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FRITZ LEIBER, WITHOUT WHOM . . .

April 19, 2012

Despite having some background in the German language, and at least according to Wikipedia (the ultimate qualifier of 21st Century America), I have been pronouncing Fritz Leiber’s name wrong for about thirty-five years. In German you pronounce the second letter in the ei or ie combinations, so Leiber is pronounced LIE (as in, to tell a lie)-ber. Entschuldige mich, Herr Leiber.

Fritz Leiber is another of the great sword & sorcery authors who have influenced my writing for years, and particularly with Arron of the Black Forest.

Like me, Leiber was influenced himself by H.P. Lovecraft, and some of his earlier stories borrow from the Lovecraft Mythos. Over a very long career starting in the pulps he wrote a great deal of exceptional science fiction and other stuff, but he’s still best known as one of the fathers of pulp sword & sorcery.

I first ran across his name in the back of the first edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. On page 224 (of 232 pages) we find Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, and it’s a list that anyone interested in fantasy should track down and consider a sort of summer reading list. Though chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read most or all of these books, many of which (like The Hobbit and what Gygax called “Ring Trilogy”) are undisputed classics of the genre.

And on that list is: Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al.

Right around the time I found this list in my brand new DMG, there was some talk (I’m pretty sure at least) in the pages of Dragon magazine that much of the core assumptions of the D&D rules set—especially the magic system—was inspired by Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If that wasn’t an invitation to a young fantasy fan and first-generation RPGer to read that series, well, I mean, come on!

And read it I did. Honestly I don’t think I’ve read every single one of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, but I should. That’s a goal I won’t mind completing.

What made me think of Leiber again is that I’ve been (oh so very slowly) working my way through Otto Penzler’s mammoth anthology The Big Book of Adventure Stories and came to Leiber’s Fafhrd story “The Seven Black Priests.” I’m pretty sure I’ve read the story before, though in 197(ahem) . . . but reading it again now from this perspective was eye opening.

How did “The Seven Black Priests” influence D&D, and, therefore, me?

Let’s see:

The story takes place in and around a strange mound that bears a striking resemblance to the classic D&D module The Tomb of Horrors.

The currency of Leiber’s world: goldpieces. Gygax made that two words for D&D.

Were the eponymous black priests the inspiration for Gygax’s version of the drow? Let’s go ahead and say, “probably,” to that one.

And there’s more—lots more—especially as you keep reading in the series. It’s close enough, in fact, that over the years TSR has published several D&D game products set in Lankhmar under license from Leiber.

Even if you aren’t a D&D player, though, you owe it to yourself to catch up with Fritz Leiber. His brand of sword & sorcery is rather less earnest than Robert E. Howard’s. Leiber’s sense of humor is more evident and he may be the best of all time in balancing comedy and action. There are a handful of great chuckles to be found in every Fafhrd story, but I’ve never felt dismissed or made fun of the way too much “humorous” fantasy makes me feel. The jokes come from the characters and the situations, not from anything nearing a contempt for the genre or the audience.

Fritz Leiber is truly one of the greats, and as much as Howard and Lovecraft, his influence is liberally sprinkled throughout The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff and the entire world of Arron of the Black Forest.

 

—Philip Athans

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 19, 2012 10:53 pm

    I always think of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle (s) as a big influence on D&D worldview– Chaotic & Lawful, Good & Evil

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