Back in the day when I’d spend my hard earned wages on Spheres Conan reprints there would be the occasional week when I was out of luck and had to choose something else to read. On one such week, we’d read a short story in class by Leiber that I’d enjoyed and so I picked up Swords and Deviltry expecting more of the same.
Instead, I got a collection of short stories that acted as an introduction to his characters Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. Well, that taught me to at least open a book before parting with my money. I read it though and enjoyed it well enough but it didn’t grab me enough to search out the rest of his work. Bear in mind that I can’t have been more than 14 at the time and just beginning to get into RPGs.
Coming back to the stories as a much older and I hope slightly more discerning reader I can see now what I missed then.
Rich language. Okay dialogue. Fantastic ideas. That’s how I’d sum up Leiber briefly. It’s a pleasure to read him as the words slide down but it does seem a tad dated now, not as much as Anderson, but certainly getting there. Compared to the last book I read, The Sign of the Labrys, it certainly seems to be stuck a little too far in the past.
He really knows how to tell a story. His descriptive powers are amazing and if you give them the time they need transfer you to the destination he intended. The imagery is clear and beautifully drawn, whether it’s the snow covered land you encounter in the first of the stories, the dungeons of the Duke in the second or the foully intoxicating city of Lankhmar in the last. It pulls you in and fills your mind and before too long you’re ignoring the tin-eared dialogue and revelling in the clarity of Leibers’ imagination. You feel what he wants you to feel because of the clarity of his prose, no word is wasted.
Unless it’s in the dialogue.
Right at the core of the stories is the heartbeat that I think drives these tales. It’s loyalty; to each other, to the women they love and the life they’ve chosen. It’s a concept that seems to have fallen out of favour in a lot of fiction recently and yet the best stories demand it. Without it, well I reckon the story has to fail. Without a sense of loyalty you can’t have heroes, a tad simplistic view I’ll grant you, but it’s one I’m happy with. I missed the loyalty aspect as a kid, but the older me, the one that’s a little more thoughtful and introspective latched onto it and embraced it.
That’s all for now, it’s Lil buddies bathtime and I’ve got to wash her hair. The Snow womens’ snowballs have nothing on the toys she’s going to be throwing at me when she realises that.
Thanks for reading guys