Rediscovered: Becoming Legends

Fritz Leiber, subject of the tour coming up this Sunday, was alive for much of the time I’ve been doing walks. Some of you may remember Hammett tours when we reached 811 Geary Street and did the blurb on Fritz and Our Lady of Darkness — and that I usually would say that as far as I was concerned, Fritz was the best writer then living in San Francisco.

Yeah, yeah, I knew we had writers in town who had won Pulitzer Prizes, and other authors who sold more books. But what I was saying was that if I had to bet my own money on a writer whose best works would still be read in fifty years, I’d bet on Fritz.

It’s been twenty years now since Fritz’s death on September 5 1992, and he hasn’t become a mega-bestseller and his name isn’t on everyone’s lips — but I’m comfortable leaving my chips on him, waiting to see if he can crack the big time in the next thirty years or so.

Encouraging signs: Fritz has had a couple of stories appear in Library of America collections, a step toward having the literary establishment back in New York acknowledge the overall body of work. Writers like Fritz and Charles Willeford have their toes firmly jammed in that door, and I don’t think they’re going away.

Plus Fritz has some famous boosters, such as Harlan Ellison, who said in a recent interview that “Fritz was one of my idols and one of the great men of literature.”

And even some of Fritz’s associates are inching along to fame, specifically Donald Sidney-Fryer, who I notice Michael Dirda in the Washington Post calling “something of a living legend.” If DSF ultimately makes it into the annals of literary legends, no small part of that fame surely will hinge on his appearance — only thinly disguised — in Our Lady of Darkness as the flamboyant character Jaime Donaldus Byers.

I figure if you come to Fritz, eventually you’ll do some sort of side investigation into DSF, just as if you ever get into M. P. Shiel someday you’ll encounter the name and exploits of John Gawsworth.

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