Tough Travelling: Thieves
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
This month we’re checking out our favourite THIEVES:
Thieves’ Guild. The best organised body of people in the continent. Thieves’ Guilds exist in all CITIES and can usually pass messages reliably between branches, although each City appears to have its own independent hierarchy. The Thieves’ Guild exists to transfer wealth but not to distribute it. Its members are pickpockets, burglars, robbers, fences, and housebreakers, but never muggers. The Guild claims to be a body of artists. All its members profess horror at violence (but are quite proficient fighters all the same) and pride themselves on bringing off robberies in apparently impregnable TREASURE stores, on picking locks, and on climbing smooth walls.
The Guild is organised into masters, journeymen, and APPRENTICES, with an anonymous Hidden Head, or Guildmaster, who rejoices in such NAMES as The Faceless Man or The Gentleman. You will be taken to see this person at some point when your Tour visits a City. You will be blindfolded and led along strange-smelling passages to an upstairs venue evidently concealed between two or more houses. The man’s face will be veiled by MAGIC or masked. But meanwhile you will have made the acquaintance of a very young Apprentice thief. In return for the Guild’s helping the Tour, the Hidden Guildmaster will ask you to look after this Child because he shows promise, and you will take him with you when you leave on the rest of the Tour. He will become an excellent and useful Tour COMPANION, and even make JOKES. There is always an unspoken suggestion that this young thief is the son of the Hidden Guildmaster.
A big thank you to James, Graeme, Beth, Nils, Dorian, and Theo for their recommendations…
I’m a bit of a fantasy outsider in not loving thieves, but they are hard enough to avoid that I still have favourites. First, in prestige and chronology, should be Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, who, though explicitly not Guild members, were still handy pilferers.
And also worth mentioning is the super-scriber Sancia Grado from Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside, who, along with her unlikely team, pull off some spectacular heists.
Gray Mouser from Fritz Leiber’s classic fantasy stories is the archetypal fantasy thief, and I suppose Robert Howard’s Conan and friends count too, although their methodology was less sneak and steal and more… slaughter everyone then pick over the remains.
And for our obligatory Discworld reference; Nobby Nobs. Who could clear a crime scene of evidence faster than anyone in the Guard… though you’d have to go looking for it in pawn shops afterwards.
We can always rely on Graeme for our Discworld references!
Captain Vimes: “What are you doing ?”
Nobby: “Searchingthebodiessir. For incriminating evidence, and that.”
Vimes: “In their money pouches ?”
Nobby: “You never know, sir.”
I love a good thief in my fantasy book, they’re always the cheeky characters, the ones with a twinkle in their eye. Eddings writes a good thief – Althalus and his reluctant education at the, er, hands of Emmy; and of course the charming, ever witty Silk…
“What was that?” Belgarath asked, coming back around the corner.
“Brill,” Silk replied blandly, pulling his Murgo robe back on.
“Again?” Belgarath demanded with exasperation. “What was he doing this time?”
“Trying to fly, last time I saw him.” Silk smirked.
The old man looked puzzled.
“He wasn’t doing it very well,” Silk added.
Belgarath shrugged. “Maybe it’ll come to him in time.”
“He doesn’t really have all that much time.” Silk glanced out over the edge.
From far below – terribly far below – there came a faint, muffled crash; then, after several seconds, another. “Does bouncing count?” Silk asked.
Belgarath made a wry face. “Not really.”
“Then I’d say he didn’t learn in time.” Silk said blithely.”
― David Eddings, Magician’s Gambit
We could also talk about Eska’s Uncle Valentin from T. L. Greylock’s Shadows Of Ivory. Eska herself, despite her protestations, is most definitely a thief. But I loved Greylock’s exploration of the issue of archaeological theft – priceless artefacts taken from their countries of origins and claimed by others to display in their museums…
Great point, Shadows of Ivory actually begins with Eska stealing an artefact and desperately trying to escape, so yes she’s most definitely a thief! I also loved Greylock’s exploration of archeological theft. Dan Hanks explores this in Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire too, as the main character, Sam, is always questioning and berating her sister for taking priceless artefacts away from the rightful culture it belongs to, simply to show them off in a museum without any remorse or consideration whatsoever. Hanks shows the argument from both sides so the whole book makes you think about the topic quite a bit.
I’m going to be cheeky and mention the obvious, and perhaps most popular one – The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
Locke and Jean are the perfect dastardly duo and their antics are just downright entertaining!
“I only steal because my dear old family needs the money to live!”
Locke Lamora made this proclamation with his wine glass held high; he and the other Gentleman Bastards were seated at the old witchwood table. . . . The others began to jeer.
“Liar!” they chorused
“I only steal because this wicked world won’t let me work an honest trade!” Calo cried, hoisting his own glass.
“I only steal,” said Jean, “because I’ve temporarily fallen in with bad company.”
At last the ritual came to Bug; the boy raised his glass a bit shakily and yelled, “I only steal because it’s heaps of fucking fun!”
However, the most recent book I’ve read with a thief as the main character is Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson, which is a novella in the Stormlight Archives series. Lift has surgebinding powers which allow her to run really fast, almost gliding, which is a pretty neat trick when you’re avoiding being caught!
I nominate Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn from Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books. In all of fantasy literature, I think Hadrian is the character I’d most like to simply hang out with. (Royce, maybe less so.) The two of them enjoy the genre’s finest bromance.
Well I suppose I could mention the original fantasy thief, after all wasn’t Bilbo hired specifically for his talents as a burglar? What with the mark Gandalf put on his door saying “Burglar wants a good job, Plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward.”
Apart from The Hobbit, I think everyone has mentioned all the fantasy thieves I could think of, though a quick survey of my bookshelves does throw up Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief which has a sort of fantasy feel in its personification of death, although Zusak’s version is a slightly more philosophical and melancholic figure than Pratchett’s brilliant creation. The Book Thief also has a fierce female protagonist in Liesel Meminger, the girl learning to read and then – to further her passion, stealing books, all in the midst of Germany during the second world war. I mean come on people – isn’t book thievery (not piracy mind) a pure kind of larceny?
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite FESTIVITIES in speculative fiction.
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