Our Lady of Darkness is Fritz Leiber’s most sophisticated, extended treatment of the urban supernatural. Ghosts born of urban pollution and the impersonality of city life are found in such early Leiber stories as “Smoke Ghost,” “The Hound,” and “The Inheritance.” Like its predecessors, the ghost in Our Lady of Darkness is obliquely perceived against a cityscape that distorts perspective. Leiber further suggests the unnaturalness of urban life by repeated images and metaphors involving paper. A skyscraper, for example, is several times compared to a vertical punch card. Tracing his building’s history, Franz is sent on a paper chase, from one document repository to another. The paper imagery suggests that in a city, unlike in a small town, human interactions are carried on indirectly.
One of the pleasures of Our Lady of Darkness is Leiber’s wide-ranging allusiveness and skill at parodying the styles of other writers, particularly H. P. Lovecraft. Like Lovecraft, Leiber mixes references to imaginary and actual writers and books. Along with Clark Ashton Smith, the writers Jack London and Ambrose Bierce were members of the cult of the fictional de Castries. Leiber has borrowed from Lovecraft the creation of an imaginary book with evil powers: Megapolisomacy is based on Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon.
Although Our Lady of Darkness is not as overtly misogynist as some of...
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