Friday, August 27, 2021

The Fantastic S&S contributions of Cele Goldsmith

Fafhrd and GM going at it,
for show, in "The Lords of Quarmall"
Oliver Brackenbury, host of the Unknown Worlds of the Merrill Collection podcast, recently posted on the Whetstone S&S Tavern Discord group* some screenshots of the introduction to a 1995 White Wolf ominous edition of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. In the volume’s introduction Michael Moorcock writes a bit about the resurgence of sword-and-sorcery in the early 1960s, crediting the subgenre’s rise not only to the talents of the criminally underrated Leiber, but the efforts of Cele Goldsmith (later Lalli when she married in 1964).

In a time when publishers looked down upon the still-nascent subgenre, and authors like Leiber had to abandon S&S and write SF to make a living, Goldsmith (1933-2002) went out on a limb and published the likes of Leiber, Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, and John Jakes in the pages of a magazine in which she served as editor--Fantastic Stories.

From Moorcock’s introduction:

In those days the kind of supernatural romance which dominates today’s best-seller lists had virtually no commercial market. Leiber had done no better with his first Gray Mouser book than I had done with my first Elric book. Not only publishers scoffed at the notion of mass-market editions of these books, we authors scoffed equally. We knew there were only about twenty of us—readers and writers—spread thin across Britain and America… So Cele Goldsmith, when she commissioned Fritz Leiber to write a new series of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories for Fantastic, was taking a big gamble with her circulation figures.

Goldsmith had a reputation for bucking commercial trends throughout her career and so published Leiber's less-fashionable S&S. In so doing she improved the climate and conditions that allowed sword-and-sorcery to reach full flower later in the decade with the publication of the unauthorized The Lord of the Rings, the republication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, and the publication of the Lancer Conan Saga. 

The great publisher Donald A. Wollheim later gave Leiber an even greater boost by commissioning him for the now-famous “Swords” paperback series (Swords and Deviltry, Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, etc. But it’s questionable whether Leiber would have been afforded that opportunity without first showcasing some of his best work in Fantastic (note: I am not discounting Leiber’s start with F&GM in the pages of the John W. Campbell edited Unknown). Under Goldsmith’s editorship Fantastic published a huge number of the all-time Fafhrd and Gray Mouser classics, including the likes of “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” “Lean Times in Lankhmar,” “Stardock,” “The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar,” and “Scylla’s Daughter,” the last of which was later expanded into the 1968 novel The Swords of Lankhmar. Again from Moorcock/White Wolf introduction:

Perhaps because [Goldsmith and Wollheim] worked mostly as pulp fiction editors, they have never been given the considerable credit they deserve, just as Fritz himself—who wrote so much that was illuminating on the subject of literary fantasy and who wrote some of the best examples there will ever be—still does not receive sufficient credit for his enormous contribution to the genre.

It strikes me that I failed to mention the efforts of Goldsmith in Flame and Crimson, though I did mention Fantastic Stories and other magazines as being important vehicles for S&S in the early 1960s, as well as the efforts of Wollheim and his great DAW volumes. I missed a chance to give Goldsmith her just due, and that is my error. I do not own the White Wolf edits of Fafhrd and GM so was oblivious to the existence of this essay. An unfortunate oversight I will rectify when I get to a second edition.

*A great watering-hole for fans of S&S. I was unaware of the Discord platform until joining, which in contrast to its name is a cohesive and welcoming community.


  1. Great blog post! Thanks for bringing to light some of the wonderful people and the work they did to help build the genre we so enjoy. Was meaning to comment earlier, but crazy busy getting Sexy Fantastic, Issue 5 Interplanetary going. Cheers, mate!

  2. You're welcome Robert, playing a small part. Good luck with the new mag.