Vintage Treasures: The Girl With the Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber
Sometimes it seems that every time a new sword & sorcery novel appears, a publicist automatically slaps “comparable to Fritz Leiber!” on the cover.
I’ll tell you why: it works. When Karen Burnham at SF Signal noted that Tim Pratt’s latest Pathfinder novel Liar’s Blade had done “an excellent job of capturing the spirit” of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, I bought it immediately. A fantasy novel with the charm and style of Fritz Leiber’s great adventures? Where’s my credit card.
I think publicists must get tired of comparing new sword & sorcery to Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard. I know it’s annoying to their fans, and I don’t think it does a genuine service to most new writers — not in the long term, anyway.
And frankly, all the focus on Fritz Leiber as the poster child for exemplary S&S overlooks his success in a broad range of genres: science fiction, mystery, dark fantasy, supernatural horror, plays, and even a 1966 Tarzan novel. Ask anyone who’s read his 1965 Hugo Award-winning novel The Wanderer, about a rogue planet that drifts close to Earth — or his brilliant short story “A Pail of Air,” a post-apocalyptic tale of a family fighting to survive on a world grown so cold that oxygen has condensed out of the air, and the strange things they discover when the world has gone completely still — and you’ll find that Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales, as important as they are to the Sword & Sorcery canon, stand as only a small sample of a stellar writing career that spanned over 50 years.
As a paperback collector, it’s hard to pick my favorite Fritz Leiber book. I love Michael Whelan’s cover for Swords and Ice Magic (1977), and of course The Big Time (1961), Gather, Darkness! (1975), and the creepy Our Lady of Darkness (1977). But I think it would have to be a collection, possibly The Mind Spider and Other Stories (1961), Ship of Shadows (1979), or The Ghost Light (1984).
But I might just cheat and make it the 1949 Avon paperback The Girl With the Hungry Eyes.
The reason that would be cheating is that The Girl With the Hungry Eyes isn’t a Leiber collection. It’s an anthology of six fantasy stories, edited by Donald A. Wollheim. It only has one contribution from Fritz Leiber, the title story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes.”
Ah — but what a story.
“The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” tells the tale of a photographer who stumbles across a model with literally unholy appeal. In a compact 18 pages it relates her meteoric rise in the fashion industry, the strangely lethal effect she has on her city, and the even more devastating impact she has on the narrator.
It’s a powerful story that was eventually filmed for TV in 1970, for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (one of two Leiber adaptations for that show; the other was “The Dead Man.”)
It was also made into a feature film by Kastenbaum Films in 1995, directed by Jon Jacobs and starring Christina Fulton, Isaac Turner, and Leon Herbert. (Not to be confused with the 1967 film The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, made by William Rotsler, which is totally unrelated).
The rest of the book is worth reading as well. The cover loudly proclaims the inclusion of William Tenn’s novella “Venus and the Seven Sexes,” the tale of a Hollywood director’s attempts to film a love triangle in a world with seven sexes, but Tenn is by no means the only author you’ll recognize.
The book also contains “Mrs. Manifold” by Stephen Grendon (aka August Derleth), the story of Mrs. Manifold’s Singapore saloon, her London boarding house, and the devil. P. Schuyler Miller’s “Daydream” introduces us to James Payson, constantly bullied by his cousin Charles, who creates imaginary companions who help him endure. When both men have grown and James is a successful businessman, he runs afoul of the cruel Charles again — and his imaginary friends return to surprising effect.
“Maturity Night” by Frank Belknap Long brings us into a post-apocalyptic dark age, where people revere their civilized ancestors as “Mighty Men.” Jal Strall spends a night in an old museum as part of a coming-of-age trial, hoping to see visions of the Mighty Men. But things take a very different turn when he begins to tinker with one of the mysterious old machines.
The final entry, “Come into my Parlor” by Manly Wade Wellman, is an Appalachian horror story that would fit right in with his much-loved Silver John tales, featuring a man who investigates the mysterious Gardinel Swamp in search of unusually large specimens of carnivorous plants, and finds a strange ruined cabin with a horrible secret.
All of the stories are original to this volume.
The Girl With the Hungry Eyes was Avon Books #184, published in 1949. It’s highly prized today, as much for the striking cover by Ann Cantor as for the contents, I expect (click on the image above for a bigger version). It is a slender 128 pages, typical for paperbacks of the era. It has no price, but probably sold for 25 cents.
Copies are a little tougher to come by these days, but I got mine for around twenty bucks — not much more than a modern trade paperback. A quick glance at Amazon reveals multiple copies in good condition are available between $13- $25.
It was never reprinted, and there is no digital edition.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures articles here.
I was intrigued by Liar’s Blade as well for the same reason!
You get a lot of the same with with ‘epic’ fantasy claiming to be similar to Tolkien. I almost put a book down if it claims to be anything like Lord of the Rings.
The newest Morlock book had a critic say something about A Guile of Dragons being similar to Tolkien. Don’t get me wrong I’ve bought the previous two Morlock novels the day the were released but it is nothing like JRR Tolkien.
I realize that was a reviewer and not the published but you get my point.
Mr. O’Neill you are required in all future posts of Vintage Treasures to provide a picture of your shelf (or room) where the said treasure is located.
I love these posts!
> You get a lot of the same with with ‘epic’ fantasy claiming to be similar to Tolkien.
Very true. Epic fantasy writers have been imitating Tolkien for so long now that I take it for granted – seems like overkill to belabor the point in the jacket copy, doesn’t it??
> you are required in all future posts of Vintage Treasures to provide a picture of your shelf
Glad you’re enjoying these posts. 🙂
Pics of my paperback collection aren’t very interesting, unfortunately. I keep my vintage paperbacks (pre-1970) in a separate room, and most of them are double-stacked. Here’s the bookcase THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES came from:
Books are sorted alphabetically by author. The first six shelves (including the top, cut off in the pic) are anthologies, and the bottom three are the letters A and B.
Here’s another pic a few bookcases over, letters S through T. The bookcase on the far right contains Ace paperbacks, which I separate out because they were sometimes shorter.
These were quick snaps with my camera in terrible lighting… if I have time I’ll have to do a better job someday.
This is one of my holy grails.
I’ve never found an affordable/decent copy of this. You are a lucky man indeed.
And a great article!
Awesome! I feel like a 13 year old looking at porn. I like to imagine that there is a local used bookstore whose shelves look exactly like these–full of awesome old books and going for cheap!
I’d forgotten that “A Pail of Air” was Leiber’s. The story made a huge impression on me when I read it in my early teens. When I reread it just a couple of years ago, I found the story was even better than I remembered. Somehow I reassigned the story to an author-function better known for hard sf. Not to a specific actual author, mind you. Two days ago, I couldn’t have told you who wrote it, but I’d have said, Oh, one of those slide-rule guys from back in the day.
Your shelves are glorious, Mr. O’Neill. Glorious.
> This is one of my holy grails.
> I’ve never found an affordable/decent copy of this. You are a lucky man indeed.
I think I was lucky — although truthfully, I think the book must have been a decent seller, as I keep stumbling across copies. Keep trying! I know there are copies available, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Thanks for the link, too — and the great review of Leiber’s “A Bit of the Dark World.” Sounds like a splendid tale and I need to check it out.
> I like to imagine that there is a local used bookstore whose shelves look
> exactly like these – full of awesome old books and going for cheap!
When I moved here to St. Charles in 1997, the town had a fine collection of used bookstores, and I collected hundreds of vintage paperbacks at great prices in the first few years we lived here.
I’m glad I did — all of the stores are gone now, and I don’t think they’re coming back.
I used to daydream about opening up a used bookstore of my own in my retirement. But it seems those days are over.
> I’d forgotten that “A Pail of Air” was Leiber’s… When I reread it just a
> couple of years ago, I found the story was even better than I remembered.
I agree. I read it in 2011, and was really impressed. The early scenes where something unknown is hunting the family in the lethally-cold landscape will stay with me, I’m sure!
> Your shelves are glorious, Mr. O’Neill. Glorious.
Thanks! I just wish I had more space to display the books properly, instead of double-stacking them on every shelf. Makes it hard to find things, too…
I look at those pictures and I realize: I am among my people!
I know exactly what you mean. 🙂
Found me a copy!!! 🙂
[…] Fiction” in the title), and not long after he produced the first original SF anthology, The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, in […]
[…] Vintage Treasures: The Girl With the Hungry Eyes by Fritz Leiber […]
[…] noted, the book is also missing a handful of Leiber’s most famous tales, including “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” and two Hugo winners: the novella “Ship of Shadows” (1969), presumably excluded […]