In Swords in the Mist, lean times in Lankhmar force brothers-in-arms Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to part ways. Only after a joust of wits and swords do the friends join together again, stealing the ship the Black Treasurer and sailing round and through The Claws. Fighting sea kings, curses and seven-eyed wizards, the pair set out on their heroic wanderings through the wilds of Nehwon.
The late Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser launched the sword-and-sorcery genre, and were the inspiration for the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.
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"An absolutely marvelous time." (Neil Gaiman)
"Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are virtually a genre unto themselves. Urbane, idiosyncratic, comic, erotic and human, spiked with believable action and the eerie creations of a master fantasist!" (William Gibson)
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Swords in the Mist (1968), the third entry in Fritz Leiber's set of sword and sorcery tales featuring the giant barbarian Fafhrd and his compact ex-slum-boy comrade in adventuring and thieving, the Gray Mouser, cobbles together four stories from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in fix-up rather than publication order, along with two transition vignettes written for the collection. As in the other volumes in the series, the "blood brothers, tall and small," engage in supernatural, loopy, and eerie adventures, maintain their spirits (and ours) with plenty of snarky banter, and fully command the stage fashioned by Leiber's baroque and poetic prose.
In the amusing and creepy "The Cloud of Hate" (1963), the friends are desultorily debating why they are moneyless and homeless, Fafhrd boasting that it is due to their independence ("When we draw sword it is for ourselves alone"), the Mouser skewering his optimism, when they are attacked by four formidable thralls of an ectoplasmic cloud of hate ("human venom" empowered by religious fanaticism) that could "shake the city and land of Lankhmar and the whole world of Nehwon."
"Lean Times in Lankhmar" (1959) is a satirical, farcical, and perfectly plotted story that ambiguously plays with religion, friendship, and financial vs. spiritual paths to security. Hard times and the two friends' different personalities and interests have led the Mouser to become the paunchy lieutenant of Pulg, a racketeer extorting protection money from the priests of the myriad wannabe Gods in Lankhmar, and Fafhrd to become the acolyte of one of the most ascetic, pacific, and boring deities, Issek of the Jug, and his senile priest, Bwadres. Conflict arises when Fafhrd's imaginative story-telling sends Issekianity rocketing to popularity and riches, which attracts the attention of Pulg and company. An absurd chain of coincidences leads to a hilarious climax that seems to mock faith and religion, but mightn't the closet believer Pulg be right when he says that there are more things in this world than we know, like an unseen Hand guiding events towards a Second Coming?
"Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968) is a short and cute transition "story" in which the Mouser and Fafhrd get back into adventuring shape by cruising around in their sloop Black Treasurer, exercising, failing as pirates, and savoring their mistress the sea in all her moods.
"While the Sea-King’s Away" (1960) is a fantastic, funny, and absorbing story in which the two companions pay a submarine visit to the wives of the absent king of the sea, Fafhrd promiscuous and pomaded, the Mouser skeptical and reluctant. Leiber's conception is impressive, magical air tubes rising from the bottom of the sea to the surface, down one of which Fafhrd and then the Mouser climb on a rope tied to their sloop, and when the descending Mouser looks up, "the circle [of sky] overhead did grow smaller and more deeply blue, becoming a cobalt platter, a peacock saucer, and finally no more than a strange ultramarine coin that was the converging point of the tube and rope and in which the Mouser thought he saw a star flash."
"The Wrong Branch" (1968) is a short transition "story" explaining how Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser could have adventures on our earth, there being hidden inside the mazy caverns of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes’ cave doors exiting into other worlds and times and universes.
The final piece in the book, "Adept's Gambit" (1947), opens in Tyre, where the two friends are style-crampingly cursed: any woman they kiss turns temporarily into a sow or a snail. Ningauble of the Seven Eyes explains that a powerful black magic adept has targeted them because of Fafhrd's elder gods caliber laughter, and that they must purloin a set of legendary artifacts and wait for "the woman who will come when she is ready." They have no choice but to accept the fatal quest. But who is the charismatic, cryptic, and hermaphroditic young lady watching the be-spelled duo from the tavern shadows? This is a weird novella, being (I think) the only Fafhrd and Mouser story that takes place on earth, which gives Leiber license to pillage a host of ancient cultures, religions, myths, histories, cities, and figures. Reading by turns like a ribald comedy, a historical horror adventure, and a gothic family story and exploring love, power, knowledge, free will, and life, "Adept's Gambit" is redolent of mood ("certain of the scrolls seeming to smoke and fume as though they held in their papyrus and ink the seeds of a holocaust") and philosophy ("He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows").
Jonathan Davis does his usual masterful job of reading the stories, enhancing the pleasure of Leiber's prose, the appeal of his characters, and the interest of his tales. His Fafhrd speaks American English, his Mouser British-Australian English, and his loving and abused girl Ahura recalls Emiko from The Windup Girl. His strategic pacing adds much, as when the Mouser asks, "Am I right?" each time he impudently interrupts one of Ningauble's oracular statements, to which, though the text reads "You are not," the wizard answers, "You are. . . NOT," Davis' pause giving a moment of pleasurable suspense.
Finally, this third collection does not cohere as well as the first and second ones (Swords and Deviltry and Swords against Death), and, as with the other books in the series, female readers may be put off by Leiber's mid-twentieth century sexism, and readers who prefer violent action to stylish writing in fantasy may be bored. But if you enjoy lines like "Like an idler from a day of bowered rest, an Indian prince from the tedium of the court, a philosopher from quizzical discourse, a slim figure rose from the tomb," you might give Swords in the Mist a try.
II really have enjoyed these works in this medium. A different experience from the books but no less entertaining. The narration and voice acting is supperior.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Swords in the Mist (1968) is Fritz Leiber’s third collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and the Gray Mouser, his small wily companion who has a predilection for thievery and black magic. The tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser originally appeared in pulp magazines, short novels, and story collections between 1939-1988. Swords in the Mist contains:
“The Cloud of Hate” (1963) — This is a short eerie metaphor in which hate becomes a mist that reaches out in tendrils throughout Lankhmar to find corruptible souls to use for evil deeds.
“Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) — In this novelette, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser part ways and find themselves at odds when Fafhrd becomes an acolyte and the Mouser is hired to extract money from Fafhrd’s cult. Humorous and cynical, this story makes fun of Lankhmar’s polytheism and makes the seediness, decadence, and corruption of the city come alive. The ending is hilarious.
“Their Mistress, the Sea” (original publication) — This story makes a nice bridge between “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” but it’s entertaining in its own right.
“When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) — This is a fun fantastical story with a great setting (under the sea!) in which Fafhrd has a sword fight with an octopus.
“The Wrong Branch” (original publication) — This is a bridge between the previous story and the following novella:
“Adept’s Gambit” (1947) — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser arrive in our world (Macedonia) in this novella. There are some funny parts here — Fafhrd kissing pigs and analyzing Socrates, but mostly I found this story dull. The sorcerer Ningauble of the Seven Eyes has sent the boys on a near-impossible quest, but the exciting parts are quickly skipped over and too much of the story is spent with an unpleasant character’s excruciatingly long autobiography.
I love Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser because they’re intelligent rogues. They look like a big dumb barbarian and a sneaky little street urchin, and they love nothing more than drinking, fighting, and wenching, yet they’ve got big vocabularies, make glorious similes and metaphors, and enjoy philosophizing. When they’re doing these things, they’re irresistible, especially in the audiobook versions narrated by Jonathan Davis (Audible Frontiers).
However, half of Swords in the Mist consists of a novella that was not as fun as I’ve come to expect from Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories (perhaps this is partly because it doesn’t take place in Lankhmar). I would suggest that, unless you consider yourself a completist, you find “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” and skip the rest of Swords in the Mist.
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