Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thieves' House - A Fantasy Heist

Okay, team.  We're going to get through this story without making a single D&D reference.  It's not going to be easy, but if we all pull together, and give it everything we got, we can do this!  Deep breath.  Deeeeep breath.

The things you find on a Google Image
Search never cease to amaze...
n the past
, I've criticized authors for starting stories post media res.  In Thieves' House, Leiber almost does just that, but not quite.  He sets up the location of a well-guarded treasure, locked in an un-crackable vault and guarded by an un-killable beast.  Then Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser crack the vault, slay the beast, and get betrayed, and it all happens off camera!

The nerve of some authors.

Leiber gets away with it by front loading the tale with a scene of the masterminds behind this plot explaining that this isn't going to be the story of our heroes obtaining the treasure, but trying to keep it.  Knowing that the thief Fissif fully intends to double cross Faf and Grey gives the reader fair warning that the action won't involve picked locks and fantastic beasts, but double-crosses, triple-crosses, and all sorts of paranoia inducing fun.

The opening scroll explaining that the skull of Omphal is cursed also clues the reader into the cluelessness of the men who run the Thieves' Guild.  We semi-omnipotent readers know full well that ignoring the warning of the skull's accursed nature is bound to bite somebody before the tale runs its course.

If there's one potential flaw in this story, it's the seeming coincidence of a dazed and concussed Fafhrd just so happening to blunder into a forgotten secret passage that just so happens to contain the lost gods of the Thieves' Guild just at the moment said gods are about to reclaim the lost skull of Omphal.  On further consideration, that sort of coincidence is no coincidence at all.  Rather, it is the direct result of actions taken by the gods of the thieves who lured Fafhrd into their tomb specifically to use him as an instrument of their vengeance.

Once again, Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser knowingly walk into danger for the sheer thrill of adventure.  That may be a character flaw on the part of the two, but it's a necessary one if there is to be a story here, and if the two don't act contrary to their nature.  We know that Faf and Grey are clever - you can see this in their schemes and ploys, and the way they can predict what their foes are likely to do at any given moment.  Clearly, for Leiber to present them as consistently clever, he has to show that they know the Theives' Guild is a trap, and yet send them into its jaws anyway.  If they were truly smart, they'd have just walked away from the bright door in the dark alley and left the Skull of Omphal to fend for itself.  Leiber solves that conundrum by making them smart enough to recognize the danger, but by giving them a hunger for danger and adventure far stronger than their hunger for safety and security.

They might not be perfect heroes.  They might not be heroes at all.  But at least they are consistently written ,and that is a rarity not often seen in today's fiction.

We did it!  High fives all around!


  1. I'm impressed. I can't even THINK about a Fafhrd & Grey Mouser story without putting it in gaming terms, and I don't play D&D.

  2. "We semi-omnipotent readers know"? Semi-omniscient, maybe?