Swords Against Death Re-Read: “Claws from the Night”

lankhmar 3Bill Ward and I  are re-reading a book from Fritz Leiber’s famous Lankhmar series, Swords Against Death. We hope you’ll pick up a copy and join us. This week we tackled the eighth tale in the volume, “Claws from The Night.”

lankhmar 7Howard: Despite some fine moments, I thought this one more fair than fabulous. It didn’t come close to the heights of last week’s tale, “The Seven Black Priests.” This is the first one I remembered as being stronger than it turned out to be on revisiting. On the plus side, there’s a creepy tower and some menacing birds, but perhaps the finest moments are earlier on, when we glimpse how Fafhrd and the Mouser are perceived by the landlord, and the moment when Fafhrd reacts when their bird dies. I also like the comments on Lankhmar fashion throughout.

Bill: Those were probably my favorite moments as well. Particularly the landlord remarking on the “two honest rogues” as they marched off with a fishing pole and something wriggling under Fafhrd’s cloak (I’m not sure what could look more suspicious!). It seemed to me Leiber was then setting up the description of the mysterious thefts and attacks to perhaps make it seem the work of our heroes, though he quickly dispels that. I cannot recall if I suspected Atya as being behind it the first time I read it (hard not to, as she has pet birds). Mouser’s giggling as he listens to Atya dressing down her miserable husband is another great character touch.

lankhmar 2Howard: I agree — that was probably the best moment of Atya’s nagging scene. Her long monologue isn’t half as interesting as the villain’s monologue in “The Howling Tower.” It feels twice as long as necessary and then there’s ANOTHER monologue while Fafhrd is literally a captive audience, explaining everything about Atya’s story. Once Fafhrd turns the tables on her the suspense is over, except for the moment when each of the birds steals the treasure and flies away. I didn’t get the sense Leiber felt like bringing this one to complete fruition, or giving us a thrilling combat scene. Despite its length, the interesting stuff is over fairly quickly.

It works, but it doesn’t thrill.

Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber

Bill: The elements were there. I would have liked to have seen perhaps a little more done with the thieves who were rivals for the bird’s treasure. I felt they could have been integrated into the plot a bit more, as direct rivals that F&GM had to foil. “Tyaa” is a great name for a bird deity, and I like Leiber giving us yet another odd god (and cleverly letting the birds rob our heroes of their treasure).  The image we’re left with near the end, of Atya possibly turning into a bird and escaping, was done very nicely I thought, with the Mouser not really wanting to believe what he thought he saw. Overall, as you say, it works just fine, but it is not a first rank F&GM story — although it does give us a lot of the elements we want in these stories. If I wasn’t reviewing, I’d probably be less critical, but I do think there is a good reason I completely forgot this story after 7 years or so, whereas many of the others in this book are instantly familiar (even if I don’t recall the plot or climax).

Howard: We’re nearing the end of the collection. Next up is “The Price of Pain-Ease.” Unlike every other tale in the collection, I have no strong recollection of it. Will it be a hidden gem or a filler? I look forward to finding out. Hope to see you here.


10 Comments on “Swords Against Death Re-Read: “Claws from the Night”

  1. Hm. Have to disagree a bit on this. I guess I’m reading more as a reader than a critic, but I found I liked this story more upon re-reading (the last time I read it about a year ago). Although I agree on some of the “monologues” being perhaps a bit lengthy, I love so many elements to this story.

    You’ve already mentioned most of them: The comments by the landlord, the beautiful sad scene when Fafhrd’s eagle dies (Great writing can touch the reader with emotion without manipulating the reader or veering into sentimentality. The writing in this scene is beautifully subtle and restrained), the fantastic scene in Atya’s house (one of the most amusing and cleverest scenarios in the series in my opinion), the strange suit of the thief (which makes Mouser (I think it was Mouser) think he sees a strange creature, the very creepy behavior and speech of the birds, the surprise appearance of the Mouser to save the day, and, one of my favorite denouments of the series as Mouser explains what he saw, and didn’t see. Also, I never guessed Atya was Tyaa, despite the obvious clues. She seems so spoiled and helpless in her daytime guise. And the one thing you didn’t mention: the reaction in Lankhmar to the bird attacks: designing and wearing elaborate cages on the head. Brilliantly decadent!

    I will not stand up for just any Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story (for instance, I have never liked Adept’s Gambit), but I consider this to be a better story than most fantasy stories I’ve read by other authors, and I always enjoy returning to it. Perhaps that just means that Leiber’s really, really strong stories are incomparable!

    • I DID like the fashion related stuff, although I should have mentioned it more explicitly.

      I agree that all of the moments you cite are good, and yet the total didn’t add up to a great one for me. Like you say, good Leiber is still head and shoulders above a lot of fantasy fiction. In competition with himself, though, I just didn’t feel this one was among these strongest.

  2. Really enjoying your comments, although I haven’t picked up my copy to read along. I first discovered Leiber’s F&GM in local translated (greek) anthologies alongside Howard, Moorcock and Wagner mostly. Re-discovered Lankhmar through the Gollancz/ Fantasy Masterworks omnibuses, where the books are presented in interior chronology. I’ll try to join you in reading “Bazaar of the Bizarre” and let nostalgia get the best of me.
    Are you planning on doing another re-read, perhaps Moorcock or Howard related?

    • I hope you do join in!

      We’ve been talking about what to read next. We’ll probably stay with Leiber and do “Swords in the Mist.” After that, we’re not sure, although we’ve tossed several ideas around.

  3. I’m throwing my vote in with Robert – this one thrilled me from beginning to end. But then, I’ve always liked urban settings a lot more than the Great Outdoors, and I absolutely salivated at anything that expands on the mythology of Lankhmar the City, rather than Lankhmar the Land. Lieber’s third-person omniscient was absolutely delightful, a bit of a cross of the Grandpa from The Princess Bride and an especially smart-assed historian…

    I half-saw the Atya/Tyaa reveal coming – in fact, I was prepared to ramble about extraneous characters if she wasn’t – and while her second monologue was perhaps a tad overlong, I loved her fate. There’s something hypnotically elegant yet vaguely tragic about defeated villains that quietly turn (back?) into animals and vanish into the night, probably never to be seen again, and the Mouser’s “ehhh, maybe she did, maybe she didn’t” only adds to its charm.

Leave a Reply to Howard Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.