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.