Thursday, June 4, 2015

RIP, Tanith Lee

I was saddened to read of the death of Tanith Lee, a prolific author of fantasy, science fiction, and horror literature. My first exposure to Ms Lee's writing was reading The Dragon Hoard, her first published novel. Released when Ms Lee was only twenty-one, The Dragon Hoard is a side-splittingly funny send-up of the heroic quest, specifically the tale of Jason's quest with the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, Ms Lee skewered all sorts of fairytale tropes, from the fairy godmother's birthday gifts to the protagonist to the damsel in distress trope (there's a throwaway line about a beautiful monster which has to be saved from a ravening princess). The book never fails to amuse, and there are some laugh-out-loud bits, such as a recurring bit about the evil enchantress' unpaid flying serpent chariot rental fees. This introduction to Tanith Lee's fiction led to a lifelong infatuation with her body of work.

It was a bit of a surprise, though, to read the author's darker adult material. Far from the breezy comedy of The Dragon Hoard, Ms Lee's other fiction tended to address topics such as the allure of evil, the fluidity of gender, and the human potential for cruelty. In particular, her "Tales from the Flat Earth" series casts a dark spell on the reader, with the baroque narratives of Night's Master and Death's Master being spellbinding mélanges of beauty and grotesquerie, heroism and cruelty... the characters transition from gender to gender, from life to death, from victim to tormentor. The novels must have been very transgressive when they were originally published, and even now they pack a punch that even G consonant consonant Martin's "anti-Tolkienian" fantasy doorstops can't approach.

Tanith Lee had a special place in the hearts of feminist and LGBT SFF fans due to her willingness to address issues of gender fluidity and the development of feminine power. While many anti-feminists like to characterize feminist literature as "strident", Tanith Lee's fiction never hit any reader over the head with polemic, she was just hitting readers over the head with the mind-blowing products of her fertile, febrile imagination.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I don't think I've read any of her work. Will put it on the radar, thanks.

Smut Clyde said...

I share BBBB's sad.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I don't think I've read any of her work. Will put it on the radar, thanks.

Prepare to have your mind blown!

I share BBBB's sad.

I figured you would, old chum!

This morning, I re-read her short story A Room with a Vie. The story, which hinged completely on a pun, was a remarkable blend of horror and comedy, with a killer final line.