  p. 115).
 If the Fool card is reversed, it indicates a “thoughtless action” (Gray, 1986, p. 96), with negative consequences.   These consequences are realized after Corwin lays a curse on his brother Eric, who has taken the throne of Amber for himself and cast a blinded Corwin into a dungeon.  In uttering this ill-thought curse, Corwin creates long-reaching problems that he is later responsible for fixing (Krulik, 1986, p. 115). “In a fit of passion, compounded of rage, horror, and pain, I had unleashed this thing, and it was reflected somewhere in every earth in existence” (Zelazny, 1978a, p. 197).
Another character of interest is Vialle, the wife of Corwin’s brother Random.  Krulik does not mention her, as she is not a main character, but she exemplifies the blindfolded figures found in the Two of Swords and Eight of Swords.  Blind from birth and forced to marry Random as part of his punishment for a crime, she chooses to stay with him when she no longer has to, and unexpectedly becomes Queen of Amber (Zelazny, 1978b).
In the Two of Swords, the blindfold “serves to prevent distraction.”(Amberstone & Amberstone, 2008, p. 172). It allows one to see things that others cannot.  Vialle is a seer and an artist. The Eight of Swords is about willing initiation.  “The person in the card submits to being bound and hoodwinked and led to the threshold of a higher and better state.”  By entering into imprisonment to stay with the man she was ordered to marry, she moves toward a higher calling.
Other cards used as metaphor include The Wheel of Fortune – seen in a dream and indicating a turning of events; The Tower is represented by the Lighthouse of Cabra, where Corwin first sees the results of his curse; the Hanged Man is portrayed in the form of a young man who has been hung upside-down for questioning, and whom Corwin releases. Many other characters as well are represented by the Tarot; King Oberon is the Emperor, Grandfather Dworkin is the Hermit, Prince Brand is the Devil (Krulik, 1986,  p. 116), and on and on. 
The analysis of the layers of meaning represented by the Tarot in the ‘The Chronicles’ would be nearly infinite if one were to write about it thoroughly.  Such is out of the reach of a short paper such as this.   This writer can only recommend that the reader delve into the series themselves and find the pearls of metaphor that lie therein.

Amberstone, R., & Amberstone, W. (2008). The Secret Language of the Tarot. San Francisco, CA: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
Gray, E. (1973) Mastering the Tarot. New York, NY:  New American Library.
Hall, C., & Nordby, V. (1973) A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York, NY: New American Library.
Krulik, T. (1986). Roger Zelazny. New York, NY: Ungar Publishing Company.
Zelazny, R. (1978a). The Chronicles of Amber , Vol. 1. New York, NY:  Doubleday.
Zelazny, R. (1978b).  The Chronicles of Amber, Vol. 2. New York, NY:  Doubleday.

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