Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Character Spotlight: Corwin of Amber

Before the A to Z Challenge, I intended to do a series of posts on an occasional basis about various characters from my reading that struck a particular chord with me or helped me learn something about storytelling. In honor of the birth of my son on March 30th, I'm going to pick up that series with a post about Corwin of Amber, whom we named the baby after. (Yes, really.)

*The following post may contain spoilers.*

Corwin is the main character and hero of the first five books in the Amber Chronicles series by Roger Zelazny. These books are some of my favorite fantasy novels though my enjoyment of them is nothing compared to the deep and somewhat disturbing love my husband bears for Zelazny in general and Amber in particular. During a lifetime of critically acclaimed writing, Corwin is certainly one of Zelazny's greatest creations. Here's a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the series:

The  world of Amber is a sort of focal point of reality. Amber is the one true world and from it are cast  shadow worlds, including earth, of every conceivable kind. Amber is ruled by Oberon, but before the story begins Oberon has disappeared and his children (9 sons and 4 daughters) have begun to fight over his throne. Corwin has a strong claim to the throne, being the oldest legitimate son of Oberon that actually wants it, but his older (illegitimate) brother Eric conspired to banish Corwin to shadow earth with a bad case of amnesia. When the story starts Corwin has woken up in a health clinic where he is being kept sedated with no memory. Corwin escapes, makes contact with some of his family, and eventually gets back to Amber where he's able to regain his memory. Then he begins the long struggle to remove Eric from the throne. Along the way he uncovers a sinister plot against Amber its self which ultimately leads to a battle with Amber's polar opposite, the Courts of Chaos.

What makes Corwin such a great character?

Corwin is, in my opinion, the consummate hero. He is not pure, but he is good. He is not morally ambiguous, but he is flawed. He is brave, but a bit reckless. He is intelligent, but still makes mistakes. He has a strong, confident voice, but can still be self deprecating at times. He spends much of the series trying to win the throne of Amber for himself, but when it's clear that the existence of Amber is in danger he is willing to sacrifice himself for his beloved home. And in the end he does not take the throne.

What can writers learn from Corwin? 

Corwin is a man of action, a hero who never sits back to let things happen to him. The only idle time that Corwin spends in all 5 books is the period when he is imprisoned by his brother. But even then, as soon as a method of escape presents its self he does not hesitate before jumping at it. At all other times he is moving, making plans, fighting for the things he wants. And likewise, our main characters need to be active. A character who waits for things to happen to them instead of taking action is less sympathetic and harder to get invested in.

Furthermore, Corwin is a character who totally owns all of his actions. Not everything he does is nice or right, and he takes responsibility for everything that he does, good or bad. He doesn't make excuses for himself. He freely admits that he hates his brother Eric and that his quest for the throne is somewhat selfish. At the same time, throughout his quest he is growing and changing as a result of his experiences and the new knowledge he gains. In a genre recently awash with morally ambiguous characters and authors who think "conflicted" means "complex", Corwin is a breath of fresh air. He is a hero we can root for without a qualm.


  1. ooooh I LOVED Amber, too!! And Corwin, of course.

    Congrats on the birth of your son (belatedly), too!

  2. I've never heard of these books before, but they sound really great. I like my heroes complex too. Thanks for the heads up, I'll have to check it out. And I love it that you named your son after a character in a book. Very cool.

  3. Thanks, Tessa!

    L.G., all of my four kids have names from books, actually. Two from Amber and two from Tolkien Silmarillion. Yes, I'm a huge geek. :D

  4. A flawed hero is always best! Cool that you named your son Corwin.

  5. I'm reading through Amber right now, and I love Corwin as a character for all the reasons you've mentioned. He's a very honest character with himself and the reader. I'm taking my time and studying him closely because he is the story as much as the events are around him.

  6. I've never read these, but you've really piqued my interest!

  7. I've never read these, but they sound intriguing. I'll have to add them to my to read list.

  8. N.M., very true. It's a very character driven story. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a first person story as much as Corwin's.

    I'm so glad to foster some interest in the series. It really is excellent. There's a second series of 5 books after the first 5 that tell the story of Corwin's son Merlin, but they're not quite as good as the first 5 in my opinion.

  9. What a fun blog topic! Sounds like Corwin is a cool dude :)

  10. Corwin's a great name! I haven't read any of these stories though... Corwin of Amber sounds a bit like Jamie Fraser from Outlander, hee hee!

  11. I remember those books avidly reading them when I could find them, which was not often but they have always had a place in my reading list xx

  12. Wow i was named after corwin too, pretty awesome that you named your kid after him too!


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