Study Guide

Lord of Light

By Roger Zelazny

Lord of Light Introduction

Hi, what's your name?

Ours is Shmoop. That totally tells you everything you need to know about us, right? Like, just by our name you can tell we're smart, funny, well-read, and totally the life of a party. What does your name say about you?

Not sure where we're going with this? 

Well, then say hello to Roger Zelazny's science fiction epic, Lord of Light. Published in 1967, this novel tells the tale of Sam, a man who goes by a variety of names and styles himself as a homemade Buddha to rebel against a set of rulers who have, in turn, styled themselves as the gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology. It's all in the name in this one.

Set on an alien world, Zelazny's novel weaves science fiction tropes like resurrection machines, high-tech weapons, and alien beings with the mythologies and religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. The result is something that is not quite fantasy and not quite science fiction, while still being both. And the result was a pretty big hit for Zelazny.

Lord of Light was award the Hugo award for best novel in 1968 and nominated for a Nebula that same year (the equivalent of winning an Academy award and getting a nod from the Golden Globes, too). The book went on to inspire many other mash-ups of fantasy, mythology, and science fiction including Neil Gaiman's American Gods and possibly even video games. As for Zelazny, he went on to write many more books, including a mash-up featuring Egyptian mythology and the grand ten-part series The Chronicles of Amber.

In other words, when it comes to Zelazny, his name is pretty much synonymous with epic myth-bending brain snacks. So grab your copy of Lord of Light and get munching.

What is Lord of Light About and Why Should I Care?

Political corruption, wealth inequality, cronyism, corporate greed, social disparity… Every one of these is an important issue that has been debated and re-debated over the years. They affect all of our lives, whether we're living the high life as the social cream rising to the top or drowning under the burden of the everyday.

Too bad these topics can also be immensely boring to talk about. Seriously, have you watched C-SPAN? Snooze. We'd rather watch the folks from the Capitol any day. Oh but wait—then we'd also have to be down to watch people brutally kill each other for sport. Hrm… A conundrum.

Thankfully, there's Lord of Light, which tackles all of the above issues. But in order to prevent a snooze-fest, these issues have been mixed into an action-filled tale of Hindu gods and goddesses choosing sides in a battle to determine the future of their society.

The battle scenes are basically what you'd get if Lord of the Rings and Star Wars had a baby, and that baby was trained in the martial art of awesome by Bruce Lee everyday until he grew up. Yeah. And while these epic battles are busy keeping you entertained, the novel critiques social ills that remain relevant in a post-Occupy Wall Street world. Lord of Light may not ultimately provide a solution to any of these problems, but it will engage you with them, helping you see them in your own society.

Hey, that's more than we can say for C-SPAN. And you don't even have to fend for your life in the arena.

Lord of Light Resources

Websites

Fantasy Meets the Facts
Despite their namesake, Fantasy Book Review spins no fantasy when it comes to the life of Zelazny.

And NNDB Stands for…What?
NNDB wants to keep tabs on the entire world and its history. Since Zelazny's a part of that entirety, they've granted him a page of his very own.

The Long List of Awesome
Fantastic Fiction chronicles a complete list of Zelazny's novels, series, and short story collections. Wow, that's a lot to read.

Hindu Happenings
For a quick, but informative, rundown of Hindu mythology, click on over to Encyclopedia Mythica.

So… Much… Information
Curious about Hinduism? This website will scratch that curiosity itch until it's raw. (Sorry—that's just a gross way of saying there's tons to read and learn here.)

What's in a Name?
Kind of a lot. But to get more specific, check out this link, which has the meanings of many Hindu names.

Buddhism Basics
Got five minutes to burn? While you wait for that video game to update, why not learn the basics of Buddhism?

Best Website Name Ever
Buddhanet is the go-to website for all things Buddhism on the net. So, you know, feel free to go.

No Lies
Religion Facts provides you with the facts, and just the facts, on religion. Buddhism is a religion, so, ah, click on through for some facts.

Articles and Interviews

Eulogy for a Poet
George RR Martin writes Zelazny a fantastic send off to that undiscovered country. Well said, sir, well said.

Talking the Talk
Although Zelazny has passed on, his words remain. Case in point: this interview from a 1994 issue of Absolute Magazine.

Ohio Bound and Down
Ohioana is a site promoting the great artists from Ohio. Wouldn't you know it? Zelazny hails from Ohio. Mary A. Turzillo provides an essay on their home-state hero.

Retro Review
SF Site is stoked to see Lord of Light re-released for a new generation of readers. Guess their positive review was kind of a given, huh?

Back to the Hugos
Guardian blogger Sam Jordison writes on one of his science fiction favs from the past, Lord of Light. Or is that the future?

Zelazny's Dharma
Io9 dissects Lord of Light and considers the meaninglessness of words, the futility of action, and other issues from Zelazny's great work.

Video

Religious Re-literacy
Stephen Prothero, author of Religious Literacy, discusses Hinduism in this interview. He does a good job considering he's discussing thousands of years of religious history in, oh, thirteen minutes.

BBC, Buddha, Bio
A BBC documentary on the life of the Buddha, complete with decent production values and those lovely BBC accents.

The God Question
The distinction between the Hinduism's Supreme Being and the pantheon of gods can be a bit fuzzy if you're not familiar with the traditions. This video will help.

Reading Rainbow
Roger Zelazny reads at the 4th Street Fantasy Convention in 1986. Sorry for the video quality, but we still used these things called VHSs back then.

Argo to Go
Antonio Mendez explains why he choose Lord of Light to smuggle hostages out of Iran.

Audio

From Way Back in the Day
Some traditional Sanskrit chants from one of Hinduism's holy texts, the Rig Veda. Sadly for those unfamiliar with Sanskrit—one of the world's oldest languages—there are no subtitles.

Taking the Tradition Eastward
Of course, we have to provide a traditional Buddhist chant as well. This one's the Heart Sutra, one of the best known Sutras, and is performed in Mandarin.

Possibly Relevant. Maybe
Iron Maiden's song "Lord of Light" shares a name with Zelazny's novel. Is the band giving a shout out? We can't find a definitive answer. What do you think?

Images

Cover Recovered
The cover for the re-release of Lord of Light. Good to see you again, old friend.

First Amongst Equals
The 1st edition cover for Lord of Light. It is, in a word, blue.

Know Your Roots
A Lord of Light cover prominently featuring its Hindu mythology roots.

Zelazny With Ze Wisdom
This picture of Zelazny offers up-and-coming writers some wordy wisdom.

Namesake
Buddha sits beneath the Bodhi tree and reaches a state of enlightenment. Fun Fact: Bodhi trees are named after the fact that Buddha reached enlightenment beneath them and not the other way around.

Not the Final Fantasy Character
Shiva the Destroy is a favorite in the Hindu pantheon for many reasons—the fact that he wears a cobra like a necklace the least amongst them.

No Joke Zone
An ancient stone bust of Brahma and his three heads. We shall make no "three heads are better than one" jokes, so better just move on.

V for Vishnu
A picture of the multi-armed god for your consideration.

The Big Three
The Trimurti consists of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. The closest equivalent in Western tradition would be the Christian Trinity (close here being used very loosely).

Sweet
Check it out: a highly stylized take on the night goddess Ratri.

Death Dealer
Yama in all his death-dealing glory. Grim Reaper, you have some serious competition in the scary department.

Kali not Cali
Why have one death god when you can have two? Here's Kali, goddess of time and change (both aspects of life that ultimately end in, yep, death).