I must confess that I had some preconceived notions about Fritz Leiber???s work. Because he???s credited with coining the phrase ???Sword & Sorcery,??..Show More »? and because I never hear women talking about his stories, I imagined that they appealed mainly to men who like to read stuff that has warrior babes on the covers.
But when I saw this on audio (finally), I decided to give it a try because it's classic fantasy literature.
So, I put Swords and Deviltry on my MP3 player and pressed play. Within two minutes, I was completely enthralled. The first part of the novel (which is really a compilation of short stories) tells the tale of Fafhrd???s liberation from the taboos, close-mindedness, and ???icy morality??? of his mother and clan (and the girl he got pregnant) in the northern wastes. He yearns for civilization, and finally gets a chance to ???escape this stupid snow world and its man-chaining women??? with a beautiful showgirl.
The second section introduces us to Mouse, who is apprenticed to the white magician Glavas Rho, but who feels the pull of the black arts ??? ???the magic which stemmed from death and hate and pain and decay, which dealt in poisons and night-shrieks, which trickled down from the black spaces between the stars...??? A murder and a betrayal force Mouse over the brink and he restyles himself as The Gray Mouser.
I was engrossed in the tales of both of these young men, so when the audiobook reader (the excellent Jonathan Davis) finally said ???Chapter 4: Ill Met in Lankhmar,??? I felt a thrill of delight! Of course I???m familiar with the name of this Nebula (1970) and Hugo (1971) award-winning novella, and I knew I???d be reading it in Swords and Deviltry, but for the first time the name had real significance for me and I couldn???t wait to witness the meeting of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. And it was, as promised, a lot of fun.
Swords Against Death is the second collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and The Gray Mouser, the small thief from the slums..Show More ». For the past three years, the two have grown so close that they are now (as Neil Gaiman suggests in his introduction to the audio version) like two halves of the same person. They???ve been traveling the world together in an effort to forget their lost loves.
During their travels ???they acquired new scars and skills, comprehensions and compassions, cynicisms and secrecies ??? a laughter that lightly mocked, and a cool poise that tightly crusted all inner miseries,??? but they haven???t been able to assuage their guilt or lessen their feelings of loss outside of Lankhmar, the city which they swore never to return to.
But as Sheelba of the Eyeless Face prophesied (???Never and forever are neither for men. You???ll be returning again and again.???), Fafhrd and the Mouser are persuaded to return to Lankhmar where, it turns out, they have not been forgotten, and soon the duo is back to their old tricks and dealing with their former enemies in these stories: ???The Circle Curse,??? ???The Jewels in the Forest,??? ???Thieves??? House,??? ???The Bleak Shore,??? ???The Howling Tower,??? ???The Sunken Land,??? ???The Seven Black Priests,??? ???Claws from the Night,??? ???The Price of Pain-Ease,??? and ???Bazaar of the Bizarre.???
Some of the stories are better than others (my favorite was ???Bazaar of the Bizarre???) but all are ???classical rogue??? (Neil Gaiman???s term) and all are worth reading simply because they???re written in Fritz Leiber???s gorgeous prose, which is thick with alliteration, insight, and irony.
Jonathan Davis who does a terrific job with this series. His voices for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are perfect ??? Fafhrd sounds pensive, intellectual, and introverted while Gray Mouser sounds a bit greasy and common. I highly recommend this format; it adds an extra dimension to these fun stories.
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-sl..Show More »um-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.
I can???t heap enough praise on the audio version!
"The time has come for sorcery and swords."
After a somewhat disappointing third volume in the Lankhmar series, Fritz Leiber is back to form ..Show More »in Swords Against Wizardry. This book contains four stories about Fafhrd the big red-headed barbarian, and The Gray Mouser, the small wily magician-thief. Three of the stories come from the pulp magazine Fantastic and the first story was created for this volume as an introduction. The stories fit so well together that they almost feel like a novel.
???In the Witch???s Tent??? is a very short introductory story in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser visit a witch who prophesies about the events to come in the next story.
In the novella ???Stardock??? (1965, Fantastic), our heroes and an ice-cat companion climb the forbidding mountain Stardock where they hope to find ???a pouch of stars.??? This story is slow in the beginning when the boys are climbing, but once they conquer Stardock, things get pretty exciting and, after leaving some incubating DNA behind, they leave the mountain with a bag of jewels that can only be seen at night. All of Fritz Leiber???s stories are gorgeously written, but ???Stardock??? has some of my favorite lines:
Fafhrd said dreamily, ???They say the gods once dwelt and had their smithies on Stardock and from thence, amid jetting fire and showering sparks, launched all the stars; hence her name. They say diamonds, rubies, smaragds ??? all great gems ??? are the tiny pilot models the gods made of the stars... and then threw carelessly away across the world when their great work was done.???
This is beautiful in the audio version read by Jonathan Davis.
???The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar??? (1968, Fantastic) is a fun short story that takes place after the boys return to the city after their conquest of Stardock. Apparently they got sick of each other on the way home (that happens occasionally and is a clue to the type of story that comes next), so they split up the jewels and went their separate ways. Both are trying to sell their share of the jewels, which is a problem because these gems can only be seen at night. When the story begins, the reader assumes that ???The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar??? refers to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but we all learn soon enough that what the Mouser says is true: Deal with a woman ??? surest route to disaster.
???The Lords of Quarmall" (1964, Fantastic) is one of my favorite Leiber novellas. Having split up for a time, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have, unbeknownst to them, each been hired to be the champion of two horrible brothers who hate each other and who want their father???s throne. The brother who hired the Mouser lives in subterranean caves underneath the brother who hired Fafhrd. Even though we can guess how the story will end, this is a creative tale with a grand setting. Fritz Leiber???s fantastic imagination is on full display in this story, and it beautifully highlights the sweet relationship these two rogues have with each other.
I can???t heap enough praise on the audio version of the Lankhmar books. Jonathan Davis is one of the best voice performers and these are some of his best performances. If you listen to audiobooks, don???t miss this series.
The tales of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser are, for the most part, just that - short stories and novellas. Some are great, some less so. So each book in ..Show More »the Lankhmar series is really a collection of stories - except for this one. THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR is the only full-length novel Fritz Leiber wrote about his sword-and-sorcery anti-heroes. For me, it's the most satisfying listening experience among the bunch. It's a fully fleshed-out story, the one that truly develops these wonderful characters. It has everything that makes this series a classic - the dark humor, the fantastical story and, of course, the wenches and the grog. Plus, this is the best example of Jonathan Davis' many talents.
If that's not enough, THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR begins with a fabulous bonus - a lengthy, very personal appreciation written by - and read by! - Neil Gaiman. That alone is worth the price of admission.
My suggestion - get to know Fafhrd and the Mouser in this full-length adventure - then tackle the story collections. You'll be happy you did.
“I am tired, Gray Mouser, with these little brushes with death.” “Want a big one?” “Perhaps.”
Swords and Ice Magic is the sixth colle..Show More »ction of Fritz Leiber’s stories about Fafhrd the big northern Barbarian and his small thieving companion the Gray Mouser. The stories in the LANKHMAR series have generally been presented in chronological order, so we’re nearing the end of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures in Nehwon and its famous city Lankhmar. The tales in this particular volume were published in pulp magazines in the mid 1970s and were collected in this volume in 1977. They are:
“The Sadness of the Executioner” — Death is required to kill two heroes before time runs out and he’s got Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in mind. But Death is a sportsman and thinks heroes should go out with style, so when the duo outwits him, he refuses to pull a deus ex machina and the boys live on.
“Beauty and the Beasts” — In this vignette, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser see a beautiful girl who is black on one side and white on the other. Since they can’t decide who she should belong to, they say they’ll split her. Something weird happens when they pursue her. “Trapped in the Shadowland” — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are dying as they cross a desert and Death is sure he’s going to get them this time because if they survive the desert, they’ll cross into Death’s territory. But Death is foiled again by Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s patron gods. Darn those dei ex machina!
“The bait” — Death baits the boys with the image of a naked “nubile girl.” This short vignette has Mouser saying the repulsive line “She was just the sort of immature dish to kindle your satyrish taste for maids newly budded.” (Ugh! I can’t believe I read this stuff!) “Under the Thumbs of the Gods” — The gods, upset that the most famous thieves in Lankhmar no longer pay them any attention (not even bothering to use their names in vain!), decide that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser need to be taken down a few notches. They’ve been listening to the boys boast about their romantic exploits, so the gods decide to hit them where it hurts and arrange for the duo to be rejected by every (naked and nubile) female they’ve ever loved.
“Trapped in the Sea of Stars” — While sailing, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser became enchanted with a couple of shimmer-sprites who appear as young nubile girls. (Yes, again!) The sprites have drawn the guys into uncharted waters where no land is in sight. Eventually, after philosophizing about the nature of the sun, moon, and stars in space, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser realize that the sprites may have nefarious motives.
“The Frost Monstreme” and “Rime Isle” — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are bored and reminiscing about past loves in their favorite tavern, The Slippery Eel, when two beautiful (nubile, but not naked) girls walk in and ask them to help the Rime Isle fight an impending invasion by the Sea Mingols. In this novelette and novella, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are possessed by the gods Odin and Loki and they once again cross paths with the two invisible ice princesses who we met a while back in the novella Stardock. Together, these two stories make up most of the page count of Swords and Ice Magic. There are plenty of young nubile girls in this one, and lecherous men fondling their breasts, but there are two strong women, too. I didn’t think the Odin and Loki angle worked very well (Leiber has attempted to tie Newhon to other worlds, including our own, in a few of his stories). There’s a big twist for Fafhrd at the end of “Rime Isle.”
At the time the stories in Swords and Ice Magic were written, Friz Leiber was in his mid 60s and had been writing these adventures for more than 30 years. Now Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser are getting older and talking about retiring and settling down with mates. Generally, this batch of stories is not as exciting or creative as the earlier ones, the setting of decadent Lankhmar plays a disappointingly insignificant role, and Lieber’s prose seems less brilliant. I’ve always had an issue with the way Lieber portrays women, but this volume seems to have an inordinate number of young nubile girls with small breasts who get fondled by older men, and there are numerous references to, for example, a “delicate tidbit of girlflesh.” In “The bait,” we’re told that the girl looked no older than 13 though the expression on her face suggests she’s 17. In the first story, Mouser tames a young female warrior who’s trying to kill him (she shoots spikes from her pointy metal bra) by “ravaging” her. Leiber certainly isn’t the only speculative fiction writer whose writing grew more lecherous as he got older, but it’s disappointing to find it in a series that I have enjoyed so much.
Even with these issues, there’s no doubt that fans of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser will want to read Swords and Ice Magic, especially the last two stories about Rime Isle because of what happens to Fafhrd. I highly recommend the wonderful audio version produced by Audible Frontiers. Jonathan Davis narrates these and even though he manages only one female voice for every female he reads, his voice is beautiful and his ear for the dialogue and pacing is exceptional. I love the way he portrays Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
The Knight and Knave of Swords is the last collection of Fritz Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories about those..Show More » two loveable rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I had read all of the LANKHMAR stories up to this point but it took me a while to open this book because I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Neil Gaiman says something similar in his introduction to The Knight and Knave of Swords and I’m sure that most of Leiber’s fans feel the same way. I know I can re-read these stories at any time, but it’s just not the same thing. It’s sad to know that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures are over.
The Knight and Knave of Swords, which has also been titled Farewell to Lankhmar (sniff!), contains these previously published novellas and stories: “Sea Magic” (1977), “The Mer She” (1978), “The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars” (1983), “The Mouser Goes Below” (1987) “Slack Lankhmar Afternoon Featuring Hisvet” (1988). The stories take place at the end of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s careers and, fittingly, are among Leiber’s final works. The Knight and Knave of Swords was nominated for the 1989 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
Last time we saw the duo, they were on Rime Isle with their current (and last?) lady loves and the men they now command. They had left their beloved and decadent capitol city of Lankhmar and traveled to Rime Isle when their help was requested by two “nubile” girls who asked them to come to Rime Isle to fight off the invading Sea Mingols. The boys and their crews were successful, but Fafhrd lost his left hand in the battle. During his convalescence, they just kind of stayed on and settled down with the two women they met there. Not only is this homey sedentary life surprising to F & GM, who are starting to feel a little restless and bound, but it’s very nearly scandalous! All of Lankhmar is talking about it:
“It is an old saw in the world of Nehwon that the fate of heroes who seek to retire, or of adventurers who decide to settle down, so cheating their audience of honest admirers — that the fate of such can be far more excruciatingly doleful than that of a Lankhmar princess royal shanghaied as a cabin girl aboard an Ilthmar trader embarked on the carkingly long voyage to tropic Klesh or frosty No-Ombrulsk. And let such heroes merely whisper a hint about a “last adventure” and their noisiest partisans and most ardent adherents alike will be demanding that it end at the very least in spectacular death and doom, endured while battling insurmountable odds and enjoying the enmity of the evilest arch-gods. So when those two humorous dark-side heroes the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd not only left Lankhmar City (where it’s said more than half the action of Nehwon world is) to serve the obscure freewomen Cif and Afreyt of lonely Rime Isle on the northern rim of things, but also protracted their stay there for two years and then three, wiseacres and trusty gossips alike began to say that the Twain were flirting with just such a fate.”
But it’s not just people who are scandalized; the gods are, too. All sorts of deities, including Loki and Odin (I don’t like the way Leiber tied Nehwon to our world that way), still have plans for the world’s greatest adventurers and F & GM’s retirement is not convenient for these selfish godlings. And so they send various trials and temptations that they hope will tear the guys away from their ladies. Thus, F & GM have to dodge beautiful (nubile) girls, assassins, stowaway princesses, and curses. They get tricked, captured, tied up, shaved, beribboned, and rescued. They even find out that they have children they didn’t know of.
It’s all quite fun for the first half of the book, but it starts to drag later as F & GM spend less time adventuring and more time reminiscing (again) about all the adventures they’ve had (even the “erotic” ones) and all the (nubile) girls they’ve known. One story (“The Mouser Goes Below”), in which Mouser gets buried under ice, goes on way too long and, regrettably, displays the kind of icky lechery I mentioned in my review of the previous collection, Swords and Ice Magic. It seems that the older Leiber got, the younger and more “nubile” became the girls in his stories. There are numerous mentions (mostly by Mouser) of budding breasts and girls playing erotically with each other while he watches. Just yuck. Despite this, Fafhrd is one of my favorite fantasy heroes. He’s a big barbarian with an open mind, an appreciation of beauty, a sense of wonder about the universe, a bent toward philosophy and a pretty way of saying things. We often see him wondering what’s over the horizon, across the sea, or up in the sky. He’s not formally educated, but he’s observant like a scientist. In one scene he’s on a ship and a companion mentions the stars disappearing in the daytime. But Fafhrd, who watches, knows the truth:
“The stars march west across the sky each night in the same formations which we recognize year after year, dozen years after dozen, and I would guess gross after gross. They do not skitter for the horizon when day breaks or seek out lairs and earth holes, but go on marching with the sun’s glare, hiding their lights under cover of day.”
As you can see, not only are Leiber’s stories usually fun, but they’re also a delight to the mind and ear.
“Legends travel on rainbow wings and sport gaudy colors… while truth plods on in sober garb.”
I listened to the audio version of all of the LANKHMAR stories. These were produced by Audible Studios and narrated by one of my favorite readers, Jonathan Davis. He is at his very best in these productions and I highly recommend them in audio format. They are simply excellent. Each audiobook is introduced by Neil Gaiman (who also narrates his introductions).