The Snow Women

Published: 1970

Each Snow Woman, usually with the aid of the rest, worked to maintain absolute control of her man, though leaving him seemingly free, and it was whispered that recalcitrant husbands had been injured and even slain, generally by some frigid instrumentality. While at the same time witchy cliques and individual sorceresses played against each other a power game in which the brawniest and boldest of men, even chiefs and priests, were but counters.


Snow, ice, and cold–willing agents of the Snow Women–seek to oppress Fafhrd. Whether threatening life with icy death, a snowy blanket weighing on the soul, or becoming a frigid prison keeping man rooted in place, the elements of cold dominate all men in the Cold Waste. Fafhrd, in particular, is targeted by the Snow Women for his willfulness and his fancies towards civilization.

Fafhrd is at a crossroads in life. The ghost of Nalgron, Fafhrd’s father, shows Fafhrd one possible future from his ice-hard grave. Mor, his mother, dictates another–one for a dutiful son of the Cold Waste. Mara, his snow-bride, promises yet another–one appropriate for a barbarian-husband of the Cold Waste. Vlana, the culture-dancer from the civilized south, represents the path away from all icy oppression.

The last path, if taken, is fraught with great peril and the wrath of all Snow Women!

Nehwon Gazetteer


Effendrit, Essedinex, Harrax, Hinerio, Hor, Hrey, Hringorl, Mara of the Snow Clan, Mor, Nalgron, Skif, Vellix the Venturer, Vilis, Vlana, Zax.


Cold Corner, Gnamph Nar, Horborixen, Ilthmar, Klelg Nar, Kvarch Nar, Mlurg Nar, Quarmall, Sarheenmar, Tisilinilit.


Bones of the Old Ones, Cold Waste, Gran Hanack, Inner Sea, Land of Lankhmar, Land of the Eight Cities, Mountains of the Giants, Trollstep Canyon, Trollstep Mountains, White Fang.


Thieves’ Guild, Whores’ Guild.

Rate The Snow Women

 stars  from 9 votes


Charles Fewlasssrithofthescrolls, 2007/01/15 15:14

I finished reading “The Snow Women”. This one took a while mainly due to the fact that I've been pretty busy as of late, including getting quite a bit of overtime at work. I started it a few weeks ago and read it in three sessions.

As mentioned before, I find the two origin stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser a little difficult to get into. It is almost as if I'm forcing myself to read them. I hate to say that about any of Fritz Leiber's writings. However, when you consider all the different styles and voices that he could write in, it is not surprising to encounter the odd story here or there that doesn't fly off the page for me.

This is Fafhrd's origin story. In it, he still lives with the Snow Clan in the Cold Waste. He lives with his mother, Mor. His father, Nalgron, was killed in a mountain climbing accident, and his Snow Clan lover, Mara, is pregnant with his child.

The first thing that struck me when reading the story is some similarities between The Snow Women and Leiber's novel Conjure Wife. The Snow Clan with all the women as witches seems to be a duplicate in miniature of the premise of Conjure Wife. In Conjure Wife, set in modern times, all the wifes are witches but the husbands are unaware. However, in The Snow Women, the fact that all the women are witches is common knowledge.

The second thing that struck me was the sense of oppression and claustrophobia that pervades the story. There is the oppression of the customs and traditions of a small community like the Snow Clan. The oppression of those who try to control others. Ice, snow, darkness, graves, and even the forest all play their part in creating this atmosphere.

Fafhrd feels constrained by the traditions and customs of the Snow Clan. His mother, leader of the Snow Women, wishes to control his life. Mara is not much better than his mother as she has her own plans for what she wants Fafhrd to be.

The elements of snow and ice are constantly used as an extension of the will of the Snow Women and specifically Mor. They are the chief tool of the Snow Women's magic. The snow and ice weigh down upon their victims, threatening to crush, smother, or stab the life out of them. The element of cold as wielded by the Snow Women in the climax of the story is even used to suspend movement and capture others like a frost-bitten spider-web.

The following passages really bring it all together:

As if sensing her victory and permitting herself to joy in it a little, Mor said in the same dead, reflective tones, “Aye, your father now bitterly regrets Gran Hanack, White Fang, the Ice Queen, and all his other mountain paramours. They cannot help him now. They have forgotten him. He stares up endlessly from lidless sockets at the home he despised and now yearns for, so near, yet so impossibly far. His fingerbones scrabble feebly against the frozen earth, he tries futilely to twist under its weight…”

Fafhrd heard a faint scratching, perhaps of icy twigs against tent leather, but his hair rose. Yet he could move no other part of him, he discovered as he tried to lift himself. The blackness all around him was a vast weight. He wondered if Mor had magicked him down under the ground beside his father. Yet it was a greater weight than that of eight feet of frozen earth that pressed on him. It was the weight of the entire Cold Waste and its killingness, of the taboos and contempts and shut-mindedness of the Snow Clan, of the pirate greed and loutish lust of Hringorl, of even Mara's merry self-absorption and bright, half-blind mind, and atop them all Mor with ice crystals forming on her fingertips as she wove them in a binding spell.


Ok, I'm just impressed that Mor pitches her tent on top of her late husband's grave every winter completing her domination over him. Man, talk about a cold woman!

pp. 65-66
Balonbalon, 2007/03/09 21:26, 2007/03/10 08:01

I found it really interesting too, that once the Clan member became aware of how Fafhrd was shunning their way, they became hell bent for his blood!

He peeked in on the Circus dancing girls show, Mara tells her brothers, and they all attack him in numbers. He runs, but this only incites them further. He should have stayed and died fighting. when the civilized thing was to run and live to fight another day.

Charles Fewlasssrithofthescrolls, 2007/03/11 16:16

Yes, that's true. That played out like very natural group behavior. As you say, Fafhrd was shunning their ways and therefore became a natural target for the group.

This plays into the whole oppression theme too. The clan was full of traditions, customs, and plenty of 'just the way things are done' attitudes. And in a small societal group such as the Snow Clan, those customs and traditions would seem even more constricting to Fafhrd.

Fafhrd was rebelling against everything the clan represented and desired the only other option available to him. He wanted to run away to civilization with Vlana. Vlana represented civilization and a means of escape.

Balonbalon, 2007/03/11 16:37, 2007/03/11 16:39

That escape and rebellion from oppression shows throughout the whole of the stories as well. Every time a shunned or 'cursed' temple came into their attention, the first thing Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser does is charge in.

Probably a good reason for why it seems everyone hates them!

Charles Fewlasssrithofthescrolls, 2007/03/11 16:43

Yeah, they really don't like being told what they can and cannot do. Do they?

Balonbalon, 2007/03/11 16:46

You said:

Yeah, they really don't like being told what they can and cannot do. Do they?

Of course not!

I think that's why they have yet to find any other girls. The only ones who could tame them are gone, and everyone else is a joke.

Charles Fewlasssrithofthescrolls, 2007/03/13 02:28

Balon wrote:

I think that's why they have yet to find any other girls. The only ones who could tame them are gone, and everyone else is a joke.

You have a point there, and that's certainly true for the first five books. However, the two do eventually start maturing.

In ¨Under the Thumbs of Gods“ all they are forced to encounter all their past lovers and are rejected by each. They get a quick and harsh lesson on how to treat a lady. This marks the beginning of the last Act of their story cycle and of their maturation.

The last two books Swords and Ice Magic and The Knight and Knave of Swords have as their main theme the maturation of the two heroes. The last story, “The Mouser Goes Below”, allows them to finally settle into their roles as responsible men. It is in these last stories that they finally meet their equals.

Balonbalon, 2007/03/13 05:35

Good! I have yet to reach the full end of the series (they're damn hard to find where I live) but I'm glad that they wise up. A good woman is one of the few things nearly impossible to find.

You shouldn't let one go easily.

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