Night’s Black Agents (1946)

Night’s Black Agents is Fritz Leiber’s first collection. Published in 1946 by Arkham House, it marks the first time that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories appeared in book form.

Leiber, for my money, is the best writer to come out of the Lovecraft circle. His writing is crisp and inventive, with Leiber able to slip effortlessly back and forth between genres. He infused his work with a sense of humor ranging from wry to bizarre to counter the often-heady concoctions of ideas and philosophy that swirl in the undercurrents of his stories.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are an odd couple, one brawny, one small, brought together by tragedy into a friendship of thievery and adventure. The two are bright, bawdy characters reveling in their contrast to the dark and unforgiving world around them. They are loud. They are boisterous. They fortunes constantly rise and fall. They insist that they are having a good time, despite the fact that they always teeter on the edge of a deep, dark ocean.

Where Vance’s Cugel the Clever is what many player characters wind up being, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are what most player characters strive to be, despite the unease of lurking in their inner lives.

While Conan got a couple modules, Leiber’s decadent city of Lankhmar wound up as its own campaign setting for D&D and, in many way, provided a blue print from which many if not all fantasy cities spring up. You can see Leiber’s influence everywhere from Waterdeep to Sigil.

After Leiber’s wife Jonquil died in 1969, the writer struggled of and on with alcohol and barbiturate abuse (I sometimes think the F&GM stories are an elaborate metaphor for the ups and downs of addiction) and, in the subsequent years, flirted with poverty (there is some debate over whether this was by choice or by necessity). In his final years, though, the royalty checks from TSR ensured he lived comfortably.

Of course, we’ll visit the D&D version of Lankhmar in due time…

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