Friday, July 24, 2020

Forgotten Books: SWORDS AND DEVILTRY by Fritz Leiber (1970)

I first came across the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sometime in the early '70s, when in the throes of Howardmania. There were five volumes available back then, four story collections and one novel, and they were all good. So I finally decided to take another trip through the first book in the chronological series. And whaddaya know? Unlike the sword and sorcery works of Michael Moorcook, which now seem much less than they were, these stories are more.

Though they took place in a world similar to Howard's Hyborian Age, the tone of the stories is quite different. The characters are less brooding, more thoughtful, and generally have more fun. Leiber's style, while less poetic than Howard's, is more accomplished, and more complex. It makes you pay close attention, but is worth the effort. 

The series has a weird and complicated history. Created sometime in the '30s by Leiber's college roommate, Fafhrd the northern barbarian and the Mouser, the cunning ex-apprentice of a wizard, made their debut in the pulp magazine Unknown in 1939. After a few more Unknown stories in the '40s, they appeared in a couple other mags in the early '50s, then took a break until the Gnome Press collection Two Sought Adventure was published in 1957. This brought a resurgence, and they made the jump to the digest mag Fantastic, which became their home in the '60s. By 1970, there were the five volumes I mentioned earlier, with a sixth following in 1977 and a seventh in 1988. 

This first book contains three novelettes. First we meet young Fafhrd in his homeland and discover why and how he leaves. Then the wizardling Mouser, then called "Mouse," as he avenges the murder of his wizard. Finally, the two meet my chance in the dark city of Lankhmar, and begin their long partnership in crime and adventure.

The whole series is now available in ebook form, which I'll likely take advantage of. Some of my old pbs, nostalgic as they are, have cracked spines, deep, shadowy gutters and type smaller than my old eyes like. 


Rick Robinson said...

This is a particular favorite of mine, and the edition you show is the one I have, several times read, and like yours brittle with age. Thanks for the tip on the ebooks.

Evan Lewis said...

Those ebooks will be coming your way, sir.

Jerry House said...

Few did it better.

Rick Robinson said...

Wow. If U mean what I tnk U do

Rick Robinson said...

Cooooool !

eharmonica said...

I'll heartily recommend his non-Fahfrd stories.
There are 2 Megapacks on Amazon for $0.99 that are well worth anyone's time.

John E. Boyle said...

"Unlike the sword and sorcery works of Michael Moorcook, which now seem much less than they were, these stories are more."

I must agree, and I think the next book in the series (Swords against Death) is even better. Well worth reading.