This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

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This 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.


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.


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

This Immortal is a "lighthearted romp." 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.

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