Anyway, I was clued in to Leiber, not only because he's a pretty major figure who I knew little about, but because my work with Glen Cook this summer made me realize that I don't have a strong grasp of sword and sorcery as a genre -- and it's fair to say that, prior to Tolkien, S&S was the major single outlet for fantasy in the popular market. While I knew the basics of S&S, I hadn't consciously read much in it. What worried me slightly is that I read Jack Vance's A Dying Earth a few months ago and was appalled at how bad it was. It basically encapsulated every stereotype I had about S&S -- sexist, brainless adventure with a host of unpronounceable names and eye-roll-worthy history.
So I was pleasantly surprised by Leiber -- sure, he has all of the above and more, but he has a real skill in weaving together plot and incident, and he comes up with some cool things. I'm not sure if I"ll ever be a fan of Leiber. After all, the sexism is pretty atrocious, and I'm not a fan of picaresque plots; also, I usually like things of more psychological depth. Nonetheless, Leiber does have a fair amount of literary skill, and that impressed me. And for basically a collection of interrelated short stories, Leiber does manage to give his books a pretty fair climax.
For the record, I only read three of the seven -- #3, #5 (my favorite), and #6. Random things of interest:
- Nehwon is just one world in a multiverse, and the heroes occasionally hang out on earth. (In Book #5, a German riding a two-headed dragon even makes an completely not-relevant-to-the-plot appearances!) That always strikes me as strange; I can't get past the feeling that the earth-world de-privileges events and characters in the other world.
- Mouser's the clever southerner (and a Loki-figure!), Fafhrd is the brawny northern beserker barbarian (and an Odin-figure!). Keeping those tropes alive!
- Metaphysics: Nehwon is a giant bubble floating through the ocean of eternity. Strange, captivating image, a little like Pratchett's Discworld in its implausibility, but it does contribute to the sense that you can't quite take Nehwon seriously as a world.
- Leiber seems relatively multicultural (Fafhrd once dates a female ghoul) and relatively atheistic (certainly irreverent), but the sexism is pretty hardcore. It wouldn't bothered me at all when I was younger, and even now I can live with it, but I shudder to think what some of my less forgiving colleagues might do with it.
- Leiber certainly populates his work with wonders and marvels -- some of the stuff is quite cool.
At any rate, out of curiosity, I looked to see what the scholarship on Leiber is like. Surprisingly, there isn't much. Perhaps that's a niche to be filled, although I don't quite know if I like Leiber enough to do it myself. Time will tell.