Study Guide

Lord of Light Identity

By Roger Zelazny

Identity

One night, long ago, in happier times and better form, he had danced with her, on a balcony under the stars. It had been for only a few moments. But he remembered; and it is a difficult thing to be an ape and to have such memories. (1.40)

Although he's in the body of an ape, Tak still seems to be Tak—just, you know, a little hairier.

"I have many names, and none of them matter." (1.408)

Sam's names only point to aspects of his personality, such as Binder of Demons and Lord of Lights. These are things Sam does, though, not who he is. And if you've ever worked an awful job, be thankful of this fact.

[…] and no matter how hard he tried to suppress the memory and destroy that segment of his spirit, Brahma had been born a woman and somehow was woman still. Hating this thing, he had elected to incarnate time after time as an eminently masculine man, did so, and still felt somehow inadequate, as though the mark of his true sex were branded upon his brow. (2.224)

This section seems to suggest that who we are born is who we stay. On the other hand, maybe Brahma just can't accept himself for who he is. It's a pretty dangerous passage, so tread lightly here, Shmooper.

"You are…?" asked the other, in an unexpected baritone.

"One who teaches the way of liberation," he replied.

"The Buddha?"

"I have been called such."

"Tathagatha?"

"This name, too, have I been given." (3.48-53)

Once again, Sam refuses to commit to a name because it doesn't really answer the question of who he is. Philosophically, it's pretty interesting, but we'd probably think twice before inviting Sam to a fancy dress party.

"The real Buddha was named by us Sugata," replied the other. "Before that, he was known as Rild."

"Rild!" Yama chuckled. "You are trying to tell me that he was more than an executioner whom you talked out of doing his job?" (3.407-408)

Yeah, Yama, that's what he's telling you. Also, it's interesting to note that Sam seems to have the ability to see into a person's true self. Not even Rild was aware that he'd become a Buddha, but Sam knew. What do you think grants him this insight? Or is he just naming names like everybody else?

"Because you really have only one body-image, which is electrical as well as chemical in nature. It begins immediately to modify its new physiological environment. The new body has much about it which it treats rather like a disease, attempting to cure it into being the old body." (3.471)

Lord of Light is technically found in the science fiction section of the book story, so between all this philosophical mumbo-jumbo, Zelazny had to give a shout-out to a plausible scientific explanation for self.

"Think not, oh Siddhartha, that because you wear a different body you go now unrecognized. I look upon the flows of energy which are your real being—not the flesh that masks them." (4.46)

Then again… it doesn't have to be all science, all the time. Is this flame Taraka mentions the soul? If so, then how do we explain a novel in which both explanations are acceptable at the same time? Excuse us while we scratch our heads for a moment.

"You are wrong, Sam. Godhood is more than a name. It is a condition of being. One does not achieve it merely by being immortal, for even the lowliest laborer in the fields may achieve continuity of existence." (4.544)

Yama suggests that his godhood is a part of his true self, an aspect of his core. And while we might disagree about the other gods, with Yama, that very well might be true.

"I do not really remember," [Sam] said. "It was so very long ago. We were both different people then—different minds, different bodies. Probably those two, whoever they were, loved one another. I cannot remember." (5.85)

Does true self remain constant, or does it change like everything else? And if true self changes, then is it ever really a true self? Forget your love talk, Sam, we've got questions here.

"[…]. We brought you back to tell us what to do. Pray think about it carefully, now that you are yourself once more."

"You are always stressing those last words."

"Yea, preacher. For you have not been battle-tested since your return from bliss… Tell me, can you make the Buddhists?"

"Probably, but I might have to assume an identity I now find distasteful." (7.139-142)

Sam's become pretty adept at this multi-aspects of self thing; he has assumed so many different roles. We wonder if Yama isn't right to stress those last words. How would Sam know if he is his true self? What is his true self? What is ours? Who are you? What are we doing here…?