Reading Zelazny in the 21st Century Part II

Reading Nine Princes in Amber at the same time that I’m reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins, is illuminating.

She describes the era when women were thrown out of courtrooms for wearing a pants suit (while men wore sweatpants) and the rules for women’s basketball prohibited running because it might hurt their delicate reproductive organs and the ad below (from 1955) was not as foreign to them as it is to us. (“A good wife always knows her place.”)


(Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May 1955)

Nine Princes of Amber was published in 1970. The four daughters of the king of Amber are so insignificant in the struggle for the throne that they are not even mentioned in the title, while the ninth brother, who never makes an appearance is. The sisters are “girls”, “stupid” and “all bitches”. They cry a lot. And I have to say the image of Moire’s green nipples has stayed with me since I first read the book as a young teenager (and not in a good way).

But the blinders of the time it was written in also results in such convolutions:

“There were four men seated about the fire and two sleeping off in the shadows. The girl who was bound to a stake had her head turned away from us…” (p 67)

“I saw Deirdre raise [a weirwolf] in the air and break its back across her knee with a brittle snapping sound.” (p 71)

So Deirdre, a superhuman child of Amber, can break a weirwolf with one hand but she wasn’t able to fight off at least some of the six men who captured her? Really? (Later, during the fight up the face of the mountain Kolvir, it’s made clear that the ordinary inhabitants of Amber don’t match the royal family in strength or fighting skills.)

To a modern reader it’s a ludicrous flaw in the worldbuilding. To its creator and readers of the time it was invisible.


6 thoughts on “Reading Zelazny in the 21st Century Part II

  1. Camille Griep says:

    Nicole — I agree completely. I read the book for the first time after VP and I was floored that none of it bothered anyone (best book ever!). Nostalgia/time seems to cover a great many flaws.

    • Nicole Lisa says:

      I always give the sexism warning to people who haven’t read this book — sorry I didn’t give it to you at VP!

  2. Corwin’s (and Zelazny’s) casual dismissal of his sisters was a huge flaw in the book for me. I’d read some of the Amber books in high school — though somehow not Nine Princes — so it didn’t surprise me, but it stood much more powerfully reading it ten years on.

    • Nicole Lisa says:

      Yes, for me too. I think I had more ability to gloss over and/or not notice certain things when I liked other things about a book as a teenager. Possibly because it was still so hard to find fantasy without those problems, or because I didn’t expect any more from a male author (and conversely held women authors to a higher standard.)

      • There’s so much sexism in the books I read in high school that I can’t read most of them now. But I was marinating in it at the time — growing up in a staunchly conservative rural area — and so don’t think it stood out much from the background. Also I was desperate for books, any books, so my standards were necessarily a lot lower.

  3. Nicole Lisa says:

    Yes, the suck fairy has visited many books that I once loved and made me hesitant to go back to others so they can stay beloved in my memory. But yes, I knew that feeling of being desperate for books, any books.

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