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.