Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Seven Black Priests

The Mouser did not find his watch a pleasant one. In place of his former trust in this rocky nook, he now scented danger in every direction and peered as often at the steamy pit as at the black entrance beyond the glowing coals, entertaining himself with vivid visions of a cooked priest somehow writhing his way up. Meanwhile the more logical part of his mind dwelled on an unpleasantly consistent theory that the hot inner layer of Nehwon was indeed jealous of man and that the green hill was one of those spots where inner Nehwon was seeking to escape its rocky jacket and form itself into all-conquering man-shaped giants of living stone. The black Kleshite priests would be Nehwon-worshippers eager for the destruction of all other men. And the diamond eye, far from being a bit of valuable and harmless loot, was somehow alive and seeking to enchant Fafhrd with its glittering gaze, and lead him to an obscure doom.
Shortly after the skatefish of sunken Simorgya supped on Lavas Laerk and his Northmen crew, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser trek through the snowy wastes even further north than the Cold Waste. They encounter a tropical priest who tries to kill them. After dispatching the speed bump, they find a green oasis in the snowy desert, six more black priests, and a diamond eye in a cliff face that ensorcels Fafhrd...

The seven priests ambush one at a time, and although they used jungle weapons such as blowgun darts, I never thought of their furs and hats as something as primitive as Fafhrd's barbarian kin, but something more...Cossack in nature.

With the exception of "The Circle Curse", the stories prior to "The Seven Black Priests" all originally appear in John Campbell's Unknown, at the end of the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction. "The Seven Black Priests," however, was written at the end of the Campbelline Era, appearing in Other Worlds Science Stories. The change in storytelling in the ten year gap between Unknown and Other Worlds shows the signs of Campbell's influence. "The Seven Black Priests" is less moody, more humorous, and less personal than the Weird Tales-inspired stories in this volume. The seven black priests meet their fate, one by one, in almost a slapstick manner, never posing a greater threat than a speed bump to Fafhrd and the Mouser. Truly, the priests were just doing their jobs protecting the world from the diamond eye. As such, there was no personal malice towards Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as there was with Lavas Laerk and Lord Rannarsh. As the Campbelline influence gave way, some of this will return in future stories. Perhaps this might be due to Leiber's later friendship with Michael Moorcock.

The core formula, however, remains unchanged. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are out on a different adventure when they get swept up into something grander. In this case, a chance encounter as they trek across the frozen wastes entangles them with a shrine protecting the bones and magma blood of the earth. Whether it is "just" a titanic earth elemental or the world itself is unclear. Not that it matters, as whatever power that warms the green oasis is powerful enough to charm Fafhrd (again). The Mouser saves Fafhrd from the enchantment and the monster causing it, and the two adventurers walk away with less than what they had before their adventure. They contemplate a brief moment of sobriety, and then it's off to the next adrenaline rush. Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Fafhrd and the Mouser still delivers fun.

1 comment:

  1. Only issue I had with the old F&M stories is that a lot of them hinged on one or the other holding the idiot ball for duration of the story. In this case, if I remember correctly, it was LITERALLY a ball that one of them held this time...