Sunday, July 6, 2008

You got your sword in my sorcery - Lankhmar: Tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

In my continuing quest to read up on classic fantasy I ran into the works of Fritz Leiber. Turns out he is considered one of the great sword and sorcery writers of 50's and 60's. Like most writers of his time, Leiber's work appeared in fantasy and pulp magazines. Luckily for modern readers his stories have been collected in complete volumes and even arranged in chronological order.

I always approach writers from this time period with a little trepidation. I'm always afraid I'll find the style off-putting or uninteresting. Well, I didn't need to worry. Leiber tosses the reader right into his world and makes it click. The book I read was an older collection with a total of six stories (more resent collections contain four stories in the first book). The first story is really a short poem that teases the reader a bit. The second story "Snow Women", introduces the reader to the character Fafhrd, the world of Newhon, and a solid adventure all in one go.

In a way this world seems like a precursor to the world that was created for "Dungeons & Dragons" or "Forgotten Realms". It's filled with magic, ruins and dangers aplenty. Our heroes are really adventurers and soldiers of fortune. They don't want to save the world, they are only looking out for themselves and having a good time - with a little danger on the side. They battle sorcerers, meet lovely women, find themselves in mortal peril and get a taste of triumph and tragedy.

Of the stories I enjoyed the longer ones the most. "Ill Met in Lankmar" details an encounter between Fafhrd, the northern barbarian and Gray Mouser, a thief with a strange past. The story starts with a ambush on a group of thieves and ends up with our protagonists invading the Thieves Guild and getting in over their heads. I also enjoyed "The Jewels in the Forest". The task is as simple as the title, just enter some ruins and obtain the treasure. Of course it's not that easy and there is a deadly surprise for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser when they finally make it into the cursed ruins.

This book was a quick read and lots of fun. From a writers point of view, it was interesting to see how Leiber set up his characters, reintroduced them in each story (this was published in magazines after all) and avoided boring exposition. These are lean and mean tales, crafted to deliver a taste of a new and dangerous world to the reader.

I started my quest looking for the works of Robert E. Howard, but was happy to run into Leiber instead. I'm interested enough to try and find more of his stories and see just where he took his characters.

Have you ever ready Leibers work? What did you think of it? Are there any other Sword and Sorcery tales or writers you'd recommend? Is there any modern writers still working in this style or genre?

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