Lankhmar and the world of Nehwon
These are probably the best known stories that Fritz Leiber wrote spanning 50 years of his life. The first appeared in Unknown Magazine around 1940 and the last instalment appeared in The Knight and Knave of Swords around 1990. The stories follow the various adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, two characters created by Fritz and his friend Harry Fischer. However it is Leiber who wrote all the stories,with the exception of 10,000 words in the Lords of Quarmall(which appears in Swords against Wizardry), which were penned by Fischer.
The tales are set in the mythical world of Nehwon and many of them in and around it’s greatest city, Lankhmar. The stories are often labelled as ‘Swords & Sorcery’ or ‘Heroic Fantasy’, and both these descriptions capture some of the flavour of these stories. However Leiber never let himself become too hemmed in by what can be a cliché ridden genre. True he himself invented many of the clichés (along with Robert E. Howard) but he never allowed himself to produce a typical Fafhrd & Mouser story, their style and tone vary considerably. Nearly all contain a wonderful sense of humour, which can be subtle and character based or pythonesque.
Some are openly funny. Lean times in Lankhmar in Swords in the Mist is one of the very best,and stands up as a wonderful mixture of farce and satire. His earlier tales written in the 40’s have an incredible texture to them, owing more to Clark Ashton Smith than to Robert E. Howard. They mix a wonderfully dark sense of humour with bizarre tales of ‘Swords & Sorcery’. The Jewels In the Forest in Swords against Death is typical of this mix.
Standing alongside the two enormous central characters is the city of Lankhmar itself. Anyone who reads these stories will soon come to know Lankhmar and its labyrinth of back alleys: The Silver Eel and the Golden Lamphrey; The Street of the Gods; the Plaza of Dark Delights and a hundred other places which bring the city to life like no other.
This, along with its vast array of characters, Guilds and above all ‘life’, make it unforgettable. It is perhaps no surprise that Ankh-Morpork, Terry Pratchett’s superb creation, bears more that a passing resemblance to Lankhmar. Indeed Fafhrd and the Mouser appear in The Colour of Magic as Bravd & the Weasel (no doubt having taken another wrong turn in Ningauble’s Cave). In the same way Ankh-Morpork is a locus for activity in the Discworld series, so Lankhmar is the centre of gravity around which Fafhrd & the Mouser endlessly circle.