You've probably noticed that I've been giving a lot of attention to Fritz Leiber recently in this blog and there's a reason for that. Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth and I thought it important to highlight some of Leiber's best works as a way to remind us all of the debt we owe this man. As gamers, we're all very quick to acknowledge Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft as our inspirations, but how often does Leiber's name get mentioned?
Not as often as it ought in my opinion, which is all the more inexplicable when you consider the fact that there are probably no two characters in all of fantasy literature that more closely map on to the notion of the generic Dungeons & Dragons "adventurer" than Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Perpetually on the make and on the run, the Twain are far better examples of "what characters do in D&D" than almost any other alternatives. Their closest (only?) real competitor is Conan and, fond though I am of Howard's great creation, I won't hesitate to say that I'd much rather spend time with Fafhrd and the Mouser than I would with the Cimmerian.
Part of the reason for that is Leiber's writing, which is equal parts exciting, witty, and sensuous -- in short, everything that swords-and-sorcery ought to be. Leiber's stories are frequently lighthearted but they are never lightweight. Amidst all the magic and mayhem are very human characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser chief among them, and I think this is what sets Leiber apart from most other writers of fantasy. That's not to deny his imagination in creating the world of Nehwon, only to point out that, in my opinion, his strength lay not in creating a setting so much as in creating believable characters who thought, felt, and act like real people, even, perhaps especially, when that means they behave in stupid, immoral, and self-destructive ways.
Best of all, Leiber never seems to have lost sight of the fact that he was telling adventure stories. Leiber had no grand philosophy to elucidate, no axes to grind, except the ones Fafhrd's northern brethren might employ against their foes. There's no bombast or grandiosity in his works and it's this, more than anything, that impresses me ever more as I read and re-read them. Leiber presents a great model, both for other writers and for fantasy roleplayers, each of whom has a natural tendency to take themselves too seriously. A little less blood and thunder after the fashion of Howard and a little less self-involved sub-creation after the fashion of Tolkien might do both fantasy literature and fantasy gaming a bit of good and, in that, Leiber lights the path.
Since this is Open Friday post, albeit a longer than usual one, feel free to share your experiences with Leiber in the comments below. I'm particularly interested in others who found Fritz Leiber a welcome antidote to the excesses to which we, as gamers, are prone.