Swords In the Mist Re-Read: “The Wrong Branch”
Bill Ward and I are continuing our read through of Fritz Leiber’s collection of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, Swords in the Mist. This week we’re looking at the fifth tale in the collection, “The Wrong Branch.”
Howard: I’m starting to remember why I never liked this book quite as well as Swords Against Death. The actual stories in it are quite strong, but there is a lot of filler. Satisfying adventure to page ratio is much higher in Swords Against Death than it is in any of my other favorite volumes (that includes this one, Swords Against Wizardry, which has two novellas and a couple of linking tales, and The Swords of Lankhmar, which is two novelettes stitched together into a continuous narrative.
And of course we have “Adept’s Gambit” looming before us, one I never liked well enough to re-read. I suppose I’ll see why here very soon.
Bill: I think the best way to approach “Adept’s Gambit” is how we see the Twain themselves approach their upcoming journey in “The Wrong Branch:” don’t worry so much about the things that don’t make sense, just enjoy it as another adventure.
Howard: I’ll try to do that. As to “The Wrong Branch,” it’s even more of a linking tale than anything else in here. It’s charming because it’s crafted with love for the characters. It doesn’t really tell a tale, and I think, were this a novel, it would just be a couple of pages happening while the characters are on their way from here to there.
Bill: It’s fun and light-hearted, and does a good enough job introducing the very odd change in setting by having a few historical terms intrude into the fantasy setting.
Howard: I wonder if Leiber actually meant, one day, to take Fafhrd and the Mouser to some other world or time via this method, or if this little segue through the wrong branch was just a way to include this early tale written about them set in this particular historical period of Earth.
Of course, it turns out that they didn’t actually take the wrong branch, since Ningauble seems to have planned for them to go that way…
Bill: I had always assumed Leiber had intended more Earth adventures when I read it the for first time. Seemed like a lot of trouble to go through just to move them for one story. Of course, at that time I didn’t know “Adept’s Gambit” was the first Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story, and that Lankhmar only came along afterwards. I’m guessing most of us resented “Gambit’s” setting change going into it, but that’s something to talk about next week.