Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are classics, but they're also out of print and out of fashion. I'd never read them, but recently I decided it was time to get my hands on the first book and try it.

Swords & Deviltry is really a collection of shorts: one novella about Fafhrd's origins, a short story about the Gray Mouser's origins, and a short story about how the two characters met. Because I knew that Terry Pratchett's earliest Discworld books are partly inspired by the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (I kept recognizing bits of Lankhmar as having been appropriated into Ankh-Morpork, and every time it delighted me), I expected Swords & Deviltry to be light and fun. It is fun, but it's surprisingly dark too.

Most of the darkness is internal--subtle, even, which is surprising in a book that uses the word 'thews'*. Swords & Deviltry is a sort of parody of crappy swords & sorcery books of the 1960s, sort of a "stand back, this is how swords & sorcery should be." The characterizations are deft, the stories clever and interesting.

I can see why the books are neglected now, though. The trappings of oldschool swords & sorcery--the purposely archaic language in particular--are long out of style. Like me recognizing Ankh-Morpork in Lankhmar and not the other way round, most readers today just don't have the reading background to catch Leiber's sly nods to swords & sorcery tropes.

But I enjoyed the book a lot. I'm also really glad I had the foresight to toss the second book in the series into my cart when I ordered the first one.

*Actually, I don't think the word 'thews' is actually in this book, but it would have fit in perfectly well.

[Additional note: my 1970 paperback edition of the book spells Leiber's name "Lieber" on the cover. Apparently it's spelled Leiber. I think I'd be a bit pissed if someone spelled my name wrong on the cover of my own book.]

B&N link


Lertulo said...

You know, I've got this one somewhere on my book shelf; I enjoyed it immensely some ten years ago, and should find it and re-read it. Thanks for the reminder!

PS: I've got a dozen Conan books here too, and they *do* use "thews". So there. :)

K.C. Shaw said...

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking, "Lertulo would eat this book UP." I'm glad to know I'm right. :)