Ill Edited In Lankhmar

Right, I’m trying to study “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” one of Fritz Leiber’s stories.  (Lie-burr…I’ve been saying it wrong.)

I started with the collection Fritz Leiber: Collected Stories, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Charles N. Brown, intro by Neil Gaiman (2010).  This edition is a hardcopy library property, and as I realized I wanted to study the Lankhmar story, I decided to get an ebook version, which are easier to type in as I work.

I did not get the same edition; I got Swords and Deviltry:  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Book 1, by Fritz Leiber, copyright renewed 1995 by Fritz Leiber.

Now, I’m sure the issue I’m about to describe is old hat for longtime Leiber fans and purists, but I was goggle-eyed.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Collected copy:

Silent as specters, the tall and the fat thief edged past the dead, noose-strangled watch-leopard, out the thick, lock-picked door of Jengao the Gem Merchant, and strolled east on Cash Street through the thin black night-smog of Lankhmar.

 

East on Cash it had to be, for west at Cash and Silver was a police post with unbribed guardsmen restlessly grounding and rattling their pikes.

 

But tall, tight-lipped Slevyas, master thief candidate, and fat, darting-eyed Fissif, thief second class, with a rating of talented in double-dealing, were not in the least worried.  Everything was proceeding according to plan.  Each carried thonged in his pouch a smaller pouch of jewels of the first water only, for Jengao, now breathing stentoriously inside and senseless from the slugging he’d suffered, must be allowed, nay, nursed and encouraged to build up his business agains and so ripen it for another plucking.  Almost the first law of the Thieves’ Guild was never to kill the hen that laid eggs with a ruby in the yolk.

 

The two thieves also had the relief of knowing that they were going straight home now, not to a wife, Arath forbid!–or to parents and children, all gods forfend!–but to Thieves’ House, headquarters and barracks of the almighty Guild, which was father to them both and mother too, though no woman was allowed inside its ever-open portal on Cheap Street.

 

In addition there was the comforting knowledge that although each was armed only with his regulation silver-hilted thief’s knife, they were nevertheless most strongly convoyed by three reliable and lethal bravoes hired for the evening from the Slayers’ Brotherhood, one moving well ahead of them as point, the other two well behind as rear guard and chief striking force.

While, on the other hand, here’s the opening from the ebook edition:

Silent as specters, the tall and the fat thief edged past the dead, noose-strangled watch-leopard, out the thick, lock-picked door of Jengao the Gem Merchant, and strolled east on Cash Street through the thin black night-smog of Lankhmar, City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes.

 

East on Cash it had to be, for west at the intersection of Cash and Silver was a police post with unbribed guardsmen in browned-iron cuirasses and helms, restlessly grounding and rattling their pikes, while Jangao’s place had no alley entrance or even window in its stone walls three spans thick and the roof and floor almost as strong and without trap doors.

 

But tall, tight-lipped Slevyas, master thief candidate, and fat, darting-eyes Fissif, thief second class, brevetted first class for this operation, with a rating of talented in double-dealing, were not the least worried.  Everything was proceeding according to plan. Each carried thonged in his pouch a much smaller pouch of jewels of the first water only, for Jengao, now breathing stentoriously inside and senseless from the slugging he’d suffered, must be allowed, nay, nursed and encouraged, to build up his business again and so ripen it for another plucking.  Almost the first law of the Thieves’ Guild was never kill the hen that laid brown eggs with a ruby in the yolk, or white eggs with a diamond in the white.

 

The two thieves also had the relief of knowing that, with the satisfaction of a job well done, they were going straight home now, not to a wife, Aarth forbid!–or to parents and children, all gods forfend!–but to Thieves’ House, headquarters and barracks of the all-mighty Guild which was father to them both and mother too, though no woman was allowed inside its ever-open portal on Cheap Street.

 

In addition there was the comforting knowledge that although each was armed only with his regulation silver-hilted thief’s knife, a weapon seldom used except in rare intramuural duels and brawls, in fact more a membership token than a weapon, they were nevertheless most strongly convoyed by three reliable and lethal bravos hired for the evenin from the Slayers’ Brotherhood, one moving well ahead of them as point, the other two well behind as rear guard and chief striking force, in fact almost out of sight–for it is never wise that such conveying be obvious, or so believed Krovas, Grandmaster of the Thieves’ Guild.

The first passage is 290 words; the second is 400 words.  This pattern runs through both versions of the stories.  I didn’t get terribly far into the ebook version–it was all bloat, bloat, bloat.

Ugh.

Okay, granted.  This is a fantasy story; a bit of, let us say, non-leanness is expected, even demanded.   However, this stuff slows down the pace unreasonably and even derails the story from time to time:  who gives a flying @#$% about whether the egg with a jewel in the center is brown or white?!?

Let it be shown that if one detail is good, then two details are not necessarily better.  Because get to the point!  And also let it be shown that truly over-editing is for the birds.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. This made me go get my ancient Ace paperback off the shelf to see which version it had!

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