Monday, December 16, 2013

Swords & Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

My friend, Mynx, likes to assert that all "buddy" movies are exploring latent homosexual longings between male partners. As I began re-reading, after many years away, the tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, it came to me that I'd seen this pair of characters more recently, in Jennifer Roberson's tales of Tiger and Del, the Sword series, and I thought that perhaps Roberson had read Leiber's stories and wondered, "what if the Mouser was a woman, and from their first meeting there was always this sexual tension between them?"

In Swords & Deviltry, we get to follow the stories of the adventurous pair from their humble beginnings. Fafhrd comes from the frozen North, where the women weave icy enchantments around their husbands and sons to control them. But Fafhrd has always had an unfortunate fascination with "civilization" in the lands to the South, and when either opportunity presents itself in the form of a damsel, Vlana, in distress, or his "mommy issues" simply become too hard to bear, he breaks away from his roots and journeys to the city of Lankhmar to seek his fortune, and help his lady love to avenge her past there. Though Fafhrd is a callow youth, not at all respected by his barbarian kinsmen, he acquits himself well in a fight against older, stronger members while making his getaway, and uses those and other skills throughout the ongoing saga.

The Gray Mouser began as an apprentice to a hedge wizard, who tried to teach him the whiter magic of life and living things, but he had an unhealthy attraction to the dark side, which serves him well when the local Duke has his men kill the wizard and burn down his hut. The Duke's daughter, Ivrian, also liked to associate with the hedge wizard, and she and the Mouser may have had a bit of a romance budding before the tragedy, but Ivrian's unwitting betrayal of their master makes them enemies for a time, when the Duke's men capture and torture him, until the Mouser's dark magics help him kill the Duke and flee with her to Lankhmar. Where....he meets Fafhrd.

When the pair both target a particular set of thieves from the Thieves Guild for assault and robbery, they immediately recognize a kindred spirit, and set off to celebrate their good fortune together at the Mouser's lair which he has furnished in the heart of the slum to keep Ivrian in something loosely resembling the style to which she was once accustomed. The pair grow boisterously drunk together, and end up being dared by Vlana to invade the Thieves Guild hall and get vengeance on its master, Krovas. They succeed in making their way within, and get an audience with the head thief, but unbeknownst to them, the Guild's black wizard has already sent death stalking the streets to their hideaway, to steal back the jewels from their earlier heist.

I was surprised on re-reading the stories at just how "adult" they were. Many of the tales published in the fantasy genre were G-rated in order to get published. These must have danced around the censors' sensibilities to survive the cutting room floor. Unlike some other books I've revisited, these weather the test of time quite well, aside from a rather florid style that Leiber affects when telling the tall tales of high fantasy. Looking forward to grabbing their next adventure off of my shelves and visiting Lankhmar and points beyond with this inimitable duo.

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