In the home dimension of Amber, normal gunpowder is inert, but you can use matches. Why is this possible?

  • 2
    Gunpowder wasn't said to be inert, just not explode. There is much difference between burning and exploding.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 20:26
  • 6
    @Mithoron Actually, the only difference between materials that "burn" and materials that "explode" is the burn rate, i.e., how fast they burn. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 21:04
  • 2
    @RBarryYoung And it's crucial difference, signifying change in reaction mechanism.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 21:20
  • 4
    @RBarryYoung Gunpowder requires a confined space to explode, otherwise it does just burn. C4 requires an extreme impact (that's why there's a blasting cap), otherwise it also just burns.
    – Izkata
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 0:30
  • 1
    @RBarryYoung: I think burn rate has no direct connection to the difference. AFAIK it is more of the reaction of burning. If the change of state of a material requires space and there is no room, for such space, but the chemical reaction of the burn goes on, thats what actually creates an explosion. At least thats how I always thought of what an explosion is. So actually thats a major difference, since if We'd assume that specific dimension (I don't know chronicles of amber) has no change in volume for the parts of an reaction, that would mean FMPOV explosions are impossible while burning isn't
    – Zaibis
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 5:44

3 Answers 3


The in universe explanation is that gunpowder (either black or smokeless, apparently, at least as known in the Shadow Earth) doesn't work; nothing is said about primers.

Military primers, well up into the era when the Amber novels were being published, used a chlorate mixture called "corrosive priming", which is almost identical to the mix in a safety match head, but civilian ammunition by that time almost universally used a lead styphnate based primer, which didn't leave corrosive residue, but didn't have the storage life of corrosive priming. If the matches used in Amber were also from Earth (very possible, as several of Corwin's siblings had apparently been visiting there, either "searching for him" or covertly keeping an eye on him), the primers in military ammunition would likely have worked, but in doing so with inert propellant, disabled the firearm (a "squib" load will lodge the bullet in the bore).

The matches Corwin used while imprisoned beneath Amber were book matches, which have the phosphosus separated from the match head and placed in the striking strip. The heads are a very good analog for corrosive primers, with the phoshorus acting as the igniter. This strongly implies that the propellant is the only inert component in Earth-origin ammunition. Corwin might have used the jeweler's rouge from Avalon for both from uncertainty; he'd been in the Shadow Earth since long before the invention of matches and might have been unaware they, and the chemically similar corrosive primers, would work there. He was, on the other hand, certain (due to prior experimentation) that the rouge would work for both.

Chemically speaking, black powder is similar enough to match head mix that it seems it should work in Amber -- but apparently it had been tried several times before Corwin's amnesia (or possibly that reference is to guns from other shadows than Earth). This implies that nitrogen chemistry (the only chemical commonality between black powder and smokeless, with nitrogen also being part of lead styphnate) doesn't work the same way there as it does here -- but chlorates seemingly do.

  • 1
    Note that the matches Corwin uses while in the dungeons of Amber are matchbooks, which tends to suggest modern safety matches.
    – docwebhead
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 15:28
  • 1
    So it does -- which also strongly implies that corrosive primers would work, and the reason modern ammunition fails is that the smokeless powder or civilian lead-based primers are inert -- and likely black powder was for the centuries it was current on the Shadow Earth. Editing answer.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 15:54
  • >! Correct me if I am wrong it has been a while since I read this book and >! don't have it with me. Didn't >! Corwin go to a shadow earth and make a >! bunch to come back and go after Eric?
    – Scath
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 18:29
  • 2
    @Scath He had ammunition made and bought guns on our Shadow Earth for the assault on Amber -- but the primers and propellant were jeweller's rouge from his own Avalon (or a place sufficiently like it). BTW, spoiler tags don't work in comments, it seems, but these books are forty years old, I doubt spoilers are a big deal.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:22
  • Hah there older than me :P, I forgot about the jeweller's rogue. Thanks for the information about the spoiler tags.
    – Scath
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:43

“Why is this part of the ocean, within the double of Amber, so different from waters elsewhere?” I asked. “Because that is the way it is,” said Deirdre, which irritated me.

I know its usually a trite answer but my take on the Amber universe 'logic' is that its working on a mystic level rather than physical.

ie. Guns don't work in amber because Amber's very nature was defined by Dworkin as like Arthurian legend. Swords and Sorcery.

The Forest of Arden is green and aboral eternally because it is the ideal forest, Rebma exists because reflections are real etc

When Corwin brings guns, they don't work because of the chemical properties of the jewelers rouge, but because Corwin's nature is a foxy tactician who comes up with clever solutions. He changes the nature of Amber. or rather brings forth this aspect of it.

We see the same sort of thing in the weirder shadows the characters travel to, or when they travel to shadows having the property of 'a brother will arrive to help me'. It's not the physics of the shadow they change or choose but the narrative of it.

You could argue that the only reason the shadow earth changes from plague london to the modern day is because Corwin is present in it and effects the change. All that time and Rein and Joplin are sitting around unchanged in Amber, not inventing new things or changing society.

  • 1
    Excellent assessment! Many people might dismiss this answer, but I dare say that Zelazny would be pleased that someone grokked his universe so thoroughly.
    – bitsmack
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 1:17
  • 1
    I like both answers, and I suspect RZ would as well! He was famously fond of things like this: "Is Lord of Light science fiction or fantasy?" "Absolutely!"
    – docwebhead
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 2:12
  • Good to see there is someone else who shares my views on the Amber universe.
    – Tonny
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 9:30
  • Upvoting your answer, for the same reason as @docwebhead commented. Two sides of the same coin.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 11:10

For the same reasons most movies, tv shows, and games have their own set of rules,

Because, it's in the script

That is how cars explode with a cigarette thrown under them, bullets can curve in a complete circle, and many other events. Some things make no scientific sense but in science fiction it is exactly that, "Fiction" so they can do whatever the scripts and CGI, special effects, allow them to do

  • 1
    People tend to be looking for in-universe answers.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 16:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.