Fritz Leiber

Saturday, 26 July 2003

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.

Renshai Chronicles

Monday, 29 July 2002

af­ter a sum­mer filled with read­ing works con­sid­ered to be fine pieces of lit­er­a­ture, my re­turn to the books i have en­joyed the most, fan­tasy nov­els, is bit­ter­sweet. i rel­ish the sto­ries for their en­ter­tain­ment value, but now they are start­ing to seem a little…juvenile. per­haps this is just due to the books i am read­ing cur­rently, The Renshai Chronicles, by Mickey Zucker Reichert. i have not read any­thing by this au­thor be­fore so per­haps it is just the li­cense she takes with Norse mythol­ogy in com­bi­na­tion with her vaguely Dungeons and Dragons sto­ry­li­nes (i’ve never en­joyed that type of fan­tasy). The char­ac­ters are all teenagers and be­have ex­actly like teens in re­gard to af­fairs of the heart, but when it comes to mak­ing emo­tional de­ci­sions they are ra­tio­nal as a sophist. it is un­nerv­ing, es­pe­cially since they are all sa­vants and ex­cel in their re­spec­tive ‘job class’ to bor­row a phrase from D&D, of­ten ri­val­ing those with decades or cen­turies more ex­pe­ri­ence. it would be a good story if it weren’t so ob­vi­ously con­trived. I do not be­lieve this re­vul­sion will trans­fer to works of gen­uine cre­ative fan­tasy that of­fers philo­soph­i­cal and moral dilem­mas, (LotR, The Recluce Series) or those which of­fer more than just swords and sor­cery (The Wheel of Time, any­thing by Patricia McKillip). I am just tired of cook­iecut­ter fan­tasy trilo­gies. i need some­thing new.