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THE DEEP ONES: "Lean Times in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber

The Weird Tradition

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Dec 2, 2018, 11:35am Top

I just finished reading Swords against Wizardry (as part one of Swords' Masters. It will be good timing for me to go back and revisit my favorite F & GM story.

Dec 2, 2018, 12:25pm Top

The Baen link up top isn't easy to read, but it's the only online version I could locate.

Dec 2, 2018, 8:37pm Top

>3 KentonSem:

Thanks for that, it pains me that my Fafhrd & Mouser books remain in storage. "Lean Times" is one of the great ones.

Dec 4, 2018, 8:44am Top

I recently adopted a set of the Ace paperback "Swords" series that has been in our family for decades, so I'm having a bit of a time-travel blast reading from a well-worn copy of Swords in the Mist.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 12:25pm Top

I was recently asked if Michael Moorcock's Elric books are worth reading. I replied that as far as heroic fantasy goes, they're right up there with Leiber's Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser tales as being as good as it gets. This story is a stellar example. The verbal interplay between the viking and the thief is a joy to read. I was grinning throughout. I also really like the strong delineation between "the gods of Lankhmar and the gods in Lankmahr", along with the delightfully cynical take on the competing religious sects.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 10:19am Top

Leiber sets up the whole story as a parable about the dialectic between material and spiritual security, with the fattening Mouser as the material and lean Fafhrd as the spiritual. The parallels and contrasts extend to Pulg, who acquires spiritual conviction, and Bwadres, whose cult becomes materially prosperous.

I like to imagine that in the end, the Gods of Lankhmar extinguished Issekianity, but that they took Bwadres and Pulg into their own cryptic number, as ones who had earned the black toga.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 10:46am Top

Tucking the cask under his left arm—for many drunkards have a curious prudent habit of absentmindedly hanging onto things, especially if they may contain liquor—Fafhrd set out again after the Mouser...

Endearing in a Viking adventurer, perhaps, but also one of several observations regarding alcohol consumption that no doubt came from Leiber's own unfortunate experience. I appreciate it when he adds these traits to his characters, as I imagine it was part of how he was trying to come to grips with the situation in his own life.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 3:12pm Top

Ah, yes. I hadn't thought about the autobiographical element of Fafhrd's vulnerability to drink, but of course I know it as part of the background to Our Lady of Darkness.

The Second Coming of Issek is such a marvelous scene for its Rashomon-style piquancy. Fafhrd's later insistence that he did attain apotheosis is just another layer on the cake.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 11:16am Top

>7 paradoxosalpha:

I like to imagine that in the end, the Gods of Lankhmar extinguished Issekianity, but that they took Bwadres and Pulg into their own cryptic number, as ones who had earned the black toga.

Could be! And this was a nice little touch of the weird, providing as it does an excellent example of why certain gods of Lankhmar need to be respected as much as they are not to be named:

About midnight awful screams and piteous howlings were heard throughout the city, along with the rending of thick doors and the breaking of heavy masonry—preceded and followed, some tremulously maintained, by the clicking tread of bones on the march. One youth who peered out through an attic window lived long enough before he expired in gibbering madness to report that he had seen striding through the streets a multitude of black-togaed figures, sooty of hand, foot and feature and skeletally lean.

And, yes, Fafhrd's little revelation at the end provides the perfect finish.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 2:51pm Top

I'm only about a third of the way through my re-read, but I marvel anew at how well the story is structured. >7 paradoxosalpha: noted the thematic parallels in both Fafhrd & Mouser and Pulg & Bwadres. (Those escaped me, by the way, and yet so central to the story now that I see it.) The setup extends both to the in Lankhmar & of Lankhmar deities, and the general activity on the Street of the Gods and the Marsh Gate. This premise admirably sets up a confrontation between our heroes, while realistically capturing the dynamics of cynicism and principle in such activities. It seems inevitable in retrospect: what else would Leiber do, if he wants to tell a Fafhrd & Mouser story?! But it's set up so well and so believably, it's almost as if the heroes re-encounter one another magically.

And all the while, told in such droll prose!

Dec 5, 2018, 3:08pm Top

>10 KentonSem:

Another hint of Weird came early from the mouth of a pontificating Pulg:
"Makes me wonder, sometimes. You and I, son, know that these"—He waved again at the case {of religious curios}—"are toys. But the feelings that men have toward them. . .they're real, eh?—and they can be strange. Easy to understand part of those feelings—brats shivering at bogies, fools gawking at a show and hoping for blood or a bit of undressing—but there's another part that's strange. The priests bray nonsense, the people groan and pray, and then something comes into existence. I don't know what that something is—I wish I did, I think—but it's strange."

Can be read as foreshadowing, actually, another masterful touch by Leiber.

Edited: Dec 6, 2018, 12:41am Top

This was only the second F&GM story I've read, the first being "Unholy Grail" which we also did here. I was surprised at the difference in tone, or perhaps rather narratorial style: that one was told, as I recall it, essentially in a straight 3rd person omniscient, whereas here the narrator, while never directly stepping into the story, has a very distinct sardonic perspective on what's going on, and at least feigns limited information. I think I liked this style better.

I did get the impression this is a story best read after one is reasonably familiar with our protagonists (Fafhrd barely figures in "Unholy Grail", so was essentially a new acquaintance for me, while the Mouser we encounter here seems to've undergone some character development), so maybe I didn't appreciate it as much as I might under other circumstances, but I certainly appreciated it.

As a general thing, I think it's preferable to read series in publication order rather than in order of internal chronology where they differ, but the usual "Swords" books seem to present F&GM in the latter. Does someone happen to know of a list of the stories in publication order?

(Not that I'm terribly likely to go on a F&GM binge anytime soon: too many unread books already! But such a list might be useful for the future.)

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 6:19pm Top

>13 AndreasJ: Does someone happen to know of a list of the stories in publication order?

When I recently re-read (most of) the F&GM saga, I hunted down the particulars. You can find them in my separate reviews of the various "Swords" paperbacks. (So, not a single list, but a list in each review for that book.) As I recall, I got a lot of help from Wikipedia so you might find it easier to simply look there -- though I did compare to the information provided in the paperbacks themselves, there were some complicated situations that simple publication dates didn't fully answer.

I usually follow your lead on reading in publication order, but this is an exception for me. Partly that's because I came to the stories after Leiber already re-ordered them (those "Swords" paperbacks again). Partly it's because I wasn't around reading the pulps! And partly, because Leiber created some "linking" tales which weren't around when some stories were first published. "Lean Times" actually is a good example, there's a pre-story that gives some background on Lankhmar's religions, and then a post-tale that only makes sense as an epilogue. Each is found in Swords in the Mist and probably most if not all the other omnibus editions.

Edited: Dec 5, 2018, 5:31pm Top

>13 AndreasJ:

You can see a chronological Leiber bibliography here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ch.cgi?38
But it mixes in a lot of other stuff without calling out F&GM.
Or you can see a comprehensive series page with dates here: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?4281
("The Unholy Grail" 1962 was well after "Lean Times" 1957.)

It was very fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s for sword and sorcery series that had been written and published in episodic, non-chronological fashion in the pulps and their progeny, to be revised and reissued as multi-volume epics with rectified internal chronology. For Robert E. Howard's Conan, this work was done by L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter, who also contributed bridging stories to make a more continuous narrative. Michael Moorcock did this for his own Elric stories, and Leiber did it for the F&GM tales.

I often find that some of the shorter and later F&GM stories that were patently written as "bridge" stories to complete the larger narrative, are some of the most entertaining.

Edited: Dec 6, 2018, 10:08am Top

I'm not what you'd call a Narnia fan, but I deplore the re-issuance of those books renumbered to conform to their internal chronology rather than their publication order, which better reflects a sense of widening discovery. Start with The Magician's Nephew? Fatuous.

Dec 6, 2018, 12:42am Top

>14 elenchus:, >15 paradoxosalpha:

Thanks :)

>16 paradoxosalpha:

Perhaps not very originally, The Magician's Nephew would be high on my list arguments for reading in publication order.

Dec 6, 2018, 11:31am Top

Of course the Mouser could have made himself part of the Bwadres-party, but that would have meant he would have had personally to best Fafhrd or be bested by him, and while the Mouser wanted to do everything possible for his friend he wanted to do just a little bit more than that (he thought) for his own security.

Some, as we have suggested, may think that in taking this way out the Gray Mouser was throwing his friend to the wolves. However, it must always be remembered that the Mouser knew Fafhrd.

The three bullies, who did not know Fafhrd (the Mouser had selected them for that reason), were pleased with the turn of events.

Ha! A friend in need is a friend always somewhat subservient to the Mouser's own self-interest, but it all works out in the end.

I'd have liked to have learned just a bit more about "Lilyblack, and certain other of (the Mouser's) creatures." Just another of those tantalizing bits of detail that Leiber drops here and there.

Dec 6, 2018, 11:38am Top

I laughed at that bit, too, and a good deal else besides. Leiber strikes just the right balance of comic and dramatic, never tipping over into farce. Various reviews suggest he doesn't toe that line successfully in later entries in the revised chronology, but I've not read them yet. In any case, he hits the magical tone just right in "Lean Times".

Edited: Dec 12, 2018, 5:22pm Top

Now that I think about it, the people that advocate reading The Magician's Nephew first are probably the sort of people who think that the Bible makes the best sense when read from Genesis through the Apocalypse.

Which sort of comes back to "Lean Times." Leiber's mention of the variety of competing Isseks shows a sensitivity to the real circumstances of classical paganism, but the deified martyr angle of Issekianity and many of its competitors suggests more than a modicum of kinship with Christian religion. But these are all among the "in Lankhmar" deities, whose credit rises and falls based on the number and wealth of their adherents. By contrast, the "of Lankhmar" sort seem to have power stemming from genuinely non-human sources.

As elenchus seemed to be pointing out, this may fit into the material vs. spiritual dichotomy governing the story structure--if we consider the gods in Lankhmar to be materially dependent in a way that the gods of Lankhmar are not. But the gods of Lankhmar don't offer any sort of consolation or security. Aside from the occasional monster, I think they are as close as we get to proper Yog-Sothothery in this world.

Dec 9, 2018, 1:19pm Top

This is the third Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story I've read. For some reason, I'm just not on Leiber's wavelength with these stories though I like Leiber in general.

However, I did like this tale better than expected. I liked our callow heroes just not realizing the significance of that rat they keep seeing. There's also some nice bits of drunken rhetoric and Krovas' speech on the importance of appearances in politics. The prose on Fafhrd's and the Gray Mouser's final leave taking of the Thieves Guild is very nicely paced. I also appreciated Leiber's extensive description of the training programs the Thieves Guild offers.

Edited: Dec 24, 2018, 4:00pm Top

Happy Birthday Fritz! =) RIP 1910-1992

Another author on the 2019 exploration list...

Group: The Weird Tradition

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