Hooc Ott Scoops the Internet on Castle Amber

Monday , 24, October 2016 1 Comment

It won’t be long before the stuff nobody was talking about becomes the stuff that “everybody knows.” That being the case, I thought it’d be worth delving into the nitty gritty of just what exactly people knew and when they knew it when it came to the question of the Castle Amber D&D module’s connection to Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series.

The Wikipedia article misses the source of the Amber family:

The main non-player characters of the module, the Amber family (d’Amberville in French, as an option), are not actually in any of Smith’s stories, and were created by the designer to provide a link to Averoigne.

Quag Keep did note the connection, but he doesn’t offer any sort of explanation or details. Grognardia delves into several bits, but it also fails to make any connection to Zelazny:

There are many evil people inside Castle Amber — most of the Amber family, for instance — and their actions are objectively evil according to almost any moral compass and yet, somehow, they come across not so much as evil as bored. On some level, that strikes me as much worse than if they they behaved as they do because they actively wished ill upon their victims. Instead, they’re just looking for something to do, something to alleviate their world weariness.

Hill Cantons sings its praises, but again… no Zelazny.

For sure I had no idea who Clark Ashton Smith was at the time (and it took me a full 25 years later to get acquainted with and dig his writing), but the Averoigne mini-setting folded up inside resonated with me in a way other TSR setting whoha didn’t at that time. Growing up as a history fanatic, a France-like place circa 1100-1350 AD had a cultural reference point that made it easier to picture mentally.

Dreams in the Lich House notes that Moldvay steals from the best… but doesn’t acknowledge the “theft” of Zelazny’s iconic series:

The inhabitants of the mansion are either extra-planar visitors like the players, or the powerful and insane remnants of the Amber family (many of them magically altered with animal heads). About halfway through the adventure, the players get the opportunity to leave the mansion and visit a realm like Medieval France – the province of Averoigne – taken straight out of Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne stories; many of the literary characters from the weird tales show up as important non player characters. Rounding out the literary roots of the module, there are also a number of direct homages to Edgar Allan Poe stories in the mansion. When you need to steal, steal from the best.

The kicker is this old Dragonsfoot thread entitled X2 Castle Amber + Zelazny Amber series? Yorlum says, “while there are thematic similarities, the locations, characters, etc are not from Zelazny in any way, shape, or form.” Blackrazor says “that Zelazny’s royal family shares the Anglicized form of the d’Amberville name is just a coincidence.” Munafik points out that “the family in X2 does bear quite a bit of a resemblance to the Ambers of Zelazny’s stories. Both families consist of a bunch of decadent, foppish, aristrocratic magic-users,” but only  ken-do-nim gets it right:

Considering that, I bet it is indeed an homage to both Smith & Zelazny, but the Smith is directly lifted, hence the bibliography, whereas the Zelazny is only inspired by, so he doesn’t point to a specific story. Also, he may not have obtained permission, since the Zelazny stories are much more recent.

So there you have it. A couple of guys managed to make the connection, but they did not offer any evidence to support the claim. Hooc Ott really did scoop the internet!

Read his complete post here.

One Comment
  • Hooc Ott says:

    Wowzabejahosaphat!

    Thank you!

    “Also, he may not have obtained permission, since the Zelazny stories are much more recent.”

    The lack of credit to Zelazny is a mystery. One thing I saw was that an adoption of Lord of light was in the works in 1979, but was shut down due to “legal issues”

    https://infogalactic.com/info/Lord_of_Light#Film_version

    Perhaps TSR thought it better to hide it then get into a copyright battle they were seeing play out in Hollywood with a different Zelazny property.

    I am purely speculating.

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