- This article refers to the science fiction writer. For the actor, see Fritz Leiber, Sr.
Fritz Reuter Leiber Jr. (December 24, 1910–September 5, 1992) was an influential American writer of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also an expert chess player and a champion fencer.
Leiber (first syllable rhymes with "shy") married Jonquil Stephens on January 16, 1936, and their son Justin Leiber was born in 1938. His first fantasy story, Two Sought Adventure (1939), introduced his most famous characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. His work as a writer earned much praise but little money, a problem exacerbated by bouts of alcoholism. Jonquil's death in 1969 precipitated a three-year drunk, but he returned to his original form with a fantasy novel set in modern-day San Francisco, Our Lady of Darkness — serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as "The Pale Brown Thing" (1977) — in which cities were the breeding grounds for new types of elementals called paramentals, summonable by the dark art of megapolisomancy, with such activities centering around the Transamerica Pyramid. Our Lady of Darkness won the World Fantasy Award.
In the last years of his life, Leiber married his second wife, Margo Skinner, a journalist and poet with whom he had been friends for many years. Many people believed that Leiber was living in poverty on skid row, but the truth of the matter was that Leiber preferred to live simply in the city, spending his money on dining, movies and travel. In the last years of his life, royalty checks from TSR, the makers of Dungeons and Dragons, who had licensed the mythos of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, were enough in themselves to ensure that he lived comfortably.
Leiber's death occurred a few weeks after a physical collapse while traveling from a science-fiction convention in London, Ontario with Skinner. The cause of his death was given as "organic brain disease."
He wrote a short autobiography, Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex, which can be found in The Ghost Light (1984).
A critical biography, Witches of the Mind by Bruce Byfield, is available, and an essay examining his literary relationship with H. P. Lovecraft appears in S. T. Joshi's The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004). Benjamin J. Szumskyj edited (with S.T. Joshi) Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft:Writers of Dark (Wildside Press, 2003), a collection of letters, fiction and essays relating the two writers; and Szumskyj has also edited Fritz Leiber: Critical Essays, which examines various aspects of Leiber's work and Fantasy Commentator No 57/58, a special theme issue devoted to Leiber's work.
Leiber's own literary criticism, including several ground-breaking essays on Lovecraft, was collected in the volume Fafhrd and Me (1990).
Leiber and the theater
As the child of two Shakespearean actors
and Virginia (née Bronson)—Leiber was fascinated with the stage
, describing itinerant Shakespearean companies in stories like "No Great Magic" and "Four Ghosts in Hamlet," and creating an actor/producer protagonist for his novel A Specter is Haunting Texas
Although his Change War novel, The Big Time, is about a war between two factions, the "Snakes" and the "Spiders", changing and rechanging history throughout the universe, all the action takes place in a small bubble of isolated space-time about the size of a theatrical stage, with only a handful of characters. The Big Time contains an apparent numerical typo; in one chapter-head quotation it is stated that 100,000 metres equals 5.6 miles. (It should be about 60 miles.) No American or British editor has ever corrected this.
He also acted in a few films, once with his father in Warner Bros.' The Great Garrick (1937).
Judith Merril (in the July 1969 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) remarks on Leiber's acting skills when the writer won a science fiction convention costume ball. Leiber's costume consisted of a cardboard military collar over turned-up jacket lapels, cardboard insignia, an armband, and a spider pencilled large in black on his forehead, thus turning him into an officer of the Spiders, one of the combatants in his Change War stories. "The only other component," Merril writes, "was the Leiber instinct for theatre."
Leiber was heavily influenced by H. P. Lovecraft
and Robert Graves
in the first two decades of his career. Beginning in the late 1950s, he was increasingly influenced by the works of Carl Jung
, particularly by the concepts of the anima
and the shadow
. From the mid-1960s onwards, he began incorporating elements of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces
. These concepts are often openly mentioned in his stories, especially the anima, which becomes a method of exploring his fascination with but estrangement from the female.
Leiber had a lifelong love affair with cats, which feature prominently in many of his stories. Tigerishka, for example, is a cat-like alien who is sexually attractive to the human protagonist yet repelled by human customs in the novel The Wanderer. Leiber's "Gummitch" stories feature a kitten with an I.Q. of 160, just waiting for his ritual cup of coffee so that he can become human, too.
His popularity amongst both fans and his fellow writers was considerable, and his science fiction novels The Big Time (1958) and The Wanderer (1964), along with the short stories "Gonna Roll the Bones" (1967), about a gambler dicing with Death, and "Ship of Shadows" (1970), all won Hugo Awards. "Bones" also won a Nebula Award.
Many of Leiber's most-acclaimed works are short stories, especially in the horror genre. Due to such stories as "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes" and "You're All Alone" (AKA "The Sinful Ones"), he is widely regarded as one of the forerunners of the modern urban horror story. (Ramsey Campbell cites him as his single biggest influence. ) In his later years, Leiber returned to short story horror in such works as "Horrible Imaginings", "Black Has Its Charms" and the award-winning "The Button Moulder."
The short parallel worlds story "Catch That Zeppelin!" (1975) added yet another Nebula and Hugo award to his collection. This story shows a plausible alternate reality that is much better than our own, whereas the typical parallel universe story depicts a world that is much worse than our own. "Belsen Express" (1975) won him another World Fantasy Award. Both stories reflect Leiber's uneasy fascination with Nazism -- an uneasiness compounded by his mixed feelings about his German ancestry and his philosophical pacifism during World War II.
Fans awarded him the Gandalf (Grand Master) award at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1975, and in 1981 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America voted him the recipient of their Grand Master award.
He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies.
In an appreciation in the July 1969 "Special Fritz Leiber Issue" of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Merril writes of Leiber's connection with his readers:
- That this kind of personal response... is shared by thousands of other readers, has been made clear on several occasions. The November 1959 issue of Fantastic, for instance: Leiber had just come out of one of his recurrent dry spells, and editor Cele Lalli bought up all his new material until there was enough [five stories] to fill an issue; the magazine came out with a big black headline across its cover — Leiber Is Back!
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
His legacy appears to have been consolidated by the most famous of his creations, the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
stories, written over a span of 50 years. The first of these, "Two Sought Adventure", appeared in Unknown
in 1939. They are concerned with an unlikely pair of heroes found in and around the city of Lankhmar
. (Fafhrd was based on Leiber himself and the Mouser on his friend Harry Otto Fischer, and the two characters created in a series of letters exchanged by the two in the mid-1930s) These stories were among the progenitors of many of the tropes
of the sword and sorcery
genre (a term coined by Leiber). They are also notable among sword and sorcery stories in that, over the course of the stories, his two heroes mature, take on more responsibilities, and eventually settle down into marriage.
Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories were also award winners and nominees: "Scylla's Daughter" was nominated for a Hugo (1961), and the Hugo and Nebula awards were awarded to "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (1970). Fittingly, Leiber's last major work, "The Knight and Knave of Swords" (1991) brought the series to a satisfactory close while leaving room for possible sequels. In the last year of his life, Leiber was considering allowing the series to be completed by another writer, but his sudden death put an end to the idea.
The stories were influential in shaping the genre and were influential on other works. Joanna Russ' stories about thief-assassin Alyx (collected in 1976 in The Adventures of Alyx) were in part inspired by Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Alyx in fact made guest appearances in two of Leiber's stories. Numerous writers have paid homage to the stories. For instance, Terry Pratchett's city of Ankh-Morpork bears something more than a passing resemblance to Lankhmar (acknowledged by Pratchett by the placing of the swordsman-thief "The Weasel" and his giant barbarian comrade "Bravd" in the opening scenes of the first Discworld novel).
- Conjure Wife (originally appeared in Unknown Worlds, April 1943) — This novel relates a college professor's discovery that his wife (and all other women) are regularly using magic against one another and their husbands. It was filmed three times:
- Weird Woman (1944)
- Burn, Witch, Burn! (aka Night of the Eagle) (1962)
- Witches' Brew (aka Which Witch is Which?) (1980)
- Gather, Darkness! (serialized in Astounding, May, June, and July 1943)
- The Sinful Ones aka You're All Alone (1953)
- The Green Millennium (1953)
- Destiny Times Three (1957)
- The Big Time (expanded 1961 from a version serialized in Galaxy, March and April 1958, which won a Hugo) — Change War series
- The Silver Eggheads (1961; a shorter version was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1959)
- The Wanderer (1964)
- Ships to the Stars (1964)
- Tarzan and the Valley of the Gold (1966)
- The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)
- A Spectre is Haunting Texas (1969)
- Night Monsters (1969)
- The Demons of the Upper Air (1969)
- You're All Alone (1972)
- Our Lady of Darkness (1977)
- The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich (1997) — H. P. Lovecraftian novella written in 1936 and lost for decades
- Night's Black Agents (1947)
- Two Sought Adventure (1957)
- The Mind Spider and Other Stories (1961). Collection of 6 short stories.
- Shadows With Eyes (1962)
- A Pail of Air (1964). Collection of 11 short stories.
- Night Monsters (1969)
- Swords and Deviltry (1970). Collection of 3 short stories.
- Swords Against Death (1970). Collection of 10 short stories.
- Swords in the Mist (1970). Collection of 6 short stories.
- Swords Against Wizardry (1970). Collection of 4 short stories.
- The Best of Fritz Leiber (1974). Collection of 22 short stories.
- The Book of Fritz Leiber (1974)
- The Second Book of Fritz Leiber (1975)
- Swords and Ice Magic (1977). Collection of 8 short stories.
- Bazaar of the Bizarre (1978)
- Changewar (1983). Collection of the Changewar short stories (7 stories).
- The Leiber Chronicles (1990)
- Gummitch and Friends (1992). Leiber's cat stories, the first five of which feature Gummitch.
- The Black Gondolier (2000)
- Smoke Ghost (2002)
- Day Dark, Night Bright (2002)
- Horrible Imaginings (2005)
- "Two Sought Adventure" aka "The Jewels in the Forest" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1940
- "The Automatic Pistol"
- "The Bleak Shore" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1941
- "The Howling Tower" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Power of the Puppets"
- "Smoke Ghost"
- "They Never Come Back"1942
- "The Hill and the Hole"
- "The Hound"
- "The Phantom Slayer" - aka "The Inheritance"
- "Spider Mansion"
- "The Sunken Land" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1943
- "Conjure Wife" (novel)
- "Gather, Darkness! (novel)
- "The Mutant's Brother"
- "Thieves' House" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "To Make a Roman Holiday"1944
- "Business of Killing"
- "Sanity" aka "Crazy Wolf"
- "Destiny Times Three" (novella)
- "The Dreams of Albert Moreland"
- "Wanted — An Enemy"1946
- "Alice and the Allergy"
- "Mr. Bauer and the Atoms"1947
- "Adept's Gambit" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Diary in the Snow"
- "The Man Who Never Grew Young"1949
- "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes"
- "In the X-Ray"1950
- "The Black Ewe"
- "Coming Attraction"
- "The Dead Man"
- "The Enchanted Forest"
- "Later Than You Think"
- "Let Freedom Ring" aka "The Wolf Pack"
- "The Lion and the Lamb"
- "Martians, Keep Out!"
- "The Ship Sails at Midnight"
- "You're All Alone"1951
- "Appointment in Tomorrow" aka "Poor Superman"
- "Cry Witch!"
- "Dark Vengeance" aka "Claws from the Night" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Nice Girl with Five Husbands"
- "A Pail of Air"
- "When the Last Gods Die"1952
- "Dr. Kometevsky's Day"
- "The Foxholes of Mars" — appeared in the 1969 anthology The War Book, edited by James Sallis.
- "I'm Looking for "Jeff""
- "The Moon Is Green"
- "Yesterday House"1953
- "A Bad Day for Sales"
- "The Big Holiday"
- "The Night He Cried" — a notable sf pastiche of Mickey Spillane
- "The Seven Black Priests" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1954
- "The Mechanical Bride" (play)
- "The Silence Game"1957
- "The Big Trek"
- "Femmequin 973"
- "Friends and Enemies"
- "Time Fighter"
- "Time in the Round"
- "What's He Doing in There?"1958
- "The Big Time" (short novel) — Change War story
- "Bread Overhead"
- "Bullet With His Name"
- "A Deskful of Girls" — Change War story
- "The Last Letter"
- "Little Old Miss Macbeth"
- "The Number of the Beast" — Change War story
- "Space-Time for Springers" — Gummitch story
- "Try and Change the Past" — Change War story1959
- "Damnation Morning" — Change War story
- "The House of Mrs. Delgado"
- "The Improper Authorities"
- "Lean Times in Lankhmar" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Mind Spider" — Change War story
- "MS Found in a Maelstrom"
- "Our Saucer Vacation"
- "Pipe Dream"
- "Psychosis from Space"
- "The Reward"
- "The Silver Eggheads" (novella, later expanded to book-length)
- "Tranquility, Or Else!" aka "The Haunted Future" — Change War story1960
- "Deadly Moon"
- "The Night of the Long Knives" aka "The Wolf Pair"
- "The Oldest Soldier" — Change War story
- "Rats of Limbo"
- "Schizo Jimmie"
- "When the Sea-King's Away" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1961
- "All the Weed in the World"
- "The Beat Cluster"
- "The Goggles of Dr. Dragonet"
- "Hatchery of Dreams"
- "Kreativity for Kats" — Gummitch story
- "Scream Wolf"
- "Scylla's Daughter" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "A Visitor from Back East"1962
- "The 64-Square Madhouse"
- "The Big Engine" (shortened revision of "You're All Alone")
- "A Bit of the Dark World"
- "The Creature from Cleveland Depths" aka "The Lone Wolf"
- "The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity"
- "The Moriarty Gambit"
- "The Secret Songs"
- "The Snowbank Orbit"
- "The Thirteenth Step"
- "The Unholy Grail" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1963
- "237 Talking Statues, Etc."
- "Bazaar of the Bizarre" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Casket-Demon"
- "The Cloud of Hate" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Crimes Against Passion"
- "Dr. Adams' Garden of Evil"
- "Game for Motel Room"
- "A Hitch in Space"
- "Myths My Great-Granddaughter Taught Me"
- "No Great Magic" — Change War story
- "The Spider"
- "X Marks the Pedwalk"1964
- "Be of Good Cheer"
- "The Black Gondolier"
- "Lie Still, Snow White"
- "The Lords of Quarmall" (with Harry O. Fischer) — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Midnight in the Mirror World"
- "When the Change-Winds Blow" — Change War story1965
- "Far Reach to Cygnus"
- "Four Ghosts in Hamlet"
- "The Good New Days"
- "Knight's Move" aka "Knight to Move" — Change War story
- "Moon Duel"
- "Stardock" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1966
- "The Crystal Prison"
- "Sunk Without Trace"
- "To Arkham and the Stars" — a Cthulhu Mythos story1967
- "Answering Service"
- "Black Corridor" — Change War story
- "Gonna Roll the Bones" - winner of Hugo and Nebula awards.
- "The Inner Circles" aka "The Winter Flies"1968
- "Crazy Annaoj"
- "In the Witch's Tent" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "One Station of the Way"
- "A Specter is Haunting Texas"
- "The Square Root of Brain"
- "Their Mistress, the Sea" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Turned-off Heads"
- "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "When Brahma Wakes"
- "The Wrong Branch" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1969
- "Endfray of the Ofay"
- "Richmond, Late September, 1849"
- "Ship of Shadows"
- "When They Openly Walk"1970
- "America the Beautiful"
- "The Circle Curse" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Ill Met in Lankhmar" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Price of Pain-Ease" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Snow Women" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1971
- "Gold, Black, and Silver"1972
- "Another Cask of Wine"
- "The Bump"
- "Day Dark, Night Bright"
- "The Lotus Eaters"1973
- "The Bait" — Fafhrd & Gray Mouser story
- "Cat Three"
- "The Sadness of the Executioner" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Trapped in the Shadowland" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1974
- "Beauty and the Beasts" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Cat's Cradle" — Gummitch story
- "Do You Know Dave Wenzel?"
- "Midnight by the Morphy Watch"
- "Mysterious Doings in the Metropolitan Museum"
- "Belsen Express"
- "Catch That Zeppelin!"
- "The Glove"
- "Night Passage"
- "Trapped in the Sea of Stars" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Under the Thumbs of the Gods" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1976
- "Dark Wings"
- "The Death of Princes"
- "The Eeriest Ruined Dawn World"
- "The Frost Monstreme" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "The Terror from the Depths" — a Cthulhu Mythos story1977
- "The Princess in the Tower 250,000 Miles High"
- "Rime Isle" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "A Rite of Spring"
- "Sea Magic" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1978
- "Black Glass"
- "The Mer She" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1979
- "The Button Molder"
- "The Man Who Was Married to Space and Time"1980
- "The Repair People"1981
- "The Great San Francisco Glacier"1982
- "Horrible Imaginings"
- "The Moon Porthole"1983
- "The Cat Hotel" — Gummitch story
- "The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story1984
- "Black Has Its Charms"
- "The Ghost Light"1988
- "The Mouser Goes Below" — Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story
- "Slack Lankhmar Afternoon Featuring Hisvet" — excerpt from "The Mouser Goes Below"1990
- "Replacement for Wilmer: A Ghost Story"1993
- "Thrice the Brinded Cat"2002
- "The Enormous Bedroom"