Friday, April 29, 2016

On Finishing Long Series

I finished both the Sherlock and Jeeves & Wooster series this year.

As when happens when I finish any series, I have conflicting emotions. The completist in me is happy to be able to mark the series finished. But the reader who was drawn to the works in the first place is a little sad to hang it up.

I will say that both of these series were somewhat repetitive. Sherlock actually got better about midway through the series – I think the cases got more interesting anyway – but the characters got a little less interesting over time. Jeeves & Wooster was extremely repetitive, but the language itself was always such a joy and the characters so lovable that it never wore out its welcome on my endtable.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

On Dogs As My Witness

"A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. And their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.”

From Arthur Conan Doyle's, The Case of the Creeping Man (in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes)

Friday, April 22, 2016

On Meeting Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for the First Time

Lankhmar in Publication Order 1 The Jewels in the Forest

The Jewels in the Forest is Fritz Leiber's first published tale featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. It was published in 1939 in Unknown as The Two Sought Adventure, which later became the name of the first book-length collection of Lankhmar stories. It is most commonly available today as the 2nd chapter in the second volume of the collected editions, Swords Against Death.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are following a map they stole from the library of a powerful lord. It will supposedly lead them to the treasure of a long-dead sorcerer/architect. Is the treasure still there, in the sorcerer's abandoned tower? How is it guarded if the sorcerer brags that he set no traps around it?

I believe that this is by far a better introduction to the characters, the world of Lankhmar, and the whole cycle of stories than is the first collected volume, Swords Against Deviltry, which Lieber wrote decades later. I have lots to say in that regard but I'm going to boil it down to a few points.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are a classic fantasy team of complementary personalities and skills. Throughout Jewels, Lieber defines and illustrates the characters through comparison and contrast: how they fight together but with different styles, how they react to problems differently but solve them together, and how they interact with strangers using different tactics to achieve the same goal. For instance, when the pair try to charm a group of rural homesteaders, Mouser performs subtle, sleight of hand tricks while Fafhrd sings them bawdy songs at full volume. Swords Against Deviltry, by comparison, introduces each character separately, through novella-length origin stories that give each a lot of backstory and baggage without doing much to make either of them likable or to demonstrate how they complement one another.

Swords Against Deviltry also removes a lot of the wonder of the early stories. In Jewels we wonder where this pair came from, how they met, whether they have any loved ones, and more. By the end of Swords Against Deviltry we know all that. The mysterious part of the characters is solved before they ever adventure together. Worse, Swords Against Deviltry gives them the primary motivation of adventuring to forget their lost lovers. In Jewels, if that is one's introduction to the stories, it seems like they are just rogues out to score some treasure. That may sound less satisfying than having them be tragic figures fleeing bad memories, but frankly it doesn't feel that way to me. It feels more traditional of pre-80's sword and sorcery to present the pair as rogues with a history to discover, rather than angst-ridden heroes that the world has chewed up and spit out.

Other great things about Jewels include how Lieber subtly drops in bits of world-building without tedious exposition, creates interesting fight scenes, and keeps the story bobbing along with lots of moving parts that are nevertheless easy to follow.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Reading Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Stories in Publication Order

Reading Lankhmar in Publication Order 0 

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are considered by many to be the epitome of the sword & sorcery genre. Though not the first to write in this genre (one can point to Howard and others), Leiber named it and gave it many of its popular conventions in this very series.

I am entirely unsatisfied that modern readers approaching the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales are getting an optimal impression of their greatness. I believe that the way the stories have been collected, supplemented, and (re)organized into seven volumes does them a disservice. So I have decided to reconstruct the experience of reading them in published order for myself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On Silver Cow Creamers

Just put together this gag gift for my brother, who is also a P.G. Wodehouse fan. You will understand if you are also a fan. (The creamer is a ceramic one painted with Rustoleum because the real ones are expensive!) On his birthday I plan to send a Drones Club sign. At Christmas, purple socks and cummerbund.