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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser -- Publishing History

The publishing history of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories spans almost five decades, from "The Jewels in the Forest" (originally "Two Sought Adventure") first appearing in Unknown in 1939, to "The Mouser Goes Below", in 1988's The Knight and Knave of Swords. The stories, as originally written, fall into four periods:

  1. 1939-1953 stories, published in Unknown until it fell victim to WW II paper shortages.
  2. 1959-1965 The F&GM revival, published in Fantastic.
  3. 1968-1970 Stories written for the first five books.
  4. 1973-1988 The late stories, published in a variety of places, collected in the last two books.
More familiar is the division into seven books, organized "chronologically". (I'll be referring to these as "volumes I-VII" below, as their titles have, for me at least, almost no mnemonic value). Note that the publishing history of neither the stories nor the books is chronological. Volumes III-V were published in 1968, I and II in 1970, followed by VI and last VII.

I. Swords and Deviltry - 1970
This is a book of "origin" stories, with one story about each character before the two team up, followed by the story of that fateful encounter. This last, "Ill Met in Lankhmar", won both Hugo and Nebula and is simply breathtaking in its imaginative and emotional range. If you read only one F&GM story (actually, if you read only one Leiber story), this is the one. Of the three stories, one comes from period 2, which the others (including IMiL) are original.

II Swords Against Death - 1970
This is largely stories from period 1, plus the Lovecraftian "Bazaar of the Bizarre" from period 2, and two original stories. Most of these are set outside Lankhmar, whence F&GM have fled to escape some painful memories.

III Swords in the Mist - 1968
Three period 2 stories, plus two short original bridging pieces, leading up to the period 1 "Adept's Gambit", which sends F&GM back to ancient Earth. Almost all of the F&GM stories contain some humor, but "Lean Times in Lankhmar" is the funniest of the bunch, almost Wodehousian in its combination of verbal humor and clever plotting.

IV Swords Against Wizardry - 1968
Two long stories, "Stardock" and "The Lords of Quarmill", both from period 2, plus two more short original bridging pieces add up to a sort of episodic novel. TLoQ is actually the oldest F&GM story, as it was begun by Leiber's friend Harry Otto Fisher, and about 10,000 words of it are Fisher's. Stardock is a mountain-climbing story so vivid that if you don't like heights (I'm not crazy about them, myself), you'll find yourself uneasy and impatient for the top to be reached safely.

V The Swords of Lankhmar - 1968
A novel expanded from the period 2 "Scylla's Daughter". A twisty and exciting adventure, and the first story in which sex plays much of a part. It's handled fairly deftly here, though that will unfortunately not remain true.

This concludes the original five books, which I recommend unreservedly. They stories in them vary considerably in length, tone, setting, and mood, but all have one thing in common: their heroes are two adventurers who need only each other. They're quite happy to dally with the willing wenches they find along the way, but there's no thought of falling in love or (God forbid) settling down. This will change.

VI Swords and Ice Magic - 1977
Eight stories, all from period 4. The first six of these are made up of some combination of the following:
  • Some supernatural being is trying to harm F&GM.
  • They encounter a women or women from their past.
  • They encounter some supernatural temptress.
  • They have sex with whatever sort of female they encounter, often described quite misogynistically.
They're no longer the carefree adventurers of the past. At the start of the seventh story, "The Frost Monstreme", they're drinking gloomily and Fafhrd bemoans their never having grown up: never owned land, led men, or had homes or wives. And, in fact, the rest of the F&GM stories are about how they remedy that. They meet two lovely women, lead a group of warriors their to rescue the women's home of Rime Isle, and settle there with their men. The women become (though without benefit of clergy) their wives. In the eighth story they encounter Odin and Loki, who act much as they do in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Whether this story was an influence on AG I have no idea.

VII The Knight and Knave of Swords - 1988
More Rime Isle stories, which follow those from volume VI. F&GM become pillars of the community, saving it from various enemies. While they're not always strictly faithful to their wives, they always return to them. In the last and longest story "The Mouser Goes Below", each meets and acknowledges a child he's fathered with a past paramour, thus completing their "growing up". This story also contains some fairly graphic S&M, and should be skipped if that sort of thing disturbs you.

While it's admirable that Leiber tried to do something new with the characters, his execution was lacking and the last two books are really for completists.

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