Jack of Shadows


A planet hangs motionless. There is no night and day, only dark side and light side, like the moon. Twilight is the space, rather than the time, between the two. On the west side, protected from the chill of space by a great shield, live the darksiders, whose myths are made of machines, and who die only to rise again in the Dung Pits of Glyve. On the east side, always in sunlight, live the daysiders, whose myths are haunted by demons, and whose power comes from science.

Jack of Shadows is the only Zelazny listed by title in Gygax’s Appendix N (and all in caps too). The Amber series is mentioned as well. Two themes stood out for me. The first is the idea of change, the second is duality.

Change. Consider the following quotes. Thus spoke Jack, page 17:

You are a daysider with but one life in you, and when that is gone, you will have no more. We of darkness are said not to have souls, such as you are alleged to possess. We do, however, live many times, by means of a process which you cannot share. I say that you are jealous of this, that you mean to deprive me of a life. Know that dying is just as hard for one of us as it is for one of you.

And on time and change (page 51):

I forgot how little time means to a darksider. The years mean so little to you that you do not keep proper track of them. You simply decided one day that you would go back for Rosie, never thinking that she might have become an old woman and died or gone away. I understand now, Jackie. You are used to things that never change. The Powers remain the Powers. You may kill a man today and have dinner with him ten years hence, laughing over the duel you fought and trying to recall its cause

I think this is an interesting template for faerie creatures such as elves. Unable to experience the world the same way a mortal limited by one life would. Unable to identify with loss and aging.

Duality. This reminds me of the law/chaos alignment dichotomy. The power of law (Dayside) is science. The power of chaos (Darkside) is magic. Which in turn reminds me of the ontological struggle between the magic-users and the Technocracy in Mage: The Ascension (I used to love that book, but never once played it).

Now a few bits of atmosphere.

A supernatural thiefly ability on page 101:

There was no trail and the last several hundred feet of the ascent required the negotiation of a near-vertical face of stone. As always, for the shadows were heavy here, Jack strode up it as he would cross a horizontal plane. 

What shall we call this? Shadow ascension? Or perhaps climbing shadows?

And dragons (page 110):

“I wonder as to the value of consciousness,” said Jack, “if it does not change the nature of a beast.”

“But the dragon was once a man,” said Morningstar, “and his greed transformed him into what he is now.”

“I am familiar with the phenomenon,” said Jack, “for I was once, briefly, a pack-rat.”

The plot reminded me of some strange mix of Neil Gaiman and something I can’t quite put my finger on. What is Jack? We never really find out. Is he a god of shadows, or just some powerful entity tied to them in some way? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t need everything explained to me.

Those who have been thinking about mythic geography recently need to read this book, especially for the way it manages to blend dream logic, parable logic, and invented mythology. James from Grognardia described Zelazny’s style as psychedelic, and I have to agree, though this does not detract from the story for me.

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