Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Doom That Came to Lanhkmar

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.

--John R.

***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


grodog said...

Very interesting! I'll have to see if there's any further detail in the new Centipede Press edition of Swords & Deviltry (which arrived a couple of weekends ago, but I haven't examined it in earnest yet).


Paul W said...

This is why I keep coming back to this blog. I thought I knew pretty much all their was to know about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and now this... I never imagined a Tuatha de Dannaan connection.

Magister said...

There may be a very oblique reference to the Ningauble story in one of the published stories, in which it is mentioned in passing that the Gray Mouser has a strong suspicion that Ningauble's seventh eye is a fake, but I have never heard of this story until now, so I don't think it was ever finished.

ATMachine said...

If Wikipedia is to be trusted: "In 2009, Benjamin Szumskyj's Strange Wonders included the first few chapters of "The Tale of the Grain Ships", written in the 1930s. This unfinished fragment depicts the Gray Mouser in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius."

Which suggests that this story underwent some notable revision to put it firmly in Lankhmar rather than the "real world". An interesting glimpse of how un-finalized the setting was at that point.

John D. Rateliff said...

Thanks all for the comments.

Allan: I'd be interested in anything you notice along these lines

Paul: thanks for the nice comment. I wanted to share the post because it was equally surprising to me, and hence worth calling out.
I've been wondering myself if Fafhrd's eventual fate may harken back to some identification with Nuada of the Silver Hand, but this may just be because my head's been so full of Nodens/Nuada/Nudd this past year.

Magister: that does sound familiar; it's something I'll look for during some future re-reading of the stories.

--John R., now back from Arkansas and back at my desk while gearing up for the next thing.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi A.T.M.
I didn't know about this one at all. Thanks for sharing.
The publication a few years ago in a standalone little book of an early draft of ADEPT'S GAMBIT, plus Lovecraft's pedantic comments thereon, made it pretty clear Leiber had intended the next F&GM story to set place in Rome. Lovecraft sent him a list of fifty-odd books he'd need to read before he cd write anything set in that historical period. Which seems to have pretty much squashed Leiber's enthusiasm for the project, later to be revived set in his own fantasy world.

There is at least one more significant surviving relic from those early Leiber/Fischer days: THE LORDS OF QUARMALL, published in F&GM Book IV (SWORDS AGAINST WIZARDRY/Ace Bks 1968), of which Leiber says in his dedication that Fischer "wrote ten thousand of these words, here unchanged, about that subterranean kingdom"

--John R.