Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sussing out the Mouser

I've been having a pretty hard time coming up with the Mouser visually, or even understanding his character really. Wasn't able to nail him down quickly like I was with Fafhrd, but instead have been sort of building him up from bits and pieces - for instance I've always very vaguely had a bit of a Robin Hood sense about him, and I wasn't sure why. I guess it's partly because of the overblown way he acts, courtly and elegant at times, while being a rogue. And his acrobatic, physical nature as well - like an Errol Flynn. I recently started re-reading the series (and ordered newer editions of the books because mine are turning shockingly yellow/orange and beginning to come apart - I've bought some paperback bags for collectors to store them in). And the Mouser's origin story The Unholy Grail is set in a forest very reminiscient of Sherwood. It so happens I became fascinated with Robin Hood stories a year or so ago and downloaded a book written by Howard Pyle collecting them and read a little ways in. Now I know there are lots of stories with medieval settings that would be very similar, but I detect some subtle similarities going beyond that - for instance mainly the idea that both Robin and the Mouser are protected and sustained by the forest itself and sort of become forest spirits of a sort - though only temporarily for Mouser. And both dress like a medieval forester, with a short cloak with a hood.

Robin hood, as well as Peter Pan, are people who have sort of become forest spirits like elves or fairies or sprites.

On thinking about this I also hearkened back to the discovery that Superman was based largely on Doc Savage, and it occurred to me that Faf and the Mouser in some ways are a very Batman/Robin pairing, and obviously Robin is named for and dressed like Robin Hood.

Ok, but these ideas only go so far - in many ways the Mouser is not at all like Robin Hood. He's got a real nasty streak and is extremely vainglorious, with a Napoleon complex that drives him to "walk among bravoes with a swagger though he's but the stature of a child". And there's also the clearly stated idea from Unholy Grail that he tried for a time to practice white magic (and to be a good and honest person I take it) but that there's a darkness in his soul that comes forth naturally and makes his nature grey rather than black or white. Taken quite obviously from Gandalf.

I'm getting overwordy. Anyway, I read Fafhrd and Me, which I have saved to my Documents folder, and Leiber gave a very good description of the Mouser, and related the difficulties he had in apprehending the character himself - he said he wasn't at all able to conceive of him all at once or easily like he was with Fafhrd, but instead built him gradually from bits and pieces of characters from literature (most of which I'm unfamiliar with, except for Loki - and that gives a really excellent idea of what he's like). So, the same way I'm piece-mealing him together myself then. Good to know.

Finally, I think my lifelong impression of him has been a bit too nice. Mostly because I was so young and innocent when I discovered the series, and knew nothing about the ways of inner city youth aside from Oliver Twist (which I think is also a very powerful influence). And these costume drama movies present things too sweetly and cartoonishly - too nicey-nice without the dirty, grimy realism that's actually present under the flowery language of Leiber. Since then I've met a few people who had to learn early in life to become hardened and quick with words in order to con people. Thinking about them, I have a much better handle on the Mouser now. He's a good deal more hard-bitten than I wanted to see him before. Maybe a lot less Errol Flynn and a lot more Jesse Pinkman (not quite right actually, but getting close). He's mercurial - his expressions changing rapidly along with his moods.

Another very important aspect - I have now seen one and only one picture of Harry Otto Fischer, the real life counterpart. And as I was reading I believe in Ill Met in Lankhmar, there was a scene where the Mouser threw back his head and flared his nostrils and made his eyes hard and staring - and that's exactly like the look on his face in that picture. Click. Also, I was surprised (though shouldn't have been) to learn in Fafhrd and Me that Fischer spent part of his life as a ballet dancer. So - the picture begins to come together. He was obviously a very hyperactive little person, with excess energy, who was a trained dancer and would apparently go dancing and skipping about making big elegant courtly gestures like deep extravagant bows in his normal daily speech. Click.

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