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)

Upcoming Appearances and Forthcoming Works

OutWrite 2019

Washington DC

August 2, 2-3pm

Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/631330400609166/

Reading: A Crooked Looking Glass

Nino Cipri, Ruthanna Emrys, Craig L. Gidney, Margaret Killjoy. Moderated by Marianne Kirby

NecronomiCon 2019

Providence, RI

August 22 – 25

Link: http://necronomicon-providence.com/core-schedule/

Friday Aug 23 1:30pm

HER OWN DARK MYTHOS: TANITH LEE – Capital Ballroom, Graduate 2nd Floor
Tanith Lee (1947–2015) wrote broadly, including work for children and adults, poetry, and television. With her lush, dark, and often deeply psychosexual prose, she created bizarre fantasy worlds and turned familiar horror tropes upon their heads. Join our panelists as they explore the work of this grand master of the decadently weird and impossibly strange.

Panelists: Paul Di Filippo, Craig Gidney, Paul Tremblay (M), Sonya Taaffe, Allison Rich, Daniel Braum

Saturday Aug 24 10:30am

DARK MATTERS: WEIRD FICTION FROM THE AFRICAN DIASPORA – Biltmore Ballroom, Graduate 17th Floor
Writers of African descent around the world have been contributing to speculative fiction since the days of Charles W. Chesnutt, W. E. B. Dubois, and George S. Schuyler, but their contributions have not always been acknowledged. Our panelists discuss the history and importance of this literary movement and how the Diaspora experience has shaped and informed it.


Panelists: Victor LaValle, teri zin, Errick Nunnally (M), Craig Gidney, Hysop Loreal Mulero, Chesya Burke

I also wrote the introduction to Love in a Time of Dragons a new Tanith Lee collection of her short fiction put out by Immanion Press which will be released in August!

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:Legenda Maris by Tanith Lee

Today is Tanith Lee‘s funeral.

Per the request of her husband John Kaiine, her collection ‘Legenda Maris’ (Immanion Press) is released this day.

‘Legenda Maris’ collects Lee’s sea-themed fantasy short fiction, and is an excellent introduction to her darkly lyrical work. It includes some of the first fiction I read by her: the excellent ‘Because Our Skins Are Finer‘ and ‘Magritte’s Secret Agent.’ An added bonus is the artwork–the cover and the frontispiece are by Tanith herself.

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Death’s Master (Flat Earth Book 2) by Tanith Lee is now an ebook. Wildean fantasia meets Arabian Nights

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Death’s Master is finally an ebook, released by Immanion Press. It’s an epic fantasy told in the high style full of eroticism and horror, as well as beauty. Part runaway Wildean fantasia, part Arabian Nights, here’s what I said about the Flat Earth series as a whole:

The eroticism in the text [is] exploratory but tempered by a peculiar kind of innocence, helped in no small part by the jewel-like precision of the prose.  There [are] horrors in the stories, but there [is] also tenderness.  It is [Tanith] Lee’s special talent to mix both tenderness and terror.

BOOK REVIEW: Kill the Dead, by Tanith Lee. Tarot-inspired Gothic fantasy

Kill the DeadKill the Dead by Tanith Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 1980 novel KILL THE DEAD is a perfect introduction to Tanith Lee’s writing in the Gothic mode. The short novel has all of her hallmarks: two tortured Byronic anti-heroes, a beautiful witch antagonist and a plot that is full of twists that allude to and subvert literary tropes. The novel concerns the mordantly humored exorcist Parl Dro, and his dealings with a hapless musician and a vengeful female lich (an undead sorceress). The prose is lovely and musical, full of rich imagery that incorporates Tarot symbolism throughout the text. The dialogue is is full of quips and dry humor. Some of Lee’s best work is at the novella length, and KILL THE DEAD, reissued as an ebook by Immanion Press, is an excellent example.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: Cruel Pink by Tanith Lee. #tanithlee #immanionpress

Cruel Pink is the sixth book in Tanith Lee’s loosely configured Colouring Book Series. All of the previous books in this series explore both odd psychology and odd situations in mostly realistic settings. The stories can, and do leap into the paranormal, but that isn’t their focus. The theme of color, often in lurid hues, is the overarching motif of the series. The books share a distant kinship with other liminal and cross-genre writers like Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathan Carroll. Elements of crime fiction, ghost story, horror story and even metafictional conceits all parade through the narratives.

Cruel Pink might be the strangest of the books so far. The novel is a symphony of voices across various times, a style most recently and famously used by David Mitchell in his Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten novels. The cast includes Emenie, a serial killer who lives in a post-apocalyptic future; Rod, an office worker in contemporary times; Klova, a young party girl living in a future society; and Irvin, a bisexual actor in the late 1700s. Each tells his or her story in conversational first person, and follows a day or a week in their lives.

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(Mild Spoiler)

As the novel progresses, coincidences begin to appear. It becomes quickly obvious that all four personae live in the same house just outside of London, but in separate times. And every now and then, they catch brief, ghostly echoes with each other. Also, the color pink in some form appears in each of their lives.

The book has ‘mood whiplash,’ like the Mitchell novels. Emenie’s sections are suspenseful and full of horror. Rod’s pieces are full of contemporary anomie. Klova ’s monologues describe a glittering semi-utopia and have erotic undertones, while Irvin’s life is full of ribald anecdotes.

The final denouement slots into place, courting but never becoming outright bathos. Cruel Pink, in the end, examines, almost playfully, narrative conventions in genre, flirting with both parody and homage.

Cruel Pink is compulsively readable and full of Lee’s trademark lovely language.