When readers first encountered the hero of Nine Princes in Amber in 1970, he had no name. When he did get a name — Carl Corey — it was an alias. When he finally learned the name of his birth and assumed his original identity of Corwin, it was no longer an identity which fit comfortably.
He offered mercy to a brother he hated, Julian, after this brother had hunted him like a wild beast. He bargained passionately for the lives of his defeated troops, an unheard-of act for the merciless princes of Amber. He made a desperate and impulsive bid to save the life of another brother
— at great personal cost, and allied with an old enemy to defend a cursed people against a zombie horde. He even went so far as to choose to aid his lifelong rival and nemesis Eric in the name of keeping intact his beloved homeland.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, Corwin comes to realize something:
He no longer is the person he once was.
In the postmodern era of the ’60s and ’70s, trust in absolutes, ideologies, authorities and reality itself had been shaken. The threat of nuclear Armageddon in the form of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the frantic building of missile silos, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Kennedys, men walking in space and on the Moon, riots and civil unrest, the Vietnam War and the Prague Spring, the Summer of Love and Woodstock — all these and more had caused many to wonder if they truly understood the world in which they lived. Or even if they knew who they were as they tried to live in that uncertain world.
Or, as Corwin puts it — well before he even knows he is Corwin — somewhere on the third page of his own personal account in that first book of his five-book story, Nine Princes in Amber:
The Role of the Rose
“I didn’t know who I was.”
Corwin, while smart, funny and irreverent as every postmodern hero should be, also carries with him the silver rose, and therefore regardless of any protestations otherwise, and jaded though he may be, remains a being unable to separate himself from certain romantic ideals. He values excellence, purity and skill. Which is why, even when his brother Benedict is coming to kill him, he feels compelled to pause to admire and appreciate his brother’s unmatched abilities.
More than these, though, Corwin is one who cannot help but honor beauty. It is why he bears the silver rose, why he appreciates Fiona’s charms even as she irritates him with her coy games, why he must rescue the Japanese woodcut Face to Face from the ruin of his old cabin in upstate New York, why he chooses the beauty of Amber over the ugliness of his vendetta against Eric. It is why he is a sucker for damsels in distress. It is why he likes libraries, likes “to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around…” It is why he is tempted by the beautiful but duplicitous Lady who asks him to savor the pleasures of her company as the end of the worlds approaches, even when he knows those worlds are counting upon him to redeem them as he attempts to redeem himself.
Corwin would rather be a hound who is around to enjoy another adventure tomorrow than be the doomed stag about to fall to the hunting pack. Yet all the same he never wants the stag’s beauty to fade and, in spite of himself, he sympathizes with the stag’s glory and grace, in “weak” moments relating more to the stag than the hound.
None of this, in the end, is simple, or can be described solely in black and white. There are aspects of our natures, and of reality itself, which, though in plain view, we seem somehow unable to see. There are things only seen out of the corner of the eye, for the most part only glimpsed and rarely seen straight on. There are things in the shadows….