Due to the massive success of Game of Thrones, many other places are looking for the next big fantasy hit. MTV even has The Shannara Chronicles, which has received very mixed reviews, and The Wheel of Time has been optioned for TV as well. But what every production company seems to be missing is the very best fantasy series that was ever written: Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Fritz Leiber, a science fiction and fantasy author, wrote a story in 1939 called “Two Sought Adventure” starring Fafhrd, a large barbarian from the frozen North, and the Gray Mouser, a taciturn thief. Soon, Leiber realized he could use these characters to not only poke fun at the Conan the Barbarian-type stories that pervaded fantasy magazines, but to also construct his own fantasy world and deconstruct a various number of characters and tropes.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sold their services to anyone with the right coin — more importantly, Mouser was a former member of the Thieves’ Guild and would often go up against his former employers. But they also went on adventures due to bets or because they wanted to have a bit of fun. Sometimes they got into trouble because of drink or because of women — they were often subject to the Cartwright Curse, where their love interests ended up dead by the end of the story. However, later stories gave both of them long-term girlfriends, even if one of them was, uh, a big unconventional.*
* One of Mouser’s girlfriends was Kreeshka, a ghoul, whose skin and organs are all invisible. Which means she looks like an animated skeleton. Whatever you do, don’t think about their sex life.
The best parts of the stories were when Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were not only gently poking fun of fantasy conventions (like when the Mouser would poke fun of his wizard patron, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, or Fafhrd’s patron wizard, Ninguable of the Seven Eyes and would constantly interrupt him when he was trying to be serious), but also mixing those moments into fantastic adventures:
Entering the Plaza of Dark Delights, the “bazaar of the bizarre,” where the alien Devourers sell literal trash; finding themselves forced to fight Death on the Bleak Shore or steal the stars from the tallest mountain; and even one of the best stories, “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” where Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser part ways and the entire story becomes about each of their lives and ends with a hilarious farce.
And all of these stories were accompanied by Leiber’s fantastic prose:
The Mouser sighed. The moment had come, he knew, as it always did, when outward circumstances and inner urges commanded an act, when curiosity and fascination tipped the scale of caution, when the lure of a vision and an adventure became so great and deep-hooking that he must respond to it or have his inmost self-respect eaten away.
Aside from a few stories, all of their adventures take place in the fantasy world of Newhon. And a lot of those stories took place within the city of Lankhmar, a city riddled with crime and smog (it’s nicknamed “The City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes”). It’s also a city that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser always leave declaring they will never come back and yet always find themselves in again.
(You might notice some similarities between Lankmar and Ankh-Morpork. According to Terry Pratchett, these were completely unintentional.)
A television show could absolutely be about Fafhrd and the Mouser’s adventures in Lankmar, each of them working for coin and doing side jobs for their patron wizards (all the while the Mouser mocks them).
They aren’t very serious stories, but they are utterly and completely fun. And that’s what we look for in fiction, isn’t it?
“Now about Lankhmar. She’s been invaded, her walls breached everywhere and desperate fighting is going on in the streets, by a fierce host which out-numbers Lankhmar’s inhabitants by fifty to one — and equipped with all modern weapons. Yet you can save the city.”
“How?” demanded Fafhrd.
Ningauble shrugged. “You’re a hero. You should know.”