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Review of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser

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  • Grey Mouser
    Champion of the Balance
    • Dec 2003
    • 1433

    Review of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser

    Just thought I'd post this cool review I found with some great insight. The webmaster on the site I have borrowed it from believes the review could have been written by Fritz Leiber himself under a pseudonym. Here's a link to the original site:

    What do you think of the notion that this could have been authored by Fritz himself?

    Reviewed by Francis Lathrop in October 1969 in 'Fantastic'.
    It seems likely this is Fritz reviewing his own books. Firstly, in the rest of the magazine it is Fritz who is credited with other reviews and secondly, Francis Lathrop was a psuedonym Fritz occasionally used whilst touring in his Father's Shakespearean Company.
    Three from Lankhmar

    "Leiber tells me that these three books about his pair of heroic rogues are respectively numbers 3, 4 and 5 chronologically in their saga, taking up the tale when they are in the prime of their manhood, or a little beyond it, and suffering from money troubles and a consciousness of 'the world's slow stain'. In 'The Cloud of Hate' and 'Lean Times in Lankhmar', which begin Swords in the Mist, they are stoney broke and briefly seek escape from the endless cycle of their adventurings, the Gray Mouser by becoming an extortionist's lieutenant, Fafhrd by going religious.

    The author also assures me that he is now at work on the first two volumes of the saga, which tell about his heroes' youths, how they met and how they became involved with their sorcerous guides and tormentors, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. These two projected books will contain the early stories collected in the Gnome volume Two Sought Adventure (1957) but also three long new yarns. The five books won't end the saga, but they'll fill up the gaps and put it in a proper sequence.

    And it's about time, I say, that Leiber is setting his Fafhrd-Mouser house in order after all these years - 30 to be precise, for 'The Jewels in the Forest' then titled 'Two Sought Adventure', first appeared in the magazine, UNKNOWN in August, 1939, and was his first published story. This ought to establish some sort of long-distance record; by contrast, Robert E Howard created all his Conan tales in the last five years of his short life. It helps account for Leiber's variations in style, from the short sentences and snappy action of 'Thieves House' to the embellished structure of 'Adept's Gambit' and the sardonic humors and mock scholorship of 'Lean Times'.
    These tales of swords and sorcery in the mythical land of Lankhmar and the world of Nehwon have found four chief publishing havens over the years: John W Campbell's short lived magazine, UNKNOWN, August Derleth's, ARKHAM HOUSE, FANTASTIC under the brilliant editorship of Cele Goldsmith (now Laly), and at last ACE.
    It is probably a good thing that Leiber launched these stories in UNKNOWN, where he benefitted from Campbell's seasoned writing experience and had to give his tales action adventure frameworks. Next Arkham House went out on a short limb to publish 'Adept's Gambit', first of the tales to be written, in the Leiber collection Night's Black Agents 1947.

    Then the two characters pretty much languished for twelve years. Leiber wrote 'Lean Times in Lankhmar' out on nostalgia, he tells me, and was startled when Cele Goldsmith grabbed it for an all Leiber issue of FANTASTIC, but this sale led to a new cycle of story telling which has continued down to the present.
    What seems to make the Fafhrd Mouser stories stand out is that the two heroes are cut down to a plausible size without loss of romance and a believed in eerie, sorcerous atmosphere and with a welcome departure from forumla. They are neither physical supermen the caliber of Conan and John Carter, nor moral or metaphysical giants like Tolkien's Strider, etc., and Moorcock's Elric. They win out by one quarter brains, another quarter braun, and at least fifty percent sheer luck. They have an engaging self interest, blind spots and vices, a gallantry of sorts, and an ability to laugh at themselves - even if the Mouser occasionally quite galling. One's first impression may be that the Mouser is the darkly clever comedian and Fafhrd the somewhat stupid straight man, or Fafhrd the hero and Mouser the comic relief, but a little reading reveals the self infatuation underlying and sometimes tripping the Mouser's cunning, and also the amiable wisdom that now and then shows through Fafhrd's lazy complacency.

    The literary background of the stories is mixed: one spots the influence of a whole spectrum of writers from Cabell to Howard - traces of Lord Dunsany, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton-Smith, Talbot Mundy, the Flaubert of Salammbo and the Richard Garnett who wrote the tales making up The Twilight of the Gods.
    Swords in the Mist comprises 'The Cloud of Hate'; 'Lean Times in Lankhmar', a satire of competing religions and of men grasping at security by the various ways of money, power, asceticism, and strong drink - philosophically the most searching of all the stories; 'When the Sea-King's Away', which manages some mighty strange tricks with water; 'Adept's Gambit', where Ningauble time-travels the two adventurers to a destiny in the historical seleucid empire; and two new but very short bridging episodes.
    Swords Against Wizardry, besides two light short stories, contains the two most fully fleshed adventures in the series, short novels both: 'Stardock' and 'The Lords of Quarmall'. The first recalls the climbing of a wizard-guarded Nehwonian everest; Leiber provides a map of the mountain and an epic of fantast mountaineering ebellished with gnomes, an engaging ice-catm, monsters seen and unseen, and two invisible but highly erotic witch-girls. The second is of special interest as 10,000 of it's 35,000 words were written by Harry Otto Fischer, who originated and helped shape the characters of Fafhrd and the Mouser, but except in this one instance never had a hand in the plotting or writing of the stories. Leiber tells me that the chief Fischer sections in 'Quarmall', written over thirty years ago, are the scenes featuring the brothers Hasjarl and Gwaay and their Father Quarmall up to the anouncement of his death of the last; Ningauble's notes on the history of Quarmall; the impressive funeral pyre scene; and the Mouser's attempted spell-casting.

    One must admit that the trio of villains in this tale have an earthy malevolence that Leiber seldom if ever equals in his independent writings. The Swords of Lankhmar is a novel telling of the war between Lankhmar-Above-Ground and the city of intelligent rats which underlies it. A quarter of the story recounts the first battle, fought aboard a fleet of grain ships, and was published in FANTASTIC as 'Svylla's Daughter'. The rest is all new and takes the reader to such places as The Sinking Land, The Great Salt Marsh, and the region of the Ghouls, as well as down in to the fascinatingly detailed and malodorous rat metropolis - an evil 'Wind in the Willows' world - with the Mouser for guide, reduced to rat size by a novel mass change magic.