Monday, October 24, 2016

Nine Princes in Amber, Chapter 7

Chapter 7: After escaping the sinking of his navy, Corwin now marches on Amber.  The dying continues, through weather, nature, and constant ambush.  They climb the hill to the city, with each step costing lives, until, on the very landing itself, Eric wipes out the last of the soldiers with a hail of arrows.  Corwin is captured and imprisoned.


Readers get a chance to see why Corwin's return to Amber was feared by the Court of Amber, as few leaders and fighters would have breached the walls.  Corwin and Bleys's army should have broken long before they reached the Earth of Amber, much reach the City itself.  At the same time, Eric's cruelty and power is also revealed.  Eric is able to attrit an army larger than many WWII armies down to five thousand before the final battle.  His control over the Jewel of Judgement gives him power beyond which a Prince of Amber can match.  That said, I see no need to describe each turn of the meatgrinder as it grinds Corwin's soldiers away. 

Unlike previous chapters, this chapter is a distractionless dive towards the resolution.  There are no diversions with Corwin's siblings nor dalliances with the wonders of the City of Amber.  Instead, the plot delivers one key idea, that the skills and powers of a Prince of Amber are not enough to defeat Eric.  It is the climax and resolution to Corwin's story, which has been the attempt to take the throne of Amber away from Eric.


I have previously hinted at the five act structure underlying Nine Princes of Amber

The five act structure is a storytelling device that developed out of Classical Greek and Elizabethan English drama.  It divides a story into seven parts: an introduction, inciting action, rising action, the turning point, falling action, resolution, and denouement.  The introduction establishes characters and setting.  The inciting action is the event that creates the story's problem.  The rising action describes the events leading to the turning point, where the main character makes a decision that gives him the means to solve the problem.  The falling action whisks the characters towards the resolution, where the plans created by the turning point succeed or fail.  Afterward, the denouement tells of the repercussions from the resolution and reveals secrets if needed.  These parts are also placed at certain points in narrative space.  The turning point is always at the center of the story, with the inciting action and resolution at equidistant points from the center.  This means that a story's rising action will be as long as the falling action, and the same with the introduction and the denouement.  Analyses of dramatic works with narrative problems often show that the turning point was moved out of the center, creating too much or too little rising or falling action, breaking the proportions of the story.  Or, in the case of Save the Cat dramatic structures, no turning point exists at all.  The story is active, driven by the characters' choices, instead of passively relying on the current of events to carry characters along to the conclusion.

Not all stories use the five act structure.  Last month's Puppy, Nethereal, ended on its resolution without offering any denouement before its final scene, a device also used commonly by John Ringo.  Robert E. Howard's "Rattle of Bones" relies on repetition of events and phrases for its narrative structure.  And Hollywood favorite Save the Cat champions a three-act structure that makes stories nearly 75% introduction and rising action.  However, for those readers and writers who wish to learn five act structure, Nine Princes in Amber serves as a textbook example.

I previously noted that Zelanzy "[lined up] key parts of the book at the 20%, 40%, 50%, 60%, and 80% points." The precision is intended, as these points line up with elements of the five act structure.  These proportions are page counts, not the passage of time in the story as the denouement of Nine Princes in Amber lasts five years, longer than the combined events of the rest of the story.  Before the 20% mark, Corwin is making introductions to his family and Eric through the device of recovering his memories.  At the 20% mark, he declares that he will oppose Eric's schemes, presenting the core problem for Nine Princes in Amber.  Although the rising action will take Corwin from his declaration to walking Rebma's Pattern, the 40% point is when Random tells Corwin that he must walk the Pattern to restore his memories.  At the 50% mark, Corwin commits to walking the Pattern by setting foot upon its path.  This restores his memories and powers, giving him the capability to confront Eric.  It is the turning point in Corwin's conflict with Eric without which the succession war could not have occurred.  Again, while the falling action is the entire span from walking the Pattern to the succession war's end, at 60%, Corwin escapes from a confrontation with Eric and allies with Bleys.  The armies the two brothers raise turn Corwin's capabilities into means, and the resulting battles drive events to their resolution at 80%: Corwin's loss and capture.  From this point on, the denouement wraps up the loose end of the succession with Corwin's captivity and escape, as well as revealing the secret of strange things occurring in the Shadows. 

Unfortunately, the five act structure has fallen out of favor for try-fail cycles and monomyth.  However, it remains a potent tool for organizing storytelling.

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