WHERE TO BEGIN WITH TANITH LEE (FOLLOW UP TO “HER OWN DARK MYTHOS” PANEL)

As a follow up to the Tanith Lee panel at Necronomicon, I had a bunch of people come up to ask me where to begin with her work. Lee wrote a such a wide range of genres, from comic children’s and YA books, to high fantasy, to horror, to even mystery and contemporary fiction. She even published one historical novel about the French Revolution and one spy novel. All of her work was graced with her unique gothic weird sensibility. (The aforementioned French Revolution novel, The Gods Are Thirsty, feels like an epic fantasy novel, and the spy novel, Turquoiselle, has a Dionysian subtext). My fellow panelist Paul Di Fillippo likened her to Joyce Carol Oates in her range. I would say Lee was more reminiscent of fellow Brit author Joan Aiken, who carried an idiosyncratic style across several genres and forms.

I think Lee was a master of the short form and readers should start with her numerous collections of short fiction. According to Allison Rich, a fellow panelist and maintainer of the web-based annotated bibliography Daughter Of the Night (an awesome resource), Lee published over 340 pieces of short fiction. The best of these read like fever dreams, full of lush prose and clever plot twists. Her fairy-tale retellings are collected in Red As Blood and Redder Than Blood, and they range from grim-dark, to de-mythicfications, to weird inversions. Immanion Press has collected some of her fiction together. The Weird Tales of Tanith Lee gathers all of her appearances in Weird Tales magazine, and Venus Burning has all fifteen of her appearances in Realms of Fantasy Magazine. Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata and Other Uncollected Tales has fantasy work that I missed. These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are recent collections from Fantastic Books (Dancing Through the Fire) and Leaves of Gold (Phantasya) that have new work. All of the collections I have come across have yet-to-be discovered new favorites.

As for her novels, my favorites are the three major series, all of which are structured like connected short fiction.

Tales from the Flat Earth (Night’s Master, Death’s Master, Delusion’s Master, Delirium’s Mistress, Night’s Sorceries) are erotic fantasies that take place on a worldscape that’s part Arabian Nights, part Oscar Wilde fairytales. The Secret Books of Paradys Quartet (The Book of the Damned, The Book of the Beast, The Book of Dead, and the Book of the Mad) are set in a haunted, fantastical version of Paris, full of dark wonders. They are Gothic and Decadent down to the very language Lee choses to tell her tales. The Secret Books of Venus Quartet (Faces Under Water, Saint Fire, A Bed of Earth, Venus Preserved) treats the city of Venice similarly, but with even weirder phantasmorgia (a hairdo that can start fires, cursed masks, and, of course, a murderous flamingo).

Her books for young adults are full of British madcap humor, particularly the Unicorn trilogy (Black Unicorn, Gold Unicorn, Red Unicorn) and the Piratica (Piratica, Piratica II (Return to Parrot Island, Piratica III: The Family Sea) books.

I have a particularly fondness for the work written by her alteregos Esther Garber and her half brother Judas Garbah. Lee channelled both writers—the French Jewish lesbian Esther and her gay French-Egyptian half brother Judas. These works, collected in the volumes Fatal Women, Disturbed by Her Song, and the short novel 34 ostensibly occur in the ‘real’ world but they are shot through with wild streak of surrealistic fantasy.

The panel was well attended and filled with her passionate fans. I hope that this brief, disjointed rambling will help.

{Finally, as I was writing this up, Immanion Press just announced the publication of one of TL’s long lost, unpublished manuscripts, At the Court of the Crow}.

Lee was a true one of a kind — an ink-stained enchantress of the written word.

(Newly discovered Tanith Lee manuscript….cover by John Kaiine)

One Reply to “WHERE TO BEGIN WITH TANITH LEE (FOLLOW UP TO “HER OWN DARK MYTHOS” PANEL)”

  1. Wow. You hit all the notes here, Craig. I attended that panel and was more than a little impressed at the respect and love shown to Tanith Lee’s work. It could have gone on for another hour, in my opinion. I will never say she was an unsung heroine but it feels good that she’s getting genuine press and attention.

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