Fritz Leiber – Swords in the mist

When one looks for classic Sword & Sorcery fantasy stories then Fritz Leiber is 0ne of the big names to look for. He wrote many short stories about his famed duo, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and would eventually bundle them together in an orderly way in several books. Swords In The Mist (1968) is the third volume of this collection. It contains 4 stories with a few interludes which were written for the collection volume to connect the stories together.

As I’ve already read some other volumes in the past I can say that these stories belong to the strangest Leiber has conceived. One will be used to some fantastical elements, but this time it is more extreme with the duo rather wandering about than really having a real goal. As such the stories are more entertaining for the weird stuff that is seen and happening than for the plot. Plot isn’t really Leiber’s strongpoint. The stories are adventures¬† and you never really know how they develop or turn out. As the stories are usually not that long, a real complex development is not there but strange twists are all too common. Half of the book is taken up by a single story, a novella thus. It takes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from their usual setting to a more magical Earth. Leiber structured the story in a strange way. While certain events are basically just summarized, a long narrative of a side characters goes into great detail without much purpose, while still leaving a lot a mystery. It also creates a certain amount of psychological development, showing that Leiber can do it, but as usual he does not do it as one would expect.

The two main characters hold their own and are certainly unique within the fantasy universe. Of course the combination has been copied in many variations, but they never have the peculiarities and odd habit of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Leiber’s prose is far from smooth. While not being a bad or boring, his use of language is sometimes one of a storyteller entertaining a group of listeners. Of course these stories were originally published in magazines and were thus written with a different intent than today’s large novel stories. Making yourself stand out with a more peculiar writing style was perhaps useful back then. I cannot really say.

What is most important about these story collections is that they show the reader what the original Sword & Sorcery stories within the Fantasy genre were all about and that the contemporary version are quite different. The weirdness of the fantasy stories belongs to a different class that cannot be found in recent Fantasy. Not that real weirdness does not exists nowadays, but it is of a new type and part of the evolution of the genre. The one of Leiber belongs to a time when everything was still very much in development and writers were just trying things out to get attention of an audience. Now that Fantasy has become quite mainstream that environment remains unique and very interesting to explore for any reader, even if it’s not that an easy read as one is used to these days.

One Response to “Fritz Leiber – Swords in the mist”

  1. Very persuasive piece of writing! What is even more intriguing is that you manage to persuade in an elegant manner, not intrusively. This is a skill, which needs ages until you can acquire it. Will definitely be back for more, and I must admit that I will try to use the same style for some of my writings too!

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