Fritz Leiber

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.