I’ve been wending my way through Fritz Leiber’s refreshing short story fantasy lately. I consider myself somewhat of a connosieur of otherworldly literature, and Fritz, I must say, is not a stale author. Much fantasy is either bad Tolkien imitation or based on an RPG of some sort. Needless to say, I’d rather read Tolkien and the other Inklings than bad imitation, and I’d rather play an RPG than read about one.
But I digress.
Fritz started writing about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser way back in the forties, contemporary to Tolkien, in a magazine called Fantastic. Pulp fiction back then was the lowest of the low, and even though Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler made do, short story writers for mags didn’t. Thus, his ideas were established in a completely different medium from Tolkien that he did not succumb to toothy mimicry [bad Tolkien bites]. That is not to say that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are toothless. These stories are swashbuckling, and if you can see in the swordsmanship and other qualities of this duo, the seeds of D&D then you might not be all wrong.
Fritz presents Fafhrd and the Mouser as archetypes, and so far, they have remained relatively unchanged throughout the short stories. Their companionship is based on a mutual love for adventure. Fafhrd, from the Cold Wastes of the North, and the homeless Mouser from somewhere south, are two of a kind, and are inhumanly capable of any and all adventurous feats. They are more like gods than men, and it is not surprising then that the stories read almost like myths.
Did I mention that they are thieves? Not because they are evil, for they are heroes, but because it is easiest. Treasure-hunters, mariners, nomads you name it, they’ve done it.
Why do I like them so much? Mostly because, despite their unnatural abilities, they fuck up. ALOT. Their respective girlfriends are most foully murdered while F&tGM are sauced, they are greedy, likely to be enchanted by the next person with a smidgen of magical ability, loathe to admit fallibility, etc. etc. Each short story seems to bring to light another quirk that should bring them down toward human levels. For some reason this never happens, although the reader picks up quite easily on these faults, Fafhrd never calls the Mouser on them and the Mouser never gets on Fafhrd’s case about them either, although it is still obvious they know of them.
The stories are quite simple, and not at all bogged down by ideas of How Things Should Be™ in a fantasy novel. Yet, the stories are quite complex and intimate the possibilities of what fantasy novels have, for the most part, become. Quite refreshing indeed. Good luck finding them anyplace, I felt lucky to find ancient copies in the St. Joe Library, and as far as I know, they are still out of print commercially.