Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Swords & Deviltry by Fritz Leiber
Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber is a collection of his first few stories featuring his characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
The archetypal sword & sorcery character is Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and he’d had been written about for many years and inspired a raft of similar characters and imitators by 1970 when Fritz Leiber introduced Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
I’d heard about the two characters and their adventures, but I’d never actually read any of the books featuring them. I’d always been under the impression from what I’d heard that Fafhrd was the big dumb muscle and the Mouser a cunning little character who used his companions physical size and strength to protect them both and carry out some of his plans.
It’s not like that at all. Leiber absolutely wrong footed me there. Fafhrd is big and strong, but he’s not at all dumb, in fact he’s rather a Renaissance man in his icy wasteland home in the world of Nehwon. The Mouser is small and has some magical training, but he’s not half as clever as he thinks he is and even before he meets Fafhrd he can handle himself in a fight, he’s particularly skilled with his sword; Scalpel. While I’ve uncovered that name: Scalpel? Really? The author couldn’t dream up a better, more lyrical name. I kept thinking of him duelling with a short, sharp surgical instrument.
There are 3 stories in Swords & Deviltry. The Snow Women introduces Fafhrd. The Unholy Grail is the Mouser’s introduction and Ill Met in Lankhmar is how the duo met and teamed up, and the unforeseen but tragic consequences of their first adventure together.
I really liked the duo and the way they bounced off and complemented each other. I also found myself liking Fafhrd more than his smaller companion, which is odd for me. It was a wonderfully drawn world and something very fresh in what was becoming a rather tired sub genre. There was also a lightness and humour to the stories that was lacking from many of the contemporaries.
For me though, the fun ended in the first collection. I did try to read on, but the freshness was gone in the later stories. I’m not sure what it was, but they seemed less inspired, and the characters became more what I’d expected when I first opened the book and not what they were in Swords and Deviltry which made me like the two so much.
If anyone liked Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and wanted something similar I would point them in the direction of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’d often seen comparisons between this work and Leiber’s duo, and the inspiration is clear. I was often reminded of Jean Tannen and Locke Lamora while reading about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and if Camorr isn’t a direct child of Lankhmar, it is it’s more sophisticated cousin.