Tanith Lee

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Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee signing.jpg
Raising money for the Alzheimer's Research Trust during the 2011 campaign Match It For Pratchett (Terry Pratchett)
Born(1947-09-19)19 September 1947
London, England
Died24 May 2015(2015-05-24) (aged 67)
East Sussex, England
Pen nameEsther Garber [1]
Judas Garbah
Genre Speculative fiction
Notable awards1980 British Fantasy Award, 1983 & 1984 World Fantasy Award
John Kaiine(m. 1992)

Tanith Lee (1947–2015) was an English science fiction and fantasy writer. She wrote more than 90 novels and 300 short stories, and was the winner of multiple World Fantasy Society Derleth Award, the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Horror [2] . She also wrote a children's picture book (Animal Castle), and many poems. Additionally, she 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] [3]

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

<i>Blakes 7</i> British science fiction television series

Blake's 7 is a British science fiction television series produced by the BBC. Four 13-episode series were broadcast on BBC1 between 1978 and 1981. It was created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks for the television series Doctor Who. The script editor was Chris Boucher. The main character, at least initially, was Roj Blake, played by Gareth Thomas. The series was inspired by various fictional media, including Robin Hood, Star Trek, Passage to Marseille, The Dirty Dozen, Brave New World and classic Western stories, as well as real-world political conflicts in South America and Israel.

The British Fantasy Awards are awarded annually by the British Fantasy Society (BFS), first in 1976. Prior to that they were known as The August Derleth Fantasy Awards. First awarded in 1972 only for novels, the number of award categories increased and in 1976 the BFS renamed them collectively the British Fantasy Awards. The current award categories are Best Fantasy Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Novella, Best Short Story, Best Independent Press, Best Artist, Best Anthology, Best Collection, Best Comic/Graphic Novel, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Newcomer, while the Karl Edward Wagner Award for "important contribution to the genre or the Society" is given at the discretion of the BFS committee. The membership of the BFS vote to determine the shortlists of the awards, the winners being decided by juries.



Early life

Tanith Lee was born on 19 September 1947 in London, to professional dancers Bernard and Hylda Lee. [4] [5] [6] 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. [6] [7] 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. [8] 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. [7]
She worked as a library assistant and a waiter before she tried herself as a writer.

Bernard Lee English actor

John Bernard Lee, known as Bernard Lee, was an English actor, best known for his role as M in the first eleven Eon-produced James Bond films. Lee's film career spanned the years 1934 to 1979, though he had appeared on stage from the age of six. He was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Lee appeared in over one hundred films, as well as on stage and in television dramatisations. He was known for his roles as authority figures, often playing military characters or policemen in films such as The Third Man, The Blue Lamp, The Battle of the River Plate, and Whistle Down the Wind. He died of stomach cancer in 1981, aged 73.

<i>James Bond</i> Media franchise about a British spy

The James Bond series focuses on a fictional British Secret Service agent created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short-story collections. Since Fleming's death in 1964, eight other authors have written authorised Bond novels or novelizations: Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz. The latest novel is Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz, published in May 2018. Additionally Charlie Higson wrote a series on a young James Bond, and Kate Westbrook wrote three novels based on the diaries of a recurring series character, Moneypenny.

Weird fiction Subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. John Clute defines weird fiction as a "Term used loosely to describe Fantasy, Supernatural Fiction and Horror tales embodying transgressive material". China Miéville defines weird fiction thus: "Weird Fiction is usually, roughly, conceived of as a rather breathless and generically slippery macabre fiction, a dark fantastic often featuring nontraditional alien monsters ." Discussing the "Old Weird Fiction" published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock says, "Old Weird fiction utilises elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy to showcase the impotence and insignificance of human beings within a much larger universe populated by often malign powers and forces that greatly exceed the human capacities to understand or control them." Weird fiction either eschews or radically reinterprets ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other traditional antagonists of supernatural horror fiction. Weird fiction is sometimes symbolised by the tentacle, a limb-type absent from most of the monsters of European folklore and gothic fiction, but often attached to the monstrous creatures created by weird fiction writers such as William Hope Hodgson, M. R. James, and H. P. Lovecraft. Weird fiction often attempts to inspire awe as well as fear in response to its fictional creations, causing commentators like Miéville to say that weird fiction evokes a sense of the numinous. Although "weird fiction" has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.


Because Lee's parents had to move for jobs, Lee attended numerous primary schools, then Prendergast Grammar School for Girls. [5] [6] 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. [5] [6] [9]

Prendergast School

Prendergast School is a comprehensive girls' secondary school, located on Hilly Fields, Brockley, in the London Borough of Lewisham. It has an independent board of governors. The Headteacher is Paula Ledger. The school motto is from Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales: "Trouthe and Honour, Fredom and Curteisye".

Croydon College educational institution in Croydon, London

Croydon College is an educational institution with 8,000 students, made up of a Further Education College, The Croydon School of Art and a University Centre. It is located in Croydon, within the London Borough of Croydon. Its origins can be traced to a School of Art that was established in 1868, which subsequently merged with Croydon Polytechnic to create the college shortly after the Second World War. The college is the only further education college to have been awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) and is currently graded 'good' by Ofsted (2014).

Writing career

She began publishing work of genre interest with TheBetrothed (1968 ), a short story privately printed by a friend, but started her career proper with several Children's Fantasies. Of these, The Dragon Hoard (1971), her first novel, is a comic fantasy, in which an affronted Enchantress compels the Quest-ridden protagonist to shapeshift humiliatingly into a raven at unpredictable moments. Princess Hynchatti & Some Other Surprises (collection of linked stories in 1972) puts its cast through various travails. In Companions on the Road (1975) the Companions are the Villains, a trio of hellish Revenants who kill through their control of Dreams as they search for the holders of a magic chalice. The Winter Players (1976) – assembled with the previous book as Companions on the Road and The Winter Players: Two Novellas (1977) – dramatizes the interaction between a young woman and the Accursed Wanderer whom she ultimately redeems. Even in these early works, several characteristic motifs dominate: the Rite of Passage whereby a young protagonist comes to terms – often via Metamorphosis – with his or her extraordinary nature, and strives for Balance in a riven world; vivid, but indeterminate, landscapes serving as almost interchangeable backdrops for psychic dramas; and a fine indifference to any moralistic settling of scores, her tales tending to close with Good and Evil characters settling into uneasy equipoise. [10]

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. [5] [9] 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. [5] 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. [4] [5] [11] [12] The Birthgrave allowed Lee to be a full-time writer and stop doing "stupid and soul-killing jobs." [13] 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. [14]

Macmillan Publishers British publishing company

Macmillan Publishers Ltd is an international publishing company owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. It has offices in 41 countries worldwide and operates in more than thirty others.

<i>The Birthgrave</i> 1975 Book by Tanith Lee

The Birthgrave is a 1975 science fantasy novel by British author Tanith Lee. The novel was Lee's first published novel for adults, and also the first novel in The Birthgrave Trilogy. Inspired by Lee's own personal dreams from her early twenties, the story follows a nameless protagonist through various towns on a journey to discover who she really is and what she is capable of. The Birthgrave received mostly positive reviews and was nominated for the 1975 Nebula Award for best novel.

DAW Books american book publisher

DAW Books is an American science fiction and fantasy publisher, founded by Donald A. Wollheim following his departure from Ace Books in 1971. The company claims to be "the first publishing company ever devoted exclusively to science fiction and fantasy." The first DAW Book published was the 1972 short story collection Spell of the Witch World, by Andre Norton.

She produced adult and young adult novels, science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, spy fiction, erotica, a historical novel, radio plays and two episodes of the television space opera Blake’s 7. Yet all her work shares a tone – Lee captured like few other modern writers a gothic, not to say goth, sensibility in which the relentless pursuit of personal autonomy and sensual fulfillment leads her characters to the brink of delirium, as well as to a fierce integrity that can co-habit with self-sacrificing empathy. [15]

Major publishing companies were less accepting of Lee's later works. [9] [16] The companies which Lee worked with for numerous years even refused to look at her proposals. [17] 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. [17] Mail from fans even asked if she were dead because no new Lee works had been released. [17] Lee even tried changing her genre, but to no success. However, Internet sales succeeded in reviving her writing. [14]

Book sales

Lee had "quietly phenomenal sales" at certain periods throughout her career. [17] 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. [17]

Personal life and death

In 1987, Lee met artist and writer John Kaiine. [5] In 1992, the couple married. [5]

When Lee was younger, she could write for long periods of time into the early morning hours. [7] Lee's routine began to modify because, as she aged, her stamina decreased. [7] [18] Lee ended her workday around 6pm to break for dinner as opposed to writing all night. [7] 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. [7]

Lee died at her home in East Sussex of breast cancer on 24 May 2015. [19] [20]


According to Mavis Haut who has analyzed Tanith Lee's books to a great degree, Lee has an apparent liking for the transitional character of the bildungsroman.

In Birthgrave, the experienced adolescent Uastis-Karrakaz, who is about to enter a male-preferring, adult world, starts out with unusually low self-esteem. She has been severed from childhood by a wholly dormant (latency) period and born directly into young womanhood. Haunted by blurred and often unintelligible memories, it is difficult for her to distinguish between the real and imaginary. Her contacts with the opposite sex are bruising and full of confusion and contradiction.

With great effort she learns to control her rebellious passions. She affects a studious bravado to mask her lack of confidence, but even at her most naive it is precisely her inability to resist her instincts and desires that is the foundation of her integrity. As she pieces herself together according to her own wayward nature, she is also piecing together a lost matriarchal culture. [21]

Her two longest werewolves stories, "Wolfland" and Lycanthia, follow Lee's custom of reversing the images of popular culture icons. The 20th century image of the werewolf is largely derived from Hollywood cinema; a man is involuntarily transmogrified into a crazed man-beast, which is consumed by an overwhelming desire to rend that which it loves best. Lee turns that typical portrayal on its head, a departure from Hollywood and folklore tradition and actually approximates the werewolves behaviors into the social and hunting patterns of natural wolves. In altering such a trope, she endows werewolf stories with a new and more positive mythos, a more natural symbolism. [22]

Tanith Lee's 1971 debut was the children's book The Dragon Hoard; her first adult book was The Birthgrave in 1975. [23] 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 . [24] 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. [24]
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). [14]

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. [25]

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. [4]

Writing style

Lee's style is frequently remarked upon for its use of rich poetic prose and striking imagery. [24] Critics describe her style as weird, lush, vibrant, exotic, erotic, rich, elegant, perverse, and darkly beautiful. [26] [27] The technique she uses is very descriptive and poetic which works well with the themes she uses in her mythical stories. [28] She has been praised for her ability to balance her weird style with the challenges of writing a faraway world, [29] 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. [28]


Lee's writing frequently featured nonconformist interpretations of fairy tales, vampire stories, myths, and the fantasy genre; [24] as well as themes of feminism and sexuality. [1] [30] She also wrote lesbian fiction under the pseudonym Esther Garber. [31] 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. [26] 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". [24] 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. [32] 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. [24]


Tanith Lee was influenced by multiple genres, including other writers, music, movies, and "small things". [33] 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. [34]


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. [23] [35]

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. [23] [33]


Works of Tanith Lee arranged by date of publication:


Nebula Awards

World Fantasy Awards [36]

World Horror Convention

British Fantasy Awards

Lambda Awards

See also

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Further reading