So, during those final days of editing and fine tuning and formatting on A WILDERNESS OF DRAGONS, I needed something completely different to read just to give my mind a rest (otherwise I proofread in my sleep, hour and hour, all night long). And I picked Fritz Leiber, author of the best sword and sorcery fiction ever, and read several books of his that've been on my shelves without getting read till now (as well as rereading a few to reconsider my original responses to them). I find I much prefer him as an author of fantasy than horror or science fiction, and accordingly got rid of some in the end while restoring the rest to a place of pride.
One thing that struck me came in a passage I'd read a number of times before but somehow missed the essential point of. In NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, his first book (Arkham House 1947) Leiber devotes his Foreword to an account of the creation of the characters Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in a pre-1936 letter by his friend Harry Fischer. He mentions how
"More than ten years ago I opened a letter from
Harry Fischer, wondering what strange conceit
was now in store. The Elder Gods had been pretty
well worked through.* Even the overweening
Wischmeiers, destined to be immortalized by a
more trenchant pen,** were temporarily exhausted.
"Sandwiched in the many pages of text,
I came across the following fragment:
"For all do fear the one known as the Gray Mouser . . .
[description of G.M. follows]
"Until one [foggy] night . . . --for the walled city of
the Tuatha De Danaan called Lankhmar was built
on the edge of the Great Salt Marsh-- there strode
into the group of lounging bravos a pair of monstrous
men . . . [description of Fafhrd follows]
"Anyhow, they met, and the saga of how the Gray Mouser
and Fafhrd of the Blue Eyes came to the innermost vaults
of the City of the Forbidden God and there met death in
the moment of victory in no common fashion, was begun.
"My imagination was enthralled and I responded with a
fragment hinting at some further exploits of the two strange
ruffians . . . Episodes took form, such as Conquest Among
the Baldest Rats, The Seventh Eye of Ningauble, The
Adventure of the Grain Ships . . . Eventually a very few
of these got actually completed and found their way into print . . .
"But the saga continues and the innermost vaults of
the City of the Forbidden Gods still seem far away."
So, for one thing I failed to note the interesting detail about Lankhmar being a city of the Tuatha de Danaan --whose legends do indeed mention four exotic cities that had been the Tuatha de's homes before they came to Ireland (albeit that 'Lankhmar' is not given as the name of one). It might be worthwhile to see if this is just a casual association or if the old Irish myths have other deeper connections with Leiber's cycle.
For another I missed the fascinating fact that the first mention of the two heroes is in a story intended to end with their deaths. In short, a story very like several of Dunsany's thieves' tales or, more specifically, Clark Ashton Smith's THE TALE OF SATAMPRA ZEIROS. And yet so far as I can tell Leiber never returned to or finished that first story, which was to have begun and ended the whole sequence.
***I know that 'Grain Ships' supposedly eventually turned into the novel SWORDS OF LANKHMAR, fifth book in the compiled Ace Books series, but don't know if the Ningauble story ever got published