East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Reading Tanith Lee


It’s the sixth anniversary of the death of Tanith Lee, one of my favorite writers, and one I have a long history with. As I think I have often mentioned in the past, The Birthgrave was the second book I ever read in English, back in 1984. It was the one that got me hooked to reading in the original language, and it made me a Tanith Lee fan. It also dispelled this strange prejudice – that was at the time common in the Italian fantasy community – that Lee was bad, a writer of limited scope and poor ideas, a talentless hack and, worst still, a woman.
“She’s almost as bad as Michael Moorcock, and she’s an ultra-feminist!” a reviewer wrote.
Because thus was in ancient times.

Through the years I have read a lot of Lee’s work, and in the last few weeks I went on a shopping spree (my birthday’s coming, remember?) and started filling the gaps: the books I missed completely, and the books I read forty years ago in wobbly Italian translations, and now I feel like revisiting.
Ebooks are a boon, in this case.

So I got me a copy of Cyrion, a collection of fun sword & sorcery shorts I had given a wide berth to when it had been published in Italian, that ofer an interesting take on a somewhat Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fantasy. Cyrion’s adventures will serve me as a warm-up before I dive into the sword & sorcery collection Empress of Dreams, that has been recently published and collects Lee’s other sword & sorcery tales.
The title of the second collection is particularly apt, as it recalls C.A. Smith, sometimes called the Emperor of Dreams, and Tanith Lee S&S stories are somewhat similar, in tone and spirit, to Smith’s.

Then I’ve got me a copy of Companions on the Road, my old Italian edition being buried in a box here somewhere. I admit I remember very little of the book – I read it after the two-book series Don’t Bite the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine (still one of my faves from Lee), and the sudden shift to fantasy had left me cold and not very interested. And as I am at it, I might also re-read those two other novels.

Then, a collection of Indian fantasies (or science-fantasies), Tamastara, that I had completely missed at the time of publication. This one promises to be a nice change of pace – and I’m always interested in non-Western fantasies.

And finally, I got a copy of Dreams of Dark and Light, a hefty collection of science-fiction and fantasy short stories.

Tanith Lee had an unique voice, and an extreme versatility, and is one of the writers one should read to learn how it’s done. It will be a pleasure spending my summer nights reading her stories.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

9 thoughts on “Reading Tanith Lee

  1. “…..almost as bad as Michael Moorcock…”

    Is this guy still alive, and if he is where does he live? I’ve been cooped up for the last year and a quick trip to Europe to vent my boredom and frustrations sounds good to me. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Back in the late ’70s/early ’80s a section of what passed for criticism in the fantasy field in my country was basically Tolkien cultists defending the holy word of the Master, and I believe this was the case. I doubt the gentleman is still around after all these years but as sometimes happens, when there is so little criticism available, a lot of people take what are half-assed prejudices for serious discourse. Both Lee and Moorcock were considered hacks for ages hereabouts. Also, Zelazny was a show-off that flaunted his culture and “wrote too good” and Ellison was an arrogant poser who “stole a few minor prizes”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That I’m aware of, Moorcock is still alive, and splits his time between Texas and France. Maybe that’s changed recently, I don’t know.


      • 😀
        I think JOe was referring to the critic that claimed tanith Lee was “as bad as Moorcock”.
        Michael Moorcock is indeed alive and well, and apparently he’s just finished a new Elric book.
        As for the critic, he was consigned to oblivion long time ago, as he deserved.


  2. Typical Professional Literary Critics who are usually just whiny frustrated hacks that couldn’t make it as actual writers……

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Comrade! Tanith Lee was superb. I also recommend her novels about the powerful demon lords who flourished in the days when the Earth was flat, such as Azhrarn, lord of night and wickedness, Uhlume, lord of death, and Chuz, lord of madness. All depicted with exquisite imagination.
    Lee wrote several of the scripts for that old BBC science fiction series BLAKES 7, too.


    • I did read the Flat Earth books, and I am eagerly awaiting a new Italian edition that will be published next year – the whole series as a single deluxe hartdback, illustrated.
      I also liked a lot the Secret Books of Paradys – and really, I liked everything I read by Lee.
      And yes, Blake’s 7.
      She was great.


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