A book containing anything new by Fritz is always welcome. After the wealth of material in the Midnight House collections and Strange Wonders, it had all gone a little quiet, til Miskatonic Books announced their release of Fritz’s original (circa ’36) version of Adept’s Gambit, complete with HP Lovecraft’s thoughts and annotations.
Adept’s Gambit always seemed an untypical Fafhrd & Mouser story. The tone seemed akin to The Bleak Shore and The Howlng Tower, yet it was full of commentary and farce the we would see again in Lean Times in Lankhmar or Swords of Lankhmar. There is also the strange sexuality running through the book (which Leiber himself had noted and is referenced in this new book)which gave it a more spicy feeling than many of the other stories.
Most obviously of course, it is set outside of Nehwon, on Earth… so what about this new release?
The book itself handsomely presented, very well bound, it is smaller than a typical hardback, but this means it can be a little thicker. I felt this was good compromise.
One of the pleasures of a book like this is that we are presented with a different version of something we already know, giving us the chance to revisit and rediscover something all over again.
All over again? Surely not. Well I disagree. The differences in text, the subtleties of the shifts in language, the tempo, make it feel different. The Pale Brown Thing is a different story to Our Lady of Darkness, yet they follow a similar path., but they feel different.
I am not going to attempt a line by line comparison of the two texts, but having read the original in anticipation if this release, I can pass on my thoughts having now read the two.The spine of the plot remains in both versions, but roll along at a different pace. The section in Tyre for example has less of a light touch, with less banter between the twain.
Ningauble’s cave seemed similar but the the adventures retrieving the assorted objects was less openly humorous. I guess it is fair to say it is a darker text over all. The set pieces one remembers, the fight with Anra, the climax in the castle are all the there, but the differences are numerous (as are virtually all the names, so for ease I will use the original names).
The strange sexuality always present in Anra / Ahura is less direct i felt, certainly Mouser’s journey to Ahriman does not contain the startling scene when mouser unrobes Ahura. I guess one didn’t so palpably get the feeling of androgyny.
The confrontation with Anra is a grimmer affair, Anra more obviously full of spite of ‘lepers scabs’, the toad god (Tsathoggua ? after all Cthulhu is mentioned) at the end was a real surprise. It is a more direct battle, Ahura plays not part in distracting her brother. The scene seemed more brutal, less seedy and unwholesome than the later version. Ahura’s recollections however seemed worse, far more troubling with the orgies and sex no longer allusions.
I could go on, but clearly the differences in this text make it a fascinating read, a great story, retold so to speak in (in my opinion) a slightly darker manner.
Following the story is Lovecraft’s letter to Fritz. A fair proportion is historical corrections by Lovecraft, in a most patient and considerate way. What I found more interesting was how much Lovecraft clearly liked the story, recognised it’s strengths, and also saw this was not a story he could have written. He seemed very happy to offer encouragement and support to the young Fritz, and one presumes Fritz lapped it up.
I heartily recommend this book to any Fritz Leiber fan, it made me rediscover and re engage with a great story once again, and gave an insight into the value Fritz gained from his correspondence with Lovecraft
Now… what next?