Friday, May 29, 2009

Swords and Deviltry

This collection of stories introduces two of the most famous characters in fantasy literature: Faffhrd and the Gray Mouser. Fritz Leiber, who is said to have coined the term "sword and sorcery," wrote these stories back in the 1960s and 70s, and, according to the publisher, the game Dungeons and Dragons was inspired by them. Over the years I've read a story here and there, but I have always meant to go back and read them from the beginning. This book is a true introduction to the pair of scoundrels who figure prominently on so many action-packed stories, as the reader meets each of them individually, and then witnesses their very first meeting and the friendship that subsequently develops.

The first story is Faffhrd's. He lives in a city in the north, and he longs for adventure. In Faffhrd's world, the women are powerful witches, and their magic is cruel and cold, full of sharp spikes of ice. Faffhrd's infatuation with a beautiful actress leads him to hatch a plan to leave with her - but it appears he's not the only one with that intention, and soon Faffhrd is in the midst of more adventure than he could have imagined.

The second story is the Gray Mouser's. He is a wizard's apprentice, and as the tale opens we see him returning from a quest for his master, only to find that his master has been murdered in his absence. The duke's daughter, who was also being taught by the wizard (and in whom Mouser appears to have a romantic interest), was unwillingly involved, as her father coerced her into helping him overcome the wizard's magical defenses. The story tells of the Gray Mouser's attempt to avenge his master's death.

The final story tells how the two men meet, and recounts a rip-roaring, drunken adventure the two men have during the course of their first evening spent together, a tale that is alternately humorous and darkly disturbing.

It is always interesting to go back to see where characters who have become stock figures in literature (such as hard-boiled detectives) originally came from. I was surprised by the depth of characterization and the vivid world-building, and I was nearly bowled over by the eloquence of Leiber's prose. I did not always identify with the two men, whose actions and attitudes occasionally left me feeling less than sympathetic towards them. However, if I didn't always agree with what they did, they were a fascinating pair to travel along with. I did wonder why, as the Gray Mouser shows himself to be a powerful magic user in his first story, he did not use those powers at all in the third tale.

This audio version includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman, who is clearly a fan of our two heroes. Readers of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series might be interested to know that the characters of Bravd and the Weasel are based on Faffhrd and the Gray Mouser. I'm looking forward to continuing with the adventures of these two rogues, and luckily there are quite a few story collections left to go.

Books in the Faffhrd & the Gray Mouser collections:
1. Swords and Deviltry
2. Swords Against Death
3. Swords in the Mist
4. Swords Against Wizardry
5. The Swords of Lankhmar
(novel)
6. Swords and Ice Magic
7. The Knight and the Knave of Swords

Swords and Deviltry: narrated by Jonathan Davis and with an introduction by Neil Gaiman (#1 in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story collections) by Fritz Leiber (Audible Frontiers, 2008; originally published in 1970)

Also reviewed at:
Stainless Steel Droppings: "Was it as good as Robert E. Howard’s best Conan stories? Not quite, but it was a darn good tale nonetheless. Fafhrd is a brave and savage hero, the Gray Mouser a more civilized, suave hero. Together they make a very entertaining duo."

4 comments:

  1. I really want to read him! Unfortunately the library doesn't have anything by him. :( In the future, though, I am going to have to buy one of his books. It's shameful I haven't read him yet!

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  2. Kailana - I downloaded the audio version of this from audible.com, and it was a great listen. So that may be an option for you if you have trouble locating a copy.

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  3. I've been meaning to read these books, especially because both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have mentioned them a few times! I'm glad to hear you found this one worthwhile :)

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  4. Nymeth - Neil Gaiman actually reads his introduction on the audio book, and you can tell how much he likes the stories.

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