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On This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

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Cover art for  This Immortal  
 under fair useThis Immortal, known in an earlier incarnation as Call me Conrad, is one of Zelazny's heroic epics with no less than the fate of humanity at stake. The principal character, Conrad, is typical of most of Zelazny's heros. He is for all practical purposes immortal. Like Bugs Bunny, he does not go out of his way to cause trouble for others, but does not suffer abuse lightly. He plans carefully, trying not to act rashly. And he changes his feelings and views as he grows older and wiser. These traits lead, of course, to conflict. Conrad is retained to give a high caste alien from Vega named Cort Myshtigo a tour of earth for a survey. Because of the relationship between Vegans and humanity, this incites some resentment against the alien and concern for the future of humanity. The smart money has wagered that the way to save humanity is to kill Cort. Conrad makes it plain that he prefers to wait until he has enough information to decide, and spends most of his time shielding Cort from attempts on his life.

Irony

The novel contains a great deal of irony which is used to show mankind returning from the brink of extinction and beginning the process of healing its wounds.. Episodes occur in which the putative destroyer is the instrument of salvation. The first of these occurs in Egypt. Hasan has been hired by the Agency to protect Cort. But as is known or suspected by everyone except Cort, Hasan is also a Radpole agent sent to kill him. In the final ironic twist of this episode, Hasan saves Cort from a boadile while trying to kill him. Other ironies abound. Twice, those thought lost are returned and bring salvation with them. The first returned is Conrad's dog, Bortran. Bortran had gone missing years earlier and has been searching for his master ever since. After Conrad returns to Greece on this tour, Bortran crosses his trail. He catches up with Conrad just in time to rescue him from the Kouretes. Next to return from the presumed dead is Conrad's wife, Cassandra. While burning an old friend, Conrad and his party are set upon by the Beast of Thessaly. In a dramatic sequence worthy of Dickens, they battle the Beast until Cassandra plays Zeus and strikes the Beast dead . In a more prolonged twist, the Radpole is trying to kill the one Vegan who can save earth and set it free. Throughout the story Conrad repeatedly intercedes to stay his execution, opposing the Radpole which he had founded decades before. The final irony is in the very nature of the Kallikanzaros. Rather than being the instrument of the world's destruction as in Greek myth, he is to be its savior.

Symbolism

Symbols of loss, destruction and ultimate redemption strengthen the themes presented through the use of irony. Symbols of the destruction of earth's civilization include the spiderbats, the Kouretes, the Beast of Thessaly and the threatened dismantling of the Pyramids. The beginning of the restoration of civilization is symbolized by the return of Bortran and Cassandra as well as the destruction of the Kouretes, the Beast of Thessaly and the inroads being made against the spiderbats. Conrad symbolizes earth civilization itself. Cort refers to him as a sort of "ghost of place." The restoration of Bortran and Cassandra, essential to Conrad's wholeness as a person, support this symbolism. Also, Conrad's fungal rash, present at the beginning of the story, has been eliminated at the end. He still has his limp, but his healing has begun, and like the earth itself, he endures



SteveTroy calls This Immortal a "lighthearted romp." And it is. This in no way detracts from the seriousness of Zelazny's themes or nor does it reduce the effectiveness of his presentation. It does make the story more enjoyable. The twists and rescues do not merely heighten suspense and grip the reader. They also provide the framework for the irony and symbolism that carry Zelazny's themes of returning from the brink and of recovering from destruction.

QUOTES

My thinking is usually pretty good, but I seem to do it after I do my talking-- by which time I've generally destroyed all basis for further conversaiton.

If heaven didn't want me then, I'm not going to ask a second time.

Vocabulary

adytum- "1 the innermost room or shrine in certain old temples, to be entered only by priests 2 a sanctum" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

bouzouki-"a stringed musical instrument of Greece, somewhat like a mandolin, used to accompany folk dances and singers" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

cadge- "to beg or get by begging; sponge" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

caique- 1. a light skiff used on the Bosporus 2. a Levantine sailing vessel(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Cassandra- Conrad's new wife. According to Bulfinch's Mythology, "Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to Greece. Cassandra had been loved by Apollo, and he gave her the gift of prophecy; but afterwards offended with her, he rendered the gift unavailing by ordaining that her predictions should never be believed." In This Immortal, Conrad disbelieves both Cassandra's accurate warnings of danger and her later prediction that things will go well.

chthonic- "1.designating or of the underworld of the dead and its gods or spirits 2.dark, primitive, and mysterious" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

felucca- "a small, narrow ship propelled by oars or lateen sails and used esp. in the Mediterranean" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

galabieh-"(variant of djellaba)-a long, loose outer garment worn in Arabic countries"(Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

Kouretes- "returns this line from the play The Bacchae by Euripides:" 'O secret chamber of the Kouretes and you holy Cretan caves, parents to Zeus, where the Korybantes with triple helmet invented for me in their caves this circle..." That is because the Curetes (the more common spelling) were spirits on the island of Crete who protected the newly born god Zeus when his mother Rhea hid him from his father Cronos, who would otherwise have eaten the baby. The Curetes danced around banging spears on shields to make a clattering din to drown out Zeus's cries.'" (email post from Joel Skidmore.webmaster@muwekma.org.98-06-30 21:11:42 EDT) ouzo- "a colorless Greek liqueur flavored with aniseed" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

Ozymandias- "Here are two verses from the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822):
'I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read."
... "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'"
(email post from Joel Skidmore.webmaster@muwekma.org.98-06-30 21:11:42 EDT)

Piraeus- "seaport in SE Greece, on the Saronic Gulf: part of Athens' metropolitan area: pop. 184,000: ModGr name PEIRAIEVS" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

Satyr- "The Satyrs were deities of the woods and fields. They were conceived to be covered with bristly hair, their heads decorated with short, sprouting horns, and their feet like goats' feet." (Bulfinch's Mythology)

Skinner boxes- "an enclosure in which small animals, as rats or pigeons, are conditioned by rewards and punishments to perform certain acts in response to specific stimuli" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

steatopygiac- "having "a heavy deposit of fat in the buttocks or thigh"(Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

syrinx- "pipes of Pan", upon which he plays. See:Syrinx; Encyclopedia Mythica for more information.

Thespis- "Gr. poet: traditionally the originator of Gr. tragedy" (Excerpted from Compton's Reference Collection 1996 Copyright (c) 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.)

Characters

Bortran- Conrad's dog

Conrad- hero of the story, "Director of Arts, Monuments, and Archives," Radpol founder, and kallikanzaros

Cort Myshtigo- a wealthy Vegan journalist who wishes to write a book about earth

Dos Santos- hates Vegans, husband of "red wig"

Diane- the girl with the red wig, hates everyone, disfigured by a Vegan disease Radpol member

Dos Santos- hates Vegans, husband of "red wig" Radpol member

Ellen- George's wife, wants to go to Taler, freind of Conrad

George- scientist, entomologist, freind of Conrad wants to poison the spiderbats

Jason- Conrad's son

Hasan- Mercenary hired as Cort's bodyguard

Lorel Sands- earth director appointed by Earth Government onTaler, Conrad's boss and freind

Phil- poet laureate of earth, freind of Conrad

Procrustes- War Cheif of the Kouretes
(from Procustes in Myth)