Tanith Lee (born 19 September 1947) is a British writer of science fiction, horror and fantasy. She is the author of over 90 novels and 300 short stories, a children’s picture book (Animal Castle) and many poems. She also wrote two episodes of BBC science fiction series Blake’s 7.
She also writes under the pseudonym Esther Garber.
Her books are to be compared with those of C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, or Andre Norton. Marion Zimmer Bradley and Jack Vance.
Tanith Lee for me was an important early influence.
When I was about sixteen or so and desperately looking for good intelligent novels to read I was more than pleased I came across The Winterplayers in the local library.
This is a Young Adult Fantasy so it is safe to say this is the first real Fantasy I’ve ever read, even before I heard of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I’ve always loved fairytales, especially by the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, but felt they lacked something. Adult content? That’s where Miss Lee comes in. Even though this is suppose to be a young adult story it has the feeling and ‘complexity’ (which I think is a good thing) of an adult story.
The heroine in The Winterplayers is a priestess who protects three precious Relics. No one knows of them until one day a grey- haired young man comes, a steely- eyed stranger clad in a great wolf’s skin. He wants one of the Relics and stops at nothing to get it. When they are stolen, she has to follow the thief to try to retrieve them.
This story is breathtaking and the ending so cleverly done it leaves you in awe. I remember it’s the style I just loved in this book, the descriptions, the realistic characters but most of all the plot and ending as it involves time travel!
I was hooked from then on and started reading more of her books, but struggled to find them in my native language, Dutch. I’ve moved on to Cyrion, which is an anthology of short stories around one character which I enjoyed.
Another book which for me stands out and I enjoy re-reading every so often for it’s beauty and symbolism is The Birthgrave. This is a book of self discovery and inner strength and beauty of one person against the rest of the world.
I just love the opening line: “To wake, and not to know where, or who you are, not even to know what you are-whether a thing with legs and arms, or a beast, or a brain in the hull of a great fish-that is a strange awakening.”
The place: the heart of a rumbling volcano.
The person: a woman awakening from a deathlike sleep.
The time: unknown, far from today.
The problem: her identity. Who is she? What are her powers? Who or what is he? What is to be her relation to the world in which she finds herself … slave girl, goddess, nomad, or warrior?
Author Marion Zimmer Bradley, who wrote a special introduction, says, “It’s filled with adventure and beauty, rich alien names, half-sketched barbarian societies, ruined cities, decadence and wonder”; As I read this I thought most often of “The Dying Earth” stories of Jack Vance. THE BIRTHGRAVE has something of the same color and wonder… You can get involved, learn to know the people, get fully submerged in the colorful and fascinating world Tanith Lee presents. And I predict that when you, satisfied but regretful, turn over the last page, you too will wish there were more.”
By no means have I read all of her work and I personally am not too keen on her horror stories and stir away from those. For me her ‘Birthgrave Trilogy’ and ‘Tales Of Flat Earth’ series still stands out, but I’m still trying to catch up!
Tanith Lee was born on September 19, 1947 in London, England to professional dancers Bernard and Hylda Lee. Despite a persistent rumor, she is not the daughter of Bernard Lee (the actor who played “M” in the James Bond series films between 1962 and 1979). According to Lee, although her childhood was happy, she was the “traditional kid that got bullied,” and had to move around frequently due to her parents’ work. Although her family was poor, they maintained a large paperback collection, and Lee actively read weird fiction, including “Silken Swift” by Theodore Sturgeon and “Gabriel Ernest” by Saki, and discussed such literature as Hamlet and Dracula with her parents. Lee attended many different schools in childhood. She was incapable of reading due to a mild form of dyslexia which was diagnosed later in life, but when she was aged 8, her father taught her to read in about a month, and she began to write at the age of 9.
Because Lee’s parents had to move for jobs, Lee attended numerous primary schools including CatfordGrammar School. Three subjects inspired Lee: English, history, and religion. After high school, Lee attended Croydon Art College for a year. Realizing that was not what she wanted to do, she dropped out and held a number of occupations: she has been a file clerk, waitress, shop assistant, and a librarian.
Her first professional sale came from Eustace, a ninety-word vignette at the age of 21 in 1968. She worked various jobs such as file clerk and assistant librarian due to rejection of her works for almost a decade.
Her first novel (for children) was The Dragon Hoard, published in 1971 by the publisher Macmillan. Many British publishers rejected The Birthgrave thus she wrote to DAW Books. Her career really took off with the acceptance in 1975 by Daw Books USA of her adult fantasy epic The Birthgrave – a mass-market paperback. Lee has since maintained a prolific output in popular genre writing. The Birthgrave allowed Lee to be a full-time writer and stop doing “stupid and soul-killing jobs.”
Major publishing companies are less accepting of Lee’s works today. The companies which Lee has worked with for numerous years are even refusing to look at her proposals. Smaller publishing companies are just doing a few of Lee’s works. The refusals do not stop her from writing and she has numerous novels and short stories which are just sitting in her cupboard. Mail from fans even asked if she was dead because no new Lee works had been released. Lee even tried changing her genre, but to no success.
Lee’s prolific output spans a host of different genres, including adult fantasy, children’s fantasy, science fiction, horror, Gothic horror, Gothic romance, and the historical novel. Her series of interconnected tales called The Flat-Earth Cycle, beginning with Night’s Master and Death’s Master, is similar in scope and breadth to Jack Vance‘s The Dying Earth. Night’s Master contains allegorical tales involving Azhrarn, a demonic prince who kidnaps and raises a beautiful boy and separates him from the sorrow of the real world. Eventually, the boy wants to know more about the earth, and asks to be returned, setting off a series of encounters between Azhrarn and the Earth’s people, some horrific, some positive. Later tales are loosely based on Babylonian mythology.
In the science fiction Four-BEE series, Lee explores youth culture and identity in a society which grants eternally young teenagers complete freedom. They are even killed and receive new bodies, gender and/or identity over and over again.
Lee has also dabbled in the historical novel with The Gods are Thirsty, set during the French Revolution.
A large part of her output is children’s fantasy, which has spanned her entire career from The Dragon Hoard in 1971 to the more recent The Claidi Journals containing Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen and Wolf Wing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Lee has been published in various imprints, particularly depending on whether she is offering adult fiction or children’s fantasy. Her earlier children’s fantasy novels were published in hardcover by MacMillan UK and subsequently printed as paperbacks in the US often by DAW, with occasional hardcovers by St. Martin’s Press. Some of her work was only printed in paperback, mainly in the US by DAW in the 1970s to the early 1980s. She has received some small press treatment, such as the Arkham House edition of short stories Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee in 1986, and in the first “Night Visions” instalment published by Dark Harvest. Some of her work has been released exclusively in the UK with US publications often pending.
Lee’s style is frequently remarked upon for its use of rich poetic prose and striking imagery. Critics describe her style as weird, lush, vibrant, exotic, erotic, rich, elegant, perverse, and darkly beautiful. The technique she uses is very descriptive and poetic which works well with the themes she uses in her mythical stories. She has been praised for her ability to balance her weird style with the challenges of writing a faraway world, but some critics counter that her style is not always easy on the reader; she sometimes leaves the reader with unanswered questions that could have easily been answered if she had gone into greater detail.
Lee’s writing frequently feature nonconformist interpretations of fairy tales, vampire stories, myths, and the fantasy genre; as well as themes of feminism and sexuality. She also writes lesbian fiction under the pseudonym Esther Garber. Other than feminism and sexuality, Lee uses a wide range of other themes in her stories.
From 1975-80, she began writing gothic science fiction; her first gothic novel Sabella or The Bloodstone features themes of loneliness and fear. Lee’s most celebrated story Elle Est Trois, which examines the relationship between self-destruction and creativity “has themes of psychosis and sexuality, the subjugation of women, and the persuasive power of myth interwoven through it”. You will see myth again (along with race) in her stories The Storm Lord, Anackire, and The White Serpent.
Three unique Horror series were produced by Lee in the 90’s; the first story, The Book of the Damned, features themes of body thievery and shape-shifting. Themes of Homophobia, racism, and sexism are seen in Lee’s sequence The Blood Opera, and The Venus Cycle features themes of love, loss, and revenge. Her collection “Disturbed By Her Song”, features themes of eroticism, despair, isolation, and the pressure of an unforgiving and unwelcoming society. These themes reoccur in her 1976 novel Don’t Bite the Sun where the characters are involved in a very erotic lifestyle and the protagonist experiences despair.
Eroticism shows up again in her novel “Death’s Master” which examines the childhood origins of eroticism and the “later conflicts that arise from it”. The sequel to Don’t Bite the Sun, Drinking Sapphire Wine, is thematically similar to her other works, whereas it features themes of Death and renewal, sexuality, and love. The theme of recognition also appears in Drinking Sapphire Wine, where the characters are forced to recognize others and themselves in a world where physical form is so readily alterable.
Tanith Lee Quotes
“Are not all loves secretly the same? A hundred flowers sprung from a single root.”
TANITH LEE, Delirium’s Mistress
“People are always the start for me…animals. When I can get into their heads, gods, supernatural beings,immortals, the dead…these are all people to me.”
“For me, everyone I write of is real. I have little true say in what they want, what they do or end up as (or in). Their acts appal, enchant, disgust or astound me. Their ends fill me with retributive glee, or break my heart. I can only take credit (if I can even take credit for that) in reporting the scenario. This is not a disclaimer. Just a fact.”
TANITH LEE, Innsmouth Free Press interview, Nov. 17, 2009
“If you run away from trouble, it always follows.”
TANITH LEE, Wolf Tower
“The bitterness of joy lies in the knowledge that it cannot last. Nor should joy last beyond a certain season, for, after that season, even joy would become merely habit.”
TANITH LEE, Delusion’s Master
“How massively the mountains stand, while low to the ground the sand blows. The sand blows on and on. And then there are no mountains, none at all, the sand has kissed and whispered them away. And still, the sand blows on.”
TANITH LEE, Delirium’s Mistres
Works of Tanith Lee arranged by date of publication:
- The Dragon Hoard (1971)
- Animal Castle (1972)
- Princess Hynchatti & Some Other Surprises (1972) (collection of original fairy tales)
- The Birthgrave Trilogy
- The Birthgrave (1975)
- Shadowfire (1978) (US title: Vazkor, Son of Vazkor )
- Quest for the White Witch (1978)
- Companions on the Road (1975)
- The Four-BEE Series
- Don’t Bite the Sun (1976)
- Drinking Sapphire Wine (1977)
- The Wars of Vis
- The Storm Lord (1976)
- Anackire (1983)
- The White Serpent (1988)
- The Winter Players (1976)
- Companions on the road and The winter players: Two novellas (1977) (omnibus)
- Volkhavaar (1977)
- East of Midnight (1977)
- Castle of Dark
- The Castle of Dark (1978)
- Prince on a White Horse (1982)
- Dark Castle, White Horse (1986) (omnibus)
- Tales From The Flat Earth
- Night’s Master (1978)
- Death’s Master (1979)
- Delusion’s Master (1981)
- Delirium’s Mistress (1986)
- Night’s Sorceries (1986) (collection of novellas set in this world)
- The Thaw (novelette) (1979)
- Electric Forest (1979)
- Shon the Taken (1979)
- Sabella, or the Blood Stone (1980)
- Kill the Dead (1980)
- Sometimes, After Sunset (1980) (omnibus including Sabella & Kill the Dead)
- Day by Night (1980)
- Lycanthia, or The Children of Wolves (1981)
- The S.I.L.V.E.R. Series
- The Silver Metal Lover (1981)
- Metallic Love (2005)
- The Tin Man (TBD)
- Unsilent Night (1981)
- Cyrion (1982) (collection of short stories framed by a novella, all centred around the title character)
- Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (1983) (collection of fantasy retellings of fairy tales)
- Sung in Shadow (1983) (fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet)
- Tamastara, or The Indian Nights (1984) (collection of stories and novellas themed around India)
- Night Visions (1984) (collection of various short stories)
- The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales (1985) (collection of various short stories)
- Days of Grass (1985)
- Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee (1986) (collection of various short stories)
- The Secret Books of Paradys (set in an alternate version of Paris)
- The Book of the Damned (1988)
- The Book of the Beast (1988)
- The Book of the Dead (1991) (collection of short stories set in this world)
- The Book of the Mad (1993)
- The Secret Books of Paradys (2007) (omnibus reprint of all four books)
- Madame Two Swords (1988)
- Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women through Space and Time (1989) (collection of various short stories)
- Forests of The Night (1989) (collection)
- A Heroine of the World (1989)
- The Blood of Roses (1990)
- The Unicorn Series
- Black Unicorn (1991)
- Gold Unicorn (1994)
- Red Unicorn (1997)
- The Blood Opera Sequence
- Dark Dance (1992)
- Personal Darkness (1993)
- Darkness, I (1994)
- Heart-Beast (1992)
- Elephantasm (1993)
- Nightshades: Thirteen Journeys Into Shadow (1993) (collection of short stories and a novella)
- Eva Fairdeath (1994)
- Vivia (1995)
- Reigning Cats and Dogs (1995)
- When the Lights Go Out (1996)
- Louisa the Poisoner (1996)
- The Gods Are Thirsty (1996) (historical novel about the French Revolution)
- The Secret Books of Venus (set in an alternate version of Venice)
- Faces Under Water (1998)
- Saint Fire (1999)
- A Bed of Earth (2002)
- Venus Preserved (2003)
- The Claidi Journals
- Law of the Wolf Tower (1998) (US title: Wolf Tower)
- Wolf Star Rise (2000) (US title: Wolf Star)
- Queen of the Wolves (2001) (US title: Wolf Queen)
- Wolf Wing (2002)
- Islands in the Sky (1999)
- White As Snow (2000) (a retelling of the fairy tale Snow White)
- Mortal Suns (2003)
- The Piratica Series
- Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventures Upon the High Seas (2004)
- Piratica II: Return to Parrot Island (2006)
- Piratica III: The Family Sea (2007)
- 34 (2004) (as Esther Garber)
- Fatal Women (2004) (as Esther Garber)
- The Lionwolf Series
- Cast a Bright Shadow (2004)
- Here In Cold Hell (2005)
- No Flame but Mine (2007
- Death of the Day (2004
- L’Amber (2006)
- Indigara (2007)
- Tempting The Gods: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee, Volume One (2009)
- Hunting The Shadows: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee, Volume Two (2009)
- Sounds and Furies: Seven Faces of Darkness (2010)
- Disturbed By Her Song (2010)
- Greyglass (2011)
- To Indigo (2011)
- Cold Grey Stones (2012)
- Killing Violets (2012)
- space is just a starry night (2013) short story collection, Aqueduct Press, Seattle