Sunday, October 2, 2016
Swords And Deviltry!
Aside from Conan and the other creations of Robert E. Howard, the most famous sword and sorcery characters in the genre are probably Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser created by Fritz Leiber and his partner in the mid 30's. The duo began as a romp and in the hands of Leiber became a distinctive and colorful addition to a genre that had not even been named yet. (Leiber himself would do that many years later.)
Induction (1957 Two Sought Adventure)
This is one of those necessary bits of business to bond together the sundry stories in this edition, which themselves were written across ten years and sets up the series to come which spanned at its conclusion over fifty years. Leiber explains the complicated origins of the two heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and how much they owe to his early partner, the man who technically created them Harry Fischer.
The Snow Women (Fantastic 1970)
This is Fafhrd's secret origin of sorts, though not so much a secret. We travel to his northern homeland and meet him when he's a very young man, full of passion and certainty and eager to leave the limits of his village and strike out across the world into the unknown. This young Fafhrd is an attractive figure, a smart and savvy and capable fighter who uses his mind as much as his might but who like so many falls victim to love. Torn between two women, but not really all that much, he hooks up with a caravan performer Vlana who steals his heart and the two of them (eventually) leave after much ballyhoo and magical shenanigans from Fafhrd's impressive mother.
The Unholy Grail (Fantastic 1962)
We meet the Gray Mouser in this story of his youth when his master has been killed by a local baron for reasons that never really make much sense, save that the nobleman is a man of violent passions. Mouser and the baron's daughter Ivrian are in love, though not yet lovers and when Mouser thinks she is the cause of his master's death he goes on a bout of revenge, using the magics he'd learned to make mischief. He's caught eventually but that doesn't end it as eventually the two youngsters find they must leave to find a way for themselves.
Ill Met in Lankhmar (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1970)
One of the greatest sword and sorcery stories of all time, this tale relates how Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser first meet and become lifelong partners in adventure. Lankhmar is a decadant city (patterned on New York I think) which is a rich environment for the urbane and sardonic misadventures Leiber wants to create. Fafhrd and his love Vlana and Mouser and his girl Ivrian meet each other when the two heroes waylay two thieves who themselves have just done some work stealing some lovely gems. This brings the ire of the Thieves Guild down on the two heroes who employ a magician to weave a murky and dangerous spell. Despite the fact the two heroes infiltrate the Guild itself they are unable to stop the magic from having a tragic consequence for their two loves. The passing of these two remarkable women will linger in the souls of our heroes for the balance of the series in some shape or other. Needless to say the two heroes get some measure of revenge.
Robert E. Howard's heroes were brawny instinctive types with little regard for the niceties of civilized life. A full-figured wench and a full cup was all they required of the cities they sometimes roamed in or even on occasion ruled. But Fafhrd and Mouser are products of civilization, despite Fafhrd's upbringing. He's not comfortable there really, but seems to find his own in the decadent cities of Newhon alongside his comrade Mouser. It's apparently suggested if not stated somewhere that Leiber intended Lankhmar to be New York City and that makes sense given the hectic lifestyles and blend of cultures it houses. Leiber's heroes are witty and even urbane, far from the glowering swordsmen the genre usually generates.
More their misadventures next week.