Michael Curtis Visits Leiber’s Legendary Lankhmar Library in Houston

Fritz-Leiber-Michael-Curtis

Report from the Archives

by Michael Curtis

In January, Michael Curtis traveled to Houston to research The Fritz Leiber Papers at the University of Houston. This amazing trip was funded by our Kickstarter for the DCC Lankhmar project. The Fritz Leiber Papers is comprised of correspondence, writings, original manuscripts, photographs, and even the author’s sword collection, all of which were donated to The University of Houston Libraries by Fritz and Justin Leiber during a period between 1984 to 1997, and spans 30 linear feet of shelf space. The collection documents Leiber’s life and works from the years 1930 to 1996. As far as we are aware, Goodman Games is the only Lankhmar publisher to incorporate this material into their works. Here is Michael’s first report back from the library.

After five days of fantastic research in the University of Houston Special Collections, I have returned to the not-so-warm climes of the northeast. I’m still in the midst of processing all that I learned from this rare opportunity to explore Leiber’s private life and creative process. While I’ve been a fan of his fiction for many years, the DCC Lankhmar project transformed me into a Leiber scholar. The opportunity to see and read firsthand his works and get a grasp of Leiber the man was the final step in this transformation process and I’m indebted to all the Kickstarter backers whose money and support made it possible.

The contents of the Leiber Papers Collection are all available for public research, but they are copyrighted by their respective owners. This means that I’m free to talk about what I found and use it in inspiration for new DCC Lankhmar material, but we here at Goodman Games have to get permission from the appropriate parties before we share photos of the collection with you. Please stay tuned for those while we get approval.

In the meantime, here’s a partial summary of some of the things I examined while in Houston:

  • The correspondence between Leiber and Harry Otto Fischer, the co-creator of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Amongst many revelations in the letters, I discovered Fischer had plans for another F&GM story he discussed with Leiber but never penned. The story, as Fischer envisioned it, “all ends in a single handed combat with the Mouser unarmed (or so it seems) dressed as a He-whore of Lankhmar against a peculiar foe (axman deluxe).” Am I the only one who wishes I could read a story featuring the Gray Mouser dressed as a gigolo fighting a maniacal axe-wielding warrior empty-handed?
  • The complete correspondence of Leiber and Gary Gygax. Gary first reached out to Leiber for permission to do something with the Lankhmar material before TSR Hobbies even existed. One of Gygax’s initial letters was on Guidon Games letterhead, the company that first published Chainmail prior to the creation of TSR. Gygax originally envisioned the Lankhmar board/wargame to be a companion to David Megarry’s Dungeon! game. In effect, like in D&D, you’d have dungeon adventures in Dungeon! and overland and wilderness adventures in Lankhmar. There was also discussions to do a Lankhmar-inspired set of miniature wargame rules similar to what TSR did with Warriors of Mars. Except this time they’d have the author’s permission!
  • A fragment of a never-before-seen Lankhmar story involving “the Place of the Idols” and the Mingols. This seems to be related to the hitherto undescribed “Forbidden City of the Black Idols” first mentioned in Leiber’s story, “The Bleak Shore.”
  • Preliminary sketches of the various characters from the Lankhmar board game as done by David C. Sutherland III. One set of these concept art pieces features written commentary by Harry Otto Fischer pointing out where Sutherland went wrong (as far as Fischer was concerned).
  • Two Fafhrd and Gray Mouser screenplays. One was for a short silent film that depicted the Twain fighting off waves of assassins dispatched to kill them by the “Black Adept.” The other was a 150+ page screenplay that tells the tale of Fafhrd and Mouser, incorporating elements of “Ill-met in Lankhmar,” “The Price of Pain Ease,” and “Adept’s Gambit.”
  • The original manuscript for “The Tale of the Grain Ships,” a novel Leiber started about Fafhrd and Mouser after completing “Adept’s Gambit” in the 1930s. He shelved the novel after 70+ pages but would return to it in later years. It eventually evolved into the novel, The Swords of Lankhmar. However, the original manuscript contains information and ideas that never made it to the completed novel. One of them was that Fafhrd and Mouser’s adventures, along with Lankhmar, itself, were on Earth in the far, far distant past a la Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria tales.
  • The long sought-after, but elusive map of Lankhmar depicted by Fritz Leiber, himself! This has been the great white whale of my research and it finally came to light. As you know, DCC is all about going back to the source material and developing it anew. Every map of Lankhmar up until now has been rooted in the TSR map created for Lankhmar: City of Adventure. Now, we have the opportunity to go back to Leiber’s own map and written details and depict the City of Seven-score Thousand Smokes in a way no one has ever done before!
  • Countless other manuscripts, story notes, correspondences with other authors (including Ray Bradbury), and ephemera.

The visit produced a treasure trove of ideas and inspirations for forthcoming DCC Lankhmar supplements and adventures. I’m in the midst of outlining the first of those, the promised stretch goal the trip was intended to produce, and will have the final draft handed in by early next month. No spoilers, but it will allow judges and players to take their adventures beyond the walls of Lankhmar and into the larger world of Nehwon.

I’d like to thank Imelda Cervantes and the rest of the UoH Special Collections department for their extremely helpful assistance during my time there. Their help and good-natured patience with my countless requests made an already amazing trip astounding. I even got to spread the DCC Lankhmar gospel a little and may have created a few new players among the UoH student body!

Attached are some pictures of the University of Houston’s Special Collection department. They have a beautiful facility and, if you’re scholarly-minded and wish to do your own research into the life of Leiber, I heartily recommend reaching out to the University of Houston Special Collections and let them know you’d like to examine his papers for yourself.

 

Author: pandabrett

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