By Fritz Leiber
Here are three novelettes that tell of the origins of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, sword and sorcery’s most raffish and charming rogues who ever to cut a purse or battle a demon.
We meet Fafhrd as a callow youth, not yet quite a man among his tribe. But he has a very fine singing voice and girlfriend who has a little surprise for him. When a troupe of traveling performers show up, Fafhrd starts to take an interest in the outside world. “The Snow Women” is a witty tale of coming of age, in an age-old war of the sexes, with a little swordplay between men as well.
“The Unholy Grail” tells of how Mouse, the timid youth, became the Gray Mouser, swordsman, thief, and occasional sorcerer. It is a fine, dark tale of loss and revenge, a fitting companion to “The Snow Women” as a sword and sorcery coming-of-age story.
“Ill Met in Lankhmar” brings the two heroes together in the City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes. Leiber is at his best mixing comedy with tragedy as Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser initiate their long war with the Thieves Guild. While too many fantasy settings seem to be little more than routine backdrops, Leiber invested Lankhmar with a fantastic solidity, making its wonders and horrors seem very real.
There are only a few sword and sorcery series that reach this level of excellence. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are dashing scoundrels, outlandish and heroic, but with a human dimension too. Leiber’s great acheivement was to bring that into a genre dominated by supermen, and he brought it in with a song and a laugh!