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1957 - Two Sought Adventure

1957. Both the American Mafia and the Irish Republican Army suffer major setbacks. Fritz Leiber writes Two Sought Adventure.

“The quick, daily glance into the half darkness became an integral part of his life.” (Fritz Leiber).

1957 was a pretty rough year for La Cosa Nostra, the American Mafia.

By the end of the year, most of the mob’s leaders will have charges brought against them, and many of them will be forced to relocate their base of operations to a federal prison.

In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is in the midst of a guerilla campaign, “Operation Harvest.” The goal of the campaign is to overthrow British Rule and create a United Ireland.

341 attacks against military and infrastructure take place that year; the most dramatic being a failed attack on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (the Irish police force) barracks in the village of Brookeborough.

14 people participate in the attack, which initially targets the wrong building. The bomb they, eventually, place on the correct building fails to explode. One of the grenades they throw bounces back and damages their truck. To top it all off, the group parks the damaged truck in a location that places them in the field of fire of a machine gun, which mortally wounds two men: Fergal O'Hanlon and Seán South.

The Mafia setbacks, especially the Appalachin meeting, will be later depicted in numerous movies, such as Goodfellas and Analyze This. Two famous ballads will be written for the dead IRA members, who became martyrs for the cause: “Seán South From Garryowen” and “The Patriot Game.”

As far as I’m concerned one common thread connects the setbacks suffered by both organizations: the absence of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. If those two infamous rogues had been involved, things would have turned out very differently for both organizations.

“I'll never stop writing. It's one occupation in which being crazy, even senile, might help.” (Fritz Leiber, The Best of Fritz Leiber)

Fritz Reuter Leiber Jr. (1910-1992) was an American writer of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also a poet, actor, playwright and chess expert. Most importantly though, he was the father of the Sword and Sorcery fantasy sub-genre, having coined the term in 1961.

Leiber was the son of two actors, Fritz Leiber (IMDB occasionally mixes up father and son) and Victoria Bronson Leiber. Leiber the son began his career acting with his parents while simultaneously pursuing a literary career.

In 1936, he initiated a brief correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft who encouraged and influenced Leiber’s literary development before he passed away, having succumbed to malnutrition and small intestine cancer.

Leiber continued writing. His greatest output was during the forties and fifties when he produced, according to Poul Anderson (award winning science fiction author), "a lot of the best science fiction and fantasy in the business."

In 1969, Leiber’s wife, Jonquil passed away, and he succumbed to alcoholism, a disease which took him many years to recover from. At the end of his mourning period, he produced Our Lady of Darkness, an urban fantasy about a horror writer who is recovering from alcoholism following the death of his wife.

I was strongly tempted to review this book or one of the other horror novels he wrote because the horror genre included some of his greatest work. For example, there is Conjure Wife, a book which tells the story of a college professor who discovers that his wife, and in fact all women, are secretly witches. However, I couldn’t ignore what is arguably his greatest legacy, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the two characters who will have the strongest influence on the future Dungeons and Dragons game.

“Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.” (Fritz Leiber)

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are two sword and sorcery heroes who Leiber wrote in order to produce some fantasy heroes that actually behaved like human beings. Previously, popular fantasy heroes in the United States followed the templates created by Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Fafhrd is an almost seven-foot tall practical-minded northern barbarian, skilled at swordsmanship, shooting from horseback, sailing and singing. The Mouser is a small, five foot tall thief, gifted in ventriloquism, taking down bandits with his slingshot, and finding the profit in every venture.

Both characters are rogues who enjoy spending their time drinking, wenching, brawling, stealing and gambling and tend to not be fussy over who they hire themselves out to – basically, typical adventurers. And their stories are probably the most important item in "Appendix N" of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide.

“‘By the hedgehog,’ said the smaller, grinning wickedly, ‘but they’ll think twice before they play at ambuscades again!’” (Fritz Leiber, "The Jewels in The Forest")

The first collected edition of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser is Two Sought Adventure, published by Gnome Press in 1957. The book contains seven short stories all of which had previously appeared in pulp magazines. The first story is “The Jewels in the forest”, an expanded and renamed version of Leiber’s first published short story “Two Sought Adventure” (1938).

The two heroes like to hang out in the fictional city of Lankhmar, where “subtlety is a way of life and treachery a tradition” – and crossing the thieves guild is a duty. While gambling in the Silver Eel tavern, the two are placed under a curse and sent on a perilous mission to the Bleak Shore. Surviving and getting back will take them through four short stories in which they avoid being eaten, discover a sunken land, defeat a pack of ravenous spirits and take down a cult. Once, they get back to Lankhmar, they’ll be able to focus on making a profit.

The stories themselves are very dated and I’m not sure how much the modern fantasy reader will enjoy them. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser move about in a typical fantasy world. However, they rely on their wits and skills to survive and thrive, and have no special powers to brag of. These days it seems as though all characters need to either start out with or later acquire some magical artifact or skill that enables them to cheat the laws of physics. Leiber wasn’t that nice and it’s good to be reminded that you don’t have to use magic to win fights (kids these days).

The action itself is fast paced, and although not gripping, you still need to pay close attention to everything that is going on.

Reading this book, with its cracking pages, brought back to me a strong sense of nostalgia for my D&D days which I never really had (adventure here, adventure there but never a long term campaign).

If you’re an old school roleplayer like me, I strongly recommend getting your hands on some Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser short stories. They carry with them a strong blast from the past.

Today these stories can be found in the Swords series, which comprise:

  • Swords and Deviltry

  • Swords Against Death

  • Swords in The Mist

  • Swords Against Wizardry

  • The Swords of Lankhmar

  • Swords and Ice Magic

  • The Knight and Knave of Swords

If you enjoy audio books, Neil Gaiman narrates several of the volumes so that’s an added bonus.

I look forward to reading the fan fiction that you will write describing these characters adventures with the American Mafia and the IRA, and in the meantime, I’ll start imagining.

#Seferhaomer2

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