Swords and Deviltry
November 29, 2020 10:05 PM - by Leiber, Fritz - Subscribe

We learn the early history of the legendary fantasy pair: The reader is introduced to a young Fafhrd and a young, as yet untitled, Gray Mouser. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are introduced to each other. Everyone is introduced to the great city of Lankhmar.

A quick note on reading order: The sequence doesn't matter a whole lot, but there's an argument that this book is not the best place to start. Some of the classic early stories (such as Claws in the Night or Bazaar of the Bizarre), appear in the next volume, which we'll post next week.

Leiber was from a well known acting family and toured intermittently with his father's company, in between pursuing his education (including a stint in a seminary) and his early writing career. He had correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, who read an early draft of one of his first Fafhrd/Mouser stories and suggested moving them from the Bronze Age Mediterranean to the fantasy world or Nehwon.

These are very much in the pre-Tolkien, swords and sorcery tradition of fantasy (a term Leiber coined). The pair were co-created by Leiber's friend Harry Otto Fischer, though written more or less exclusively by Leiber himself. The three tales in this collection were written 30 years after the first story appeared and 20 years before the last one. There's a certain amount of retconning and cleanup as Leiber stitched the original standalone stories--which varied widely in tone and, I have to say, quality--into a more or less coherent chronology. Ill Met in Lankhmar won Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella.

The Appendix N podcast for this book provides some commentary from ttRPG designers. The stories were strong influences on Gary Gygax and early D&D.

Content note: These stories are 50 year old swords and sorcery, and include significant levels of violence and some casual attitudes towards sexual assault.
posted by mark k (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I should add that these are on Hoopla if you have library access (h/t to octothorpe.) And thank the people who made suggestions on the fanfare talk thread.
posted by mark k at 10:09 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not sure which collection it ended up in, but the couple Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories I read seemed to have no problem with "our heroes" enslaving people either. As museum pieces they hold a certain amount of interest, but I'm glad popular fiction has evolved beyond the sort of "tavern wenches and dancing girls" pulp that fantasy rose from.
posted by rikschell at 5:12 AM on November 30, 2020

The comic book adaptations of these (DC did one in the 70s, Marvel did one in the 90s (maybe)) are quite good, by artists and writers who clearly had affection for the source material.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2020

I first read these books as a teenager, 30+ years ago. I have very fond memory of a few stories, but didn't have high expectations for how well it'd hold up. And there are some moments I'm not looking ahead to in later collections (enslaved sailors crewing a ship is sadly not the worst of it.) So I was happily surprised that I really liked two of the three stories here.

Spoilers below:

I don't think a non-horrible modern writer would touch the witching women vs. men plot of The Snow Women unless they were explicitly subverting it. Which Leiber doesn't quite do. But I'm a sucker for horror stories that are arguably all in people's minds. And what happens here? It gets cold, branches fall down under the strain of ice, people get fatigued. They tell Fafhrd's father to stop climbing mountains solo and when he inevitably dies the men are "oh, it must have been witchcraft!" The women sure don't act like they rule the tribe; they fume and fight among themselves over men. This is pretty obviously a horrible patriarchy full of toxic males. (Obviously this is from a modern lens, but Fafhrd's explicit that the men are dreadful too.) Fafhrd figuring out how to leave this mess of a place is the wisest thing he's done.

Ill Met in Lankhmar I liked on its own terms, a serious dark adventure tale with some really funny bits. Drunken heroes make a horrible decision. Knowing where it was going it's amazing how thoroughly the story hammers that they knew this was bad ahead of time--it's not just foreshadowing, it's making clear your heroes are going to be dumb. I also picked up something that went over my head the first time: both the narrator and Fafhrd are sure Mouser's idea of treating a woman well--shower her with gifts and keep her from having to go outside the home--is wrong. And it ends up being wrong in a way that contributes to the disastrous night. (On the other hand, Leiber fridges not one but two girlfriends. He subverts a lot of tropes, but only the ones he recognizes.)
posted by mark k at 8:30 AM on December 1, 2020

I've been meaning to read these for years, and the mention that they were on Hoopla finally got me there!
posted by PussKillian at 10:42 AM on December 1, 2020

My summer camping reading was the "complete" Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (I did a lot of camping this summer). Ends up my "complete" edition didn't include "The Knight and Knave of Swords", but I hear it isn't that great compared to the rest of it.

I had never read them before, but had an idea of the sort of thing I was in for. They are definitely of their time, and the quality is not consistent, but I ended up enjoying them anyways.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2020

Oh I should try to join in on this. I've read a couple of F&GM stories; one of them was a little bit sleazy and horny involving wererats IIRC, so that put me off if a bit. I've been meaning to read the rest of them though, and some Moorcock too for that matter.
posted by fleacircus at 8:25 PM on December 1, 2020

Holy shit Appendix N is a pretty good podcast.
posted by fleacircus at 6:33 AM on December 3, 2020

I like Appendix N but I wish the average book quality was better! They do what they can with the list I guess.

Anyway, the next post is up here. I'm going to try to do one a week and I will highlight the stories I think stand out--as others have noted the quality is pretty variable.
posted by mark k at 9:39 PM on December 6, 2020

So I did have fun reading the stories. They definitely are, cough, old-school, but I don't mind that, and they were funnier and more self-deprecating than I anticipated.
posted by PussKillian at 2:10 PM on December 7, 2020

« Older The Undoing: The Bloody Truth...   |  Star Trek: The Next Generation... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments