I’ve been keeping an eye on the IMC stuff as it comes around, and I usually don’t participate, mostly because I’m never quite sure what I’d say. But I can’t resist a few words on this one about Chaos.

Okay, I honestly don’t see where first- and second-series Chaos are mutually exclusive. To me, it’s all tied back to the narrators – Corwin and Merlin.

It’s a matter of wonder.

Corwin sees the wonder in things. Remember his reaction to the Unicorn? How about the woman who hands him the silver rose as he nears Chaos? Seeing Dara walk the Pattern? The drive through Arden with Random? Remember his reminiscences of Amber as he walked the Rebman Pattern? Perhaps it’s better to say that Corwin recognises the magic in the world around him.

Some of that is Corwin being a poet and composer, yes. But contrast it with Merlin.

Merlin sees the science of things. Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s wonder and magic in science. But I don’t think Merlin recognises that. Merlin only experiences wonder in a handful of situations – in Corwin’s room while Jasra questions the ty’iga in Sign of Chaos, when he calls for a horse and gets Tiger in Prince of Chaos, and once or twice when he finds Grayswandir. The rest of the time… well… Let’s just say he’s lacking in reverence and fond of the gritty details of things. “Oh, gee, look, my brother has a chapel to Brand in his closet – and he designed the entrance crappily,” Merlin essentially tells us. Or “Huh. Brand’s sword. It sounds like someone dropped holy water on a demon when I draw it. I’ll just give it to Rinaldo.”

(My boyfriend claims that Merlin’s trip through Shadow with Julia counts, but I disagree – it didn’t stay a wonder long enough. He was already regretting the experience before it was over.)

I find Merlin a dubious narrator because of his lack of wonder – his is a cold world, an analytic world, a world where clarity and simplicity are irrevocably linked. And that ties back to Chaos (wondering, weren’t you?): I think Merlin drastically oversimplified and altered his descriptions of Chaos to have it make sense to his father.

We know Merlin’s audience was Corwin – he tells us that much in the last chapter of Prince of Chaos.

We can make a reasonable guess that Merlin didn’t know Corwin very well. Yes, he heard Corwin’s entire story – but Merlin is, at best, clueless when it comes to observing the intimate details of other people’s personalities. Merlin also tells us that Corwin vanished shortly after Oberon’s funeral. I think he just didn’t have the time to get to know Corwin; there are too many moments in Merlin’s books when you can almost taste the awkwardness between the two of them (or between Merlin and Corwin’s Pattern ghost, which is funtionally the same thing).

What that leads me to is this: Merlin might think that Corwin wouldn’t understand the actual sociopolitical processes in the Courts. It’s not unlikely that he had attempted to explain to one of his aunts or uncles, and found that it was easier to relate it to something they already knew.

We know that Corwin told Merlin about the relations between the children of Oberon, so Merlin knows Corwin understands that system. Merlin could further guess that Corwin knows the monarchy systems of Shadow Earth, Avalon (which seemed close to the Amber/Earth model), and possibly Lorraine.

But Merlin couldn’t know if Corwin was familiar with any other type of monarchy system. Corwin’s Avalon is long gone, and unless he visited Lorraine, Merlin would have very little detail about that Shadow’s ruling system. How much Merlin knew about the Shadow Earth system depends on whether he had to take World History in college, whether he looked it up himself, and whether he talked to Bill about world history.

So the most sensible thing to do (to Merlin) is to relate everything in Chaos to Amber. Even if doing so means he’s grossly oversimplifying. After all, Merlin is a computer engineer, not a composer/poet. The simpler he can make a thing, the more efficient it is – and simple things have less chance of going wrong.

(Well, simple things have less chance of minor problems – they go more for the catastrophic failure route.)

(I’ll just pass up talking in-depth about how well “catastrophic failure” and Merlin go together, shall I?)

So yes, first- and second-series Chaos don’t look the same – same name to the place, but the surface and contents look different. And it’s all Merlin’s fault.

But mutually exclusive? I’m not so sure about that.

I don’t think Merlin’s tales are completely without the weirdness Corwin leads us to expect in his chronicle. Merlin gives us tiny snatches of what I’d call the true face of the Courts: the idea of the Ways, the stray currents of magic from the Abyss (see Merlin and Corwin’s Pattern ghost’s discussion when they’re trying to rescue Corwin), the pit-divers, the etiquette of shapeshifting and the dislike of the human form (Merlin and Dara’s lunch and Merlin’s confrontation with Dara and Mandor, respectively), and the wearing of red at the funeral of Swayvill. It wouldn’t be too hard to turn that small amount of information into something weird and alien without discarding the entire series.