Swords in the Mist (1968) is Fritz Leiber’s third collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and the Gray Mouser, his small wily companion who has a predilection for thievery and black magic. The tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser originally appeared in pulp magazines, short novels, and story collections between 1939-1988. Swords in the Mist contains:
- “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) — This is a short eerie metaphor in which hate becomes a mist that reaches out in tendrils throughout Lankhmar to find corruptible souls to use for evil deeds.
- “Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) — In this novelette, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser part ways and find themselves at odds when Fafhrd becomes an acolyte and the Mouser is hired to extract money from Fafhrd’s cult. Humorous and cynical, this story makes fun of Lankhmar’s polytheism and makes the seediness, decadence, and corruption of the city come alive. The ending is hilarious.
- “Their Mistress, the Sea” (original publication) — This story makes a nice bridge between “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” but it’s entertaining in its own right.
- “When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) — This is a fun fantastical story with a great setting (under the sea!) in which Fafhrd has a sword fight with an octopus.
- “The Wrong Branch” (original publication) — This is a bridge between the previous story and the following novella:
- “Adept’s Gambit” (1947) — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser arrive in our world (Macedonia) in this novella. There are some funny parts here — Fafhrd kissing pigs and analyzing Socrates, but mostly I found this story dull. The sorcerer Ningauble of the Seven Eyes has sent the boys on a near-impossible quest, but the exciting parts are quickly skipped over and too much of the story is spent with an unpleasant character’s excruciatingly long autobiography.
I love Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser because they’re intelligent rogues. They look like a big dumb barbarian and a sneaky little street urchin, and they love nothing more than drinking, fighting, and wenching, yet they’ve got big vocabularies, make glorious similes and metaphors, and enjoy philosophizing. When they’re doing these things, they’re irresistible, especially in the audiobook versions narrated by Jonathan Davis (Audible Frontiers).
However, half of Swords in the Mist consists of a novella that was not as fun as I’ve come to expect from Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories (perhaps this is partly because it doesn’t take place in Lankhmar). I would suggest that, unless you consider yourself a completist, you find “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” and skip the rest of Swords in the Mist.