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Common reads > The Swords of Lankhmar

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message 1: by Werner (new)

Werner I thought I'd go ahead and get the discussion thread going for this book, now that people have started to read it. Today, I discovered that I've read a large part of it already --Chapters II-VI were originally published as the novella Scylla's Daughter in 1961, and are included under that title by Gardner Dozois in his excellent anthology Modern Classics of Fantasy. Oh well, I can't remember a lot of the details, anyway; so I'm having fun re-reading it!

message 2: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
I'm 3/4 of the way through it. Might finish it at lunch today. The old paperback I have is on it's next to the last read, though. I think it was published in the late 60's & the first 1/8 of the book is almost ready to fall off.

message 3: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
I did finish it. Lots of fun. While I really like Howard & Wagner, this is a lighter, more fun read. How those two get into trouble for money & especially a bit of sex, is just too funny.

message 4: by Werner (new)

Werner In Leiber's own foreword to the book, he says that in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, he wanted to create heroes who were "closer to true human stature" than figures like Howard's Conan. And he also mentions his penchant for "black humor" or "gallows humor." (In another book I'm reading now, The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett displays a similar brand of humor, and his Ankh-Morpork has a lot in common with Lankhmar; I suspect that Leiber's work influenced him.)

Having recently read Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, I find it noteworthy that there's a ship's sinking in that book under circumstances very like the sinking of the Clam here: a cargo of grain, grotesquely swollen by absorbing the water coming in from subsurface leaks, literally bursting the vessel's wooden hull. It's interesting to wonder whether Leiber got that idea from the earlier book.

message 5: by Werner (new)

Werner As further evidence of Leiber's influence on Pratchett, the rulers of principalities on the latter's Discworld communicate with each other by means of letters sent by albatross (using the birds in the manner of carrier pigeons), a very novel and unusual mode of communication. Until today, I'd forgotten that rulers on Leiber's Nehwon utilize these birds in exactly the same way! (Coincidence? I think not. :-))

message 6: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
Leiber certainly had an active imagination. The whole world is pretty wild. I love the notion of the Sinking Land & the ghouls.

message 7: by Tim (new)

Tim Byrd (timbyrd) | 48 comments Jim wrote: "Leiber certainly had an active imagination. The whole world is pretty wild. I love the notion of the Sinking Land & the ghouls. "

Yes, he was incredibly inventive. I got a kick out of the closet trees in chapter 8. There've been a few times in my own life that having such flora about would have been handy.


message 8: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
I know what you mean, Ted. We had a planting of cedars across the pond from the house that reminded me of the closet trees. Grassy in between, but the needles from the cedars were very annoying. They were fine for a while - generally just until things got real interesting, then they became too much. Frustrating.

message 9: by Werner (last edited Mar 24, 2009 11:05AM) (new)

Werner Though I haven't read the whole book yet, I'd already say that Leiber, viewed strictly as a prose stylist, was every bit the equal of Lovecraft, Howard, and Moore. His wide vocabulary and rich, detail-laden descriptions and narration that appeal to the senses and the emotions make his work a masterpiece of the Romantic style, and a treat to read!

Leiber's Mingols, of course, are modeled on our world's real-life Mongols: warlike nomads of the steppes, aggressive and not noted for gentleness; and he kept the Asiatic features of the originals. I'm sure he's been accused of racism on this grounds --but from what I've read so far, I don't think his portrayal is racist. Mongol culture (and sociological culture and physical race are different concepts, though popular attitudes conflate the two) actually did have the features he depicts; he doesn't suggest that these were somehow racially- derived, or even that they're somehow "inferior" to those of other peoples in our world, or in Nehwon (I even felt that Fafhrd rather admires, or at least respects, the Mingols' toughness).

message 10: by Tim (last edited Mar 28, 2009 05:12AM) (new)

Tim Byrd (timbyrd) | 48 comments You know, it of course registers in my mind when I'm reading that Mingols are derived from Mongols, but I never had the thought that there was anything negative about it, or that it might be offensive to some. I think you're right that Leiber doesn't portray them in a bad light; they're just another group fighting for their piece of a turbulent world.

Also, there's a true sense of the libertine in these tales (Liebertine? I like it) that fends off the notion that Leiber, or Fafhrd and The Mouser, are the slightest bit prejudiced in their dealings with people. The Mouser not only gets randy with Hisvet, who in spite of her rodenty background is still quite a hotty, but he fantasizes about having an affair with a straight on rat. And Fafhrd falls for a skeletally-aspected ghoul.

That's tolerance.


message 11: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
Yes, they were quite ammoral & horny for heroes, which I appreciate. I've never liked heroes who are supposed to be theives or assassins & yet have so many sterling, 'civilized' qualities. These two are more realistic characterizations. I really like that.

message 12: by Werner (new)

Werner Leiber himself says about his heroes' moral aspects (in his preface): "While the characters they most parallel in The Worm Ouroboros are Corund and Gro, yet I don't think they're touched with evil as those two, rather they're rogues in a decadent world where you have to be a rogue to survive; perhaps, in legendry, Robin Hood comes closest to them, though they're certainly a pair of lone-wolf Robin Hoods..." Clearly, they aren't choir boys; they don't hide their faults, and they're usually quite ready for brawling, fornicating, and robbing from the rich to give to themselves. On the other hand, they're brave, and commendably loyal to each other. Fafhrd is kind to a kitten, doesn't hesitate to take on three Mingols in order to save two girls he's never seen before from being raped, and (after his initial angers subsides) is willing to forgive Hrenlet for robbing him; while the Mouser regards Reetha as "something more than an animated serving- tray," and doesn't think twice about rescuing her from being whipped, at considerable risk to himself.

message 13: by Steven (new)

Steven Harbin (stevenharbin) | 86 comments Mod
I enjoyed re-reading this book much more than I thought I would. In his preface to the collection "Return to Lankhmar" which opens with "Swords" Neil Gaiman mentions that some books one loved in one's youth age well and some don't, and I think most readers would agree with him on that. I'm finding that Leiber is actually more enjoyable for me as I plug in some adult viewpoints that were understandably missing when I first read the book (circa 1969-70).
For one thing knowing that the book is really 3 different parts, due to the fact that it's an extension of the "Scylla's Daughter" story, as Werner mentions in an earlier post. When I first read the book I wasn't really aware of that and it seemed that it didn't flow for me. I remember that I thought the opening chapter was the funniest thing I had ever read at the time in a fantasy book (ok, I was only 14 at the time and kind of sheltered) and I kept forcing my best high school friend (who was not a fantasy or sword and sorcery fan, but was a loyal buddy) to listen to me read it aloud.
As Jim mentions, the lengths these two go to for sex and money, and the mishaps that thereby occur are much funnier now that I'm older. Fafhrd was my favorite character of the two for a long time and I still think him (slightly) more admirable, but I've know some Gray Mouser types in my life who were smart and conniving, but never QUITE as smart as they thought they were. The humanity and realistic humor Leiber generated in these two protagonists will keep them alive for a long time in literary circles I think.
Knowing that Leiber was influenced by E. R. Eddison and James Branch Cabell makes me want to go back and read some of their fantasies...

message 14: by Jim, Co-moderator (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 234 comments Mod
Steven, we had very similar reading experiences, I think. I also first read the book when young & got a lot more out of it now. I hadn't realized how much my adult life experience added to my enjoyment until you pointed it out. I've been a bit of both heroes (never so heroically, of course) in my life & known others now. I do recall thinking of old friends & situations a couple of times as I read the story. Ah, what the young & stupid won't do for love & money! Leiber captures it so well & with such humor, I almost don't want to kick myself any more!

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