A Review: Ill Met in Lankmar
‘Ill Met in Lankmar’ is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novella written by Fritz Leiber, first published in 1970, and it is what fantasy fiction is supposed to be. This is the experience I expect from sword and sorcery fiction.
The story is a prequel to thirty years of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories written in the prior to this story. The duo, a combination of a tall northern barbarian, Fafhrd, and a small former wizard’s apprentice, Mouser, are both human characters who conform to none of the lazy stereotypes which my quick description of the two might suggest. Both characters are portrayed having the same interest in boozing, fighting and womanising as well as being of equal intelligence and ability.
We start the novella with an account of Grey Mouser and Fafhrd meeting as they both steal from the thieves guild who are also in the process of thieving. After a few scenes of frivolity in their victory, the two at the insistence of Vlana, the woman Fafhrd promised to take revenge on the thieves guild for, drunkenly decided to infiltrate the headquarters of the thieves guild. From here the story rapidly descends into a horror and revenge which I won’t spoil.
The description of the city of Lankmar exist not to damn the urban environment which they inhabit and romanticise an idyllic countryside, but to celebrate the rich life within cities. There is little sentimental about Leiber’s portrayal of Lankmar, or Fafhrd and Grey Mouser’s actions, but neither is there a sense of strident doom which could exist in this novella, as Fritz Leiber writes playfully and with charm firmly placing ‘Ill Met in Lankmar’ in the Errol Flynn tradition of swashbuckling.
The front cover quote on my 1988 edition of Swords & Deviltry by Micheal Moorecock declares Fritz Leiber, “The best living American fantasy writer” which is apt, as even though he died in 1992 his prose still outshines most fantasy writers working today. Highly recommend that you find an anthology which contains this story.