Year of the Fantasy Classic

What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Knight and Knave of Swords

The seventh and final volume in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, containing stories from the late seventies and eighties. This one was a bit different than the previous for me, insofar as it is the only volume I had never read before, as it had not been released (or indeed, written) yet the last time I read through the series. Knight and Knave of Swords is generally considered the series’ low point, and with very good reason – while Swords and Ice Magic was rather mediocre, this one is outright bad, and if it wasn’t for my stubbornly insisting on reading the series in its entirety I probably would not have finished it.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Swords and Ice Magic

My Fafhrd and Grey Mouser read-through is nearing its end – Swords and Ice Magic is the sixth and penultimate volume and differs from the previous ones in having been first published after a seven year hiatus and collecting stories written in the seventies. It is generally considered to mark a decline in quality for the series, and indeed the volume is not off to a good start.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – The Swords of Lankhmar

The Swords of Lankhmar, fifth volume in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, stands out among the others by being the only novel in the series. It has often been remarked upon that this form is not really suited to the tales Leiber tries to tell, and I am finding myself in agreement with this. Not that The Swords of Lankhmar wasn’t a fun to read, but it does drag a bit in places, in particular during the sea voyage described in its first part which is almost a standalone tale.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Swords Against Wizardry

Swords and Wizardry is the fourth volume in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, which means that I’m past the halfway point in my re-reading now. It contains only four stories, two long novellas and two short tales serving as introductions to them. It maybe deserves some notice that the first story, “In the Witch’s Tent” was written especially for this volume, thus presumably being one of the bridge vignettes like those encountered in previous volumes which were intended to provide a consistent chronology for all the story. What is interesting about this particular one is that it does not even attempt to do any bridging, even fails to make any mention at all of Fafhrd’s and the Gray Mouser’s excursion into our world in “Adept’s Gambit” from Swords in the Mist. I can only assume that Leiber himself was embarrassed by this whole world-and-dimension-switching mess and chose to just conveniently forget all about it.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Swords in the Mist

The next stop in my project of re-reading the whole of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books is Swords in the Mist, the third volume, which contains one lengthy early novella, three mid-period stories from the fifties and sixties, and two bridge vignettes Leiber wrote for this volume to bring his stories into some kind of continuity.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Swords Against Death

This is the second volume in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books, and I would say that the series really hits its stride here… except that the stories this volume collects are some of the earliest he ever wrote for this setting (in fact, it contains the very first of them, “The Jewels in the Forest”, first published in 1939) and thus precede everything collected in the first volume.


What I’m Reading: Fritz Leiber – Swords and Deviltry

Swords and Deviltry is the first volume of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, a series that in its own way has probably been every bit as influential as The Lord of the Rings. With the difference, though, that this influence was not primarily literary – while Tolkien’s magnum opus spawned countless High Fantasy novels that imitated or emulated it, reworked it or pitted themselves against it, Low Fantasy authors looking for literary inspiration for the most part turned towards Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories as their model. But what Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, their world of Nehwon and particularly its largest city Lankhmar were a huge influence on, is fantasy roleplay gaming, in particular Dungeons & Dragons (and everything in turn influenced by D&D, like a large part of Fantasy movies – leading to the slightly bizarre situation that the Conan movies owe at least as much, if not more, to Leiber as to Howard).


What I’m Reading: Clark Ashton Smith – The Return of the Sorcerer

Like C.L. Moore, whose Jirel of Jory stories I read recently, Clark Ashton Smith was a pulp author writing during roughly the first half of the twentieth century; in fact, he was, besides Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, one of the mainstays of Weird Tales. He is markedly lesser known and (supposedly) read than the others today, but not necessarily a worse writer for that; in many aspects I would even consider him the most interesting of the three.


What I’m Reading: C. L. Moore – Black God’s Kiss

This volume from Paizo’s Planet Library (which is a great and praiseworthy undertaking, although I’ll have to frown at the very sloppy copy editing for this volume which is full of typos) collects all of C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories. It fulfills all the usual conditions for a true classic: It is old (all the stories in here were published in the period from 1934 to 1939), it was innovative back in its day (presenting the first ever female Sword & Sorcery protagonist, and – although that was not common knowledge at the time – written by a woman, too), and it had a significant impact on what came afterwards (it was a huge influence on female fantasy authors in the 70’s and 80’s, like C.J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee etc.). The stories are also very good and remain compelling and readable to this day.


What I’ll Be Reading: Year of the Fantasy Classic

In a week, this blog will have its fourth birthday, and in all that time I have only once taken part in a challenge, and that was in December 2008… so with the blog being revived and all, I guess it’s time I tried my hand at another one. Obviously, it would have to be something book-related this time round, and after a bit poking around on some of my favourite blogs and some ruminating I’ve decided to accept the Year of the Fantasy Classic Reading Challenge hosted by  Lurv a la Mode.

YA Challenge
Books I plan on reading:
  • Fritz Leiber: Fafhrd & Grey Mouser (post on vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3vol. 4, vol. 5, vol. 6, vol. 7)
  • Michael Moorcock: Elric
  • C.L. Moore: Black God’s Kiss (post)
  • Clark Ashton Smith: The Return of the Sorcerer (post)
  • Charles Saunders: Imaro
  • Emma Bull: War for the Oaks
  • Peter S. Beagle: A Fine and Private Place (or some other novel of his)
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: Tigana
  • Patricia McKillip: Some novel (as pretty much everything by her is a classic)
  • Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

That’s rather a lot (in particular if you consider that both the Leiber and the Moorcock are multi-volume series), but I’ll just get as far as I’ll get, or maybe read some more, or maybe some different ones… it’s supposed to be fun after all.

ETA 31st of December 2012:
Looking back, I have written nine posts for this challenge, but only managed to cover three of the classics I listed at the start – guess that means that I’ve both succeeded in and failed the challenge. 😛 Next time I’m doing this something like this, I’m either going to stay away from series or just select a representative volume instead of going for the whole thing.
And last but very much not least, a big thank you to KMont for hosting this! It has been a lot of fun, I enjoyed both reading (or actually re-reading for the most part) the books and writing about them. I might even do another challenge some time!