If you really want to know whether or not a man has got some serious writing chops, take a look at how he writes long, slow, boring chase scenes. For my money, no one does it better than Louis L’Amour, whose cowboys often found themselves haring off all over the west chasing after bandits, kidnapped ladies, or missing doggies. Lieber pulls out all the stops in this story, when the Grey Mouser wakes up alone and sets out to track Fafhrd. The description of one man running through a grassland for more than a day and half might make for a read as dull as actually running for that long, but Leiber changes up the terrain, pauses for the Grey Mouser to ponder Fafhrd’s predicament and whereabouts, and get the lay of the land. All the while, the titular howling grows and grows. The reader and the Grey Mouser both know exactly where Fafhrd is, but instead of skipping the long tracking scene in a sentence or two, Leiber makes good use of the hours long run to ratchet up the tension.
Leiber also manages to make the dreaded expository dump more
tense than it has any right to be. The
old man’s story describing the source of the howling is so well performed that
one wonder if that old man might not have made for a successful fantasy writer
had he only been born in 20th century earth instead of Nehwon.
In fact, if there’s anything disappointing about this tale,
it would be the standard ghost story ending where the source of the howling was
simply hungering for vengeance. Leiber
keeps that storybook ending brief, and the remainder of The Howling Tower is so well done that Leiber can be forgiven for
not deviating from the standard stories on that score.