Tanith Lee (19 September 1947 – 24 May 2015) was a British writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. She was 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 the BBC science fiction series Blake's 7. She was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award best novel award (also known as the August Derleth Award), for her book Death's Master (1980).
|Born||19 September 1947|
|Died||24 May 2015 (aged 67)|
East Sussex, England
|Pen name||Esther Garber|
|Notable awards||1980 British Fantasy Award, 1983 & 1984 World Fantasy Award|
John Kaiine (m. 1992)
Tanith Lee was born on 19 September 1947 in London, to professional dancers Bernard and Hylda Lee. Despite a persistent rumor, she was 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 at first 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.
She worked as a library assistant and a waiter before she tried herself as a writer.
Because Lee's parents had to move for jobs, Lee attended numerous primary schools, then Prendergast Grammar School for Girls. 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 of her course and held a number of occupations: she has been a file clerk, waitress, shop assistant, and assistant librarian.
Her first professional sale came from "Eustace," a ninety-word vignette at the age of 21 in 1968. She continued to work in various jobs for almost another decade, due to rejection of her books. Her first novel (for children) was The Dragon Hoard, published in 1971 by 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 subsequently 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." During the 90's her books were not published due to the changes in publishing. The style that made her whole career met strict objections from publishers at that time.
Major publishing companies were less accepting of Lee's later works. The companies which Lee worked with for numerous years even refused to look at her proposals. Smaller companies were publishing just a few of Lee's works. The refusals did not stop her from writing and she had numerous novels and short stories which were just sitting in her cupboard. Mail from fans even asked if she were dead because no new Lee works had been released. Lee even tried changing her genre, but to no success. But due to the internet sales she succeeded to revive her writing.
Lee had "quietly phenomenal sales" at certain periods throughout her career. When she tried changing her genre some of her works were liked by critics and published by small publishers, but it made no difference. The royalties were good before the publishers went bankrupt.
When Lee was younger, she could write for long periods of time into the early morning hours. Lee's routine began to modify because, as she aged, her stamina decreased. Lee ended her workday around 6pm to break for dinner as opposed to writing all night. In her free time, she watched history and nature channels on television. Lee and Kaiine were also huge fans of Doctor Who. They lived in the south of England.
Tanith Lee's 1971 debut was the children's book The Dragon Hoard; her first adult book was The Birthgrave in 1975. Lee's prolific output spans a host of different genres, including adult fantasy, children's fantasy, science fiction, horror, Gothic horror, Gothic romance, and historical fiction. 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.
During the late 80's she published three collections - Dreams of Dark and Light (1986), Women as Demons (1989) and The Forests of the Night (1989).
A large part of her output was 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 was published by 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" installment 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 featured nonconformist interpretations of fairy tales, vampire stories, myths, and the fantasy genre; as well as themes of feminism and sexuality. She also wrote lesbian fiction under the pseudonym Esther Garber. Other than feminism and sexuality, Lee used 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 '90s; 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, in that 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 was influenced by multiple genres, including other writers, music, movies, and "small things". Her Flat Earth Series was inspired by a game she played with her mother; some of her other works are influenced by fairy tales her mother told her. Her husband, a fellow writer, is also an "idea factory." Much of her work comes from "small things" rather than major inspirations.
Lee was inspired by writers and playwrights, including Graham Greene, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Angela Carter, Jane Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, William Blake, Anton Chekov, Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Ibsen, August Strindberg, Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Bunin, James, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault, Jean Rhys, John Fowles, John le Carré, Brontë family, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham, Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Durrell, Elroy Flecker, and Ted Hughes. Lee considered Virginia Woolf and C.S. Lewis to be very influential on her from a young age.
Lee was also influenced by painters, movies, television, and music. She cites Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Dmitri Shostakovich (whose symphonies influenced certain scenes in Anackire), George Frideric Handel, Annie Lennox and Johnny Cash as musical influences. Film influences include Ben-Hur, Caesar and Cleopatra (with Vivien Leigh and Claude Raines), Coppola's Dracula, The Brotherhood of the Wolf (subtitled version), Olivier's Hamlet. The various Quatermass TV series and films inspired Lee, along with the films Forbidden Planet (1956), Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957) and Plunkett & Macleane (1999). The TV version of Georg Büchner's play Danton's Death (1978), inspired her to write her French historical novel. The painters that have inspired her include Vincent van Gogh, Cotman, J. M. W. Turner, Gustav Klimt, Rousseau, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and several pre-Raphaelites.
Works of Tanith Lee arranged by date of publication:
World Fantasy Awards
World Horror Convention
British Fantasy Awards
Death's Master is the second novel in Tanith Lee's fantasy series Tales from the Flat Earth. It won the British Fantasy Award for best novel of 1979.Delirium's Mistress
Delirium's Mistress (1986) is the fourth novel in Tales From The Flat Earth by Tanith Lee.Delusion's Master
Delusion's Master (1981) is the third novel in Tales From The Flat Earth by Tanith Lee.Don't Bite the Sun
Don't Bite the Sun is a 1976 science fiction novel by Tanith Lee set in a utopian world which the main character comes to reject. The main character and her friends are wild, crazy "Jang" teenagers whose lifestyle is full of reckless behaviour, promiscuous sex, repeated suicide (on dying they are reborn), and a constant search for thrills. Over the course of the story, the nameless narrator fails to relate to her seven Jang friends but finds herself, feels emotion, and learns love.M=SF
M=SF is a series of science fiction and fantasy novels published by the Dutch publisher Meulenhoff. The series started in 1967. It continued at the very least until 2013, when the number of books published per year was already reduced. Most titles in the series are translations from English language works, others are original Dutch language novels.Night's Master
Night's Master by Tanith Lee is a 1978 fantasy novel, the first in the Tales from the Flat Earth series. It has been translated into Dutch, Italian, French, German and Spanish. It was published with illustrations by George Barr in 1978 and by Alicia Austin in 1985. It was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1979.Night's Sorceries
Night's Sorceries (1987) is the fifth and final volume in Tales From The Flat Earth by Tanith Lee. It is a collection of novellas. It was nominated for World Fantasy Award's Best Anthology/Collection in 1988.Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer
Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer is a short story collection of dark fantasy retellings of popular fairytales by British author Tanith Lee. Contrary to what the title may suggest, it not only includes retellings of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm, but also by Charles Perrault, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve or Alexander Afanasyev. The title story was nominated for a Nebula Award.S.I.L.V.E.R. series
The S.I.L.V.E.R. series is a fantasy novel series by Tanith Lee. The Silver Metal Lover, published in 1981, is the first in the series. Metallic Love, published in 2005, is the second novel.Tales from the Flat Earth
Tales From The Flat Earth is a fantasy series by Tanith Lee. The novels take inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights and are similarly structured as interconnected stories. The series has been well-received, and Death's Master, the second book in the series, won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1980.The Blood Opera Sequence
The Blood Opera Sequence is a thriller/horror novel series by English writer Tanith Lee. The series consists of three novels: Dark Dance, Personal Darkness, and Darkness, I.The Gods Are Thirsty (Tanith Lee)
The Gods Are Thirsty is a 1996 historical novel by World Fantasy Award-winning author Tanith Lee set during the French Revolution. It follows the rise and fall of journalist Camille Desmoulins, who launches the Revolution and is eventually sent to the guillotine.The Piratica Series
The Piratica Series is a series of young adult fantasy novels by Tanith Lee.The Unicorn Series
The Unicorn Series is a young-adult fantasy novel series by Tanith Lee. The trilogy revolves around Tanaquil, a young woman who is better at tinkering than magic, much to the dismay of her sorceress mother.