Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For re-reading of Nehwon

I always think of the Nehwon stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as coming from a much later fantasy tradition than the sword-and-sorcery of the 1930s pulps, since Fritz Leiber continued writing these stories through the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s. Several of the anthologies were published in 1968 (Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, and The Swords of Lankhmar) and 1970 (Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death). Leiber created Fafhrd following the excesses of the rather inhuman Conan; Fafhrd may be a northern barbarian, but he is usually the more cautious and circumspect of the pair, with an uncanny singing voice.

My first reading of these stories was in the order that the anthologies have come to be arranged in: first, Swords and Deviltry (Vol. 1); then Swords against Death (Vol. 2); Swords in the Mist (Vol. 3); Swords Against Wizardry (Vol. 4); The Swords of Lankhmar (Vol. 5); Swords and Ice Magic (Vol. 6); and The Knight and Knave of Swords (Vol. 7). But this seems a faulty way to read them; it implies that the stories present a sustained fantasy narrative, when they rather are very episodic and diverse in tone and style.

I've been considering rereading these stories in order of original publication, skipping from book to book to learn of the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as they were revealed, in order to break up the illusory suggestion of a narrative flow. In a way, this approach also shows how old many of these stories are. For rough comparison, Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936; H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Clark Ashton Smith turned toward sculpture around 1935. Leiber and Harry Otto Fischer began constructing the world of Nehwon around 1937, and Leiber published the first Fafhrd/Mouser story in 1939.

So here follows a listing of the anthologized stories in order of original publication. It's not a bibliography exactly, but more like a cheatsheet for ordering the 36 stories in the anthologies. For example, "Scylla's Daughter", originally published in 1961, later became the first part of The Swords of Lankhmar. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the ISFDB Wiki, Galactic Central's magazine list of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Wikipedia were useful references.
  • "The Jewels in the Forest" aka "Two Sought Adventure" (August 1939), Swords Against Death
  • "The Bleak Shore" (November 1940), Swords Against Death
  • "The Howling Tower" (June 1941), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sunken Land" (February 1942), Swords Against Death
  • "Thieves' House" (February 1943), Swords Against Death
  • "Adept's Gambit" (1947), Swords in the Mist
  • "Claws from the Night" aka "Dark Vengeance" (Fall 1951), Swords Against Death
  • "The Seven Black Priests" (May 1953), Swords Against Death
  • "Induction" (1957), Swords and Deviltry
  • "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (November 1959), Swords in the Mist
  • "When the Sea-King's Away" (May 1960), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Unholy Grail" (October 1962), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Cloud of Hate" (May 1963), Swords in the Mist
  • "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (August 1963), Swords Against Death
  • "The Lords of Quarmall" (January and February 1964), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Stardock" (September 1965), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" (August 1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • "Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "The Wrong Branch" (1968), Swords in the Mist
  • "In the Witch's Tent" (1968), Swords Against Wizardry
  • The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)
  • "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (March 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Snow Women" (April 1970), Swords and Deviltry
  • "The Circle Curse" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Price of Pain-Ease" (1970), Swords Against Death
  • "The Sadness of the Executioner" (April 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Shadowland" (November 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Bait" (December 1973), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Beauty and the Beasts" (January 1974), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Under the Thumbs of the Gods" (April 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Trapped in the Sea of Stars" (September 1975), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "The Frost Monstreme" (August 1976), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Rime Isle" (May and July 1977), Swords and Ice Magic
  • "Sea Magic" (December 1977), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mer She" (December 1978), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars" (March 1983), The Knight and Knave of Swords
  • "The Mouser Goes Below" (1988), The Knight and Knave of Swords
It was in issue 11 of "The Dragon" that "Sea Magic" appeared, a year after TSR published a Lankhmar board game. TSR included the Nehwon pantheon in 1980's Deities & Demigods and a Lankhmar campaign setting book for AD&D in 1985.

It's a pity, as well, that my cheap ibooks paperback editions from 2003 are already turning yellow and brittle with age. Hopefully the Dark Horse editions will be more durable.

Further comparison: The Fellowship of the Ring was first published in 1954, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950.


  1. While "Adept's Gambit" wasn't published until 1947, it was actually the first story written, in 1935. Lovecraft read it and commented on it, then Leiber decided to place Fafhrd and the Mouser in their own fictional world, and "Adept's Gambit," set as it was in our own world, didn't really "fit" once he started selling other tales of the Twain. The argument can be made, then, that if you want to truly follow Leiber's development, you should start with "Adept," and then move into the other stories in their publication order.

    You do run into the oddity of "Lords of Quarmall," which Otto Henry Fischer began writing in the late-1930s, but it wasn't published until Leiber finished it almost thirty years later.

  2. Thanks! That's a good idea. I might ought re-read that story, and then start again roughly in the order here.

    There's necessarily a lot of somewhat arbitrary choices in this; in gathering this list together, I was thinking more about re-reading them in the order that they became known to the reading public as much as the order that they developed in Lieber's writing.