Tanith Lee

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Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee signing.jpg
Raising money for the Alzheimer's Research Trust as part of the Match It For Pratchett campaign 2011
Born (1947-09-19)19 September 1947
London, England
Died 24 May 2015(2015-05-24) (aged 67)
East Sussex, England
Pen name Esther Garber[1]
Judas Garbah
Genre Speculative fiction
Notable awards 1980 British Fantasy Award, 1983 & 1984 World Fantasy Award
Spouse John Kaiine (m. 1992; her death 2015)

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).[1][2]


Early life

Tanith Lee was born on 19 September 1947 in London, to professional dancers Bernard and Hylda Lee.[3][4][5] 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.[5][6] 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.[7] 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.[6]


Because Lee's parents had to move for jobs, Lee attended numerous primary schools, then Prendergast Grammar School for Girls.[4][5] 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.[4][5][8]

Writing career

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.[4][8] 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.[4] 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.[3][4][9][10] The Birthgrave allowed Lee to be a full-time writer and stop doing "stupid and soul-killing jobs."[11]

Major publishing companies were less accepting of Lee's later works.[8][12] The companies which Lee worked with for numerous years even refused to look at her proposals.[13] 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.[13] Mail from fans even asked if she were dead because no new Lee works had been released.[13] Lee even tried changing her genre, but to no success.

Book sales

Lee had "quietly phenomenal sales" at certain periods throughout her career.[13] 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.[13]

Personal life and death

In 1987, Lee met artist and writer John Kaiine.[4] In 1992, the couple married.[4]

When Lee was younger, she could write for long periods of time into the early morning hours.[6] Lee's routine began to modify because, as she aged, her stamina decreased.[6][14] Lee ended her workday around 6pm to break for dinner as opposed to writing all night.[6] 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.[6]

Lee died at her home in East Sussex of breast cancer on 24 May 2015.[15][16]


Tanith Lee's 1971 debut was the children's book The Dragon Hoard; her first adult book was The Birthgrave in 1975.[17] 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.[18] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[3]

Writing style

Lee's style is frequently remarked upon for its use of rich poetic prose and striking imagery.[18] Critics describe her style as weird, lush, vibrant, exotic, erotic, rich, elegant, perverse, and darkly beautiful.[20][21] The technique she uses is very descriptive and poetic which works well with the themes she uses in her mythical stories.[22] She has been praised for her ability to balance her weird style with the challenges of writing a faraway world,[23] 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.[22]


Lee's writing frequently featured nonconformist interpretations of fairy tales, vampire stories, myths, and the fantasy genre;[18] as well as themes of feminism and sexuality.[1][24] She also wrote lesbian fiction under the pseudonym Esther Garber.[25] 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.[8] 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".[18] 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.[26] 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.[18]


Tanith Lee was influenced by multiple genres, including other writers, music, movies, and "small things".[27] 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.[28]


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.[17][29]

Other genres

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.[17][27]


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
  • 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 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)
  • 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)
  • Black Unicorn (1991)
  • Gold Unicorn (1994)
  • Red Unicorn (1997)
  • Dark Dance (1992)
  • Personal Darkness (1993)
  • Darkness, I (1994)
  • Faces Under Water (1998)
  • Saint Fire (1999)
  • A Bed of Earth (2002)
  • Venus Preserved (2003)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Ivoria (2012)
  • Cruel Pink (2013)
  • Space is Just a Starry Night (2013) short story collection, Aqueduct Press, Seattle
  • Colder Greyer Stones (2013)
  • Animate Objects (2013)
  • Turquoiselle (2014)
  • Ghosteria Volume One: The Stories (2014)
  • Phantasya (2014)
  • Ghosteria Volume Two: Zircons May Be Mistaken (2014)
  • A Different City (2015)
  • Blood 20: Tales of Vampire Horror (2015)
  • Legenda Maris (2015)
  • Dancing Through The Fire (2015)


Nebula Awards

  • 1975: The Birthgrave (nominated, best novel)
  • 1980: Red As Blood (nominated, best short story)

World Fantasy Awards[30]

  • 1979: Night's Master (nominated, best novel)
  • 1983: "The Gorgon" (winner, best short story)
  • 1984: "Elle Est Trois, (La Mort)" (winner, best short story)
  • 1984: "Nunc Dimittis" (nominated, best novella)
  • 1984: Red As Blood, or, Tales From The Sisters Grimmer (nominated, best anthology/collection)
  • 1985: Night Visions 1 (nominated, best anthology/collection)
  • 1987: Dreams Of Dark And Light (nominated, best anthology/collection)
  • 1988: Night's Sorceries (nominated, best anthology/collection)
  • 1999: "Scarlet And Gold" (nominated, best novella)
  • 2006: "Uous" (nominated, best novella)
  • 2009. The World Convention Grand Master Award.[31]
  • 2013: Lifetime Achievement Award[32]

British Fantasy Awards

  • 1979: Quest For The White Witch (nominated, best novel)
  • 1980: Death's Master (winner, best novel)[33]
  • 1980: "Red As Blood" (nominated, best short story)
  • 1981: Kill The Dead (nominated, best novel)
  • 1999: "Jedella Ghost" (nominated, best short story)
  • 2000: "Where Does The Town Go At Night?" (nominated, best short story)

Lambda Awards

  • 2010: Disturbed by Her Song (nominated, best LGBT speculative fiction)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Robin Anne Reid (2009). Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Overviews. ABC-CLIO. pp. 38, 199, 219. ISBN 978-1-4391-5014-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Alison Flood (2010). "World of fantasy: Death's Master by Tanith Lee". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Darrell Schweitzer (1994). Speaking of Horror: Interviews with Writers of the Supernatural. Wildside Press LLC. pp. 59–60. ISBN 978-1-880448-81-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Jim Pattison , Paul A. Soanes, and Allison Rich (17 April 2011). "Author Biography: Tanith Lee". Daughter of the Night†: An Annotated Tanith Lee Bibliography. Retrieved 25 July 2011. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Moran, Maureen F; (2002). "Tanith Lee". British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers Since 1960 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. 261. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Jeff Carlson (2 August 2011). "StarShipSofa Interrogation: Tanith Lee in StarShipSofa No.175". StarShipSofa. Retrieved 1 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - An audio interview with Tanith Lee
  7. Luis Rodrigues (2011). "Tanith Lee on the Weird". Weird Fiction Review. Retrieved 15 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Craig Gidney (13 September 2010). "Tanith Lee: Channeling Queer Authors". Retrieved 16 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Gidney" defined multiple times with different content
  9. George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois (2010). Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love. Simon and Schuster. p. 361. ISBN 978-1-4391-5014-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Tanith Lee – Author Guest of Honour". World Horror Convention 2010. 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. David Carroll, Kyla Ward (1994). "A History of Horror: On the Lee Side". Retrieved 16 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Alison Flood (27 August 2010). "World of Fantasy: Death's Master by Tanith Lee". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.Contains different text than other Alison Flood article.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Darrell Schweitzer (2011). "Interview: Tanith Lee". Realms of Fantasy. Retrieved 16 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "On the Lee Side". Tabula-Rasa. 2011. Retrieved 1 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Locus Obituary".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/02/books/tanith-lee-fantasy-and-horror-novelist-dies-at-67.html?ref=obituaries
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "Tanith Lee: Love & Death & Publishers". Locus Online. April 1998. Retrieved 17 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 Mavis Haut (2001). The hidden library of Tanith Lee: themes and subtexts from Dionysos to the immortal gene. Wildside Press LLC. ISBN 978-0-7864-1085-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Pam Spencer Holley (2009). Quick and Popular Reads for Teens. ALA Editions. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8389-3577-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Craig L. Gidney. "Delirium's Mistress: The Weird & Beautiful Fiction Of Tanith Lee". MorbidOutlook.com. Retrieved 16 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Desirina Boskovich (3 Sep 2011). "101 Weird Writers: Tanith Lee". Weird Fiction Review. Retrieved 16 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Two Reviews: Thor (2011) and Night's Master by Tanith Lee". Wordpress. 30 September 2012. Retrieved 16 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Alison Flood (27 August 2010). "World of Fantasy: Death's Master by Tanith Lee". Guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 16 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Angel Fernandez (2003). "Tanith Lee". Modern and Traditional Fairy Tales, San José State University. Retrieved 25 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Donald Haase (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales: G-P. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 568–569. ISBN 978-0-313-33443-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Mandelo, Brit (20 September 2010). </ref "Queering SFF: New Books-Disturbed by Her Song by Tanith Lee". Tor.com. Retrieved 15 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. 27.0 27.1 Administrator (17 November 2009). "Tanith Lee Interview". Innsmouth Free Press. Retrieved 15 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - An interview with Tanith Lee
  28. T.J. McIntyre (March 2011). "Author Spotlight: Tanith Lee". Fantasy Magazine. Retrieved 15 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - An interview with Tanith Lee
  29. Teresa Edgerton (November 2004). "The Object of Desire -- Our Interview with Tanith Lee - Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles: Forums". SFF Chronicles. Retrieved 15 Oct 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - Our interview with Tanith Lee
  30. World Fantasy Convention. "Award Winners and Nominees". Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 2 June 2006. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.
  32. "Announcing the 2013 World Fantasy Award Winners". Tor.com. 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2014-06-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Hardy, Graham. "August Derleth Award." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Oct. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Further reading

External links