Lankhmar (1970 to 1977)

Man, these books. These are the original Ace paperback editions of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories (1970 to 1977), all but the last, because I just can’t stand the cover of that one. Jeffery Catherine Jones delivers atmospheric covers for the first five, then Michael Whelan is on the last on Swords and Ice Magic, putting up what was apparently the first book-accurate color portrait of the pair. All together, they have a gorgeous, mysterious look. I love them.

I’ve been slowly re-reading them. I thought I had read all of them but either my memory has gotten way faultier than I thought or I skipped around, because a lot of these feel fresh. Even old favorites, like “Ill-Met in Lankhmar” and “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” seemed far less dusty than I expected.

The more years that go by and the more I think about D&D and Appendix N and these stories, the more I kind of think Gygax’s reading list was a smoke screen put up to make it seem like D&D came out of a bunch of different sources. That is demonstrably true — I can see a little Moorcock, a little Zelazny and so on in the tapestry, sure. But Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are increasingly, to my eye, D&D before D&D. Its a couple key things, really. First, they are twain, and up to that point, and long after, honestly, most fantasy protagonists were lone wolves of one sort or another. These two blokes aren’t a party, but they are close. They banter. They grouse. Second, their fortunes rise and fall like the tide, and when the tide is low, they seek adventure, for how else will they pay their tavern tabs? This is at least two decades of the D&D experience in a nutshell.

They’re nearly all good (never read Adept’s Gambit though – trash). I tend to like the shorter adventures of the first three books best, but there are charms in the longer stories, particularly as they grow older and, mostly, none the wiser.

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