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Eulogizing Tanith Lee

Tanith-LeeFantasy, science-fiction, feminist author Tanith Lee died recently from breast cancer.  She was 67.

No one in my family knew her personally, although through her writings she was an integral part of the household.  My dad read her fiction since her first novel, The Birthgrave, and introduced my brother and me to the novels, which we in turn loved, read very often, and still sometimes quote to each other.

The first Tanith Lee novel I read was Wolf Tower— I read it while waiting to have my broken wrist set… 24 hours after I had broken the bone.  I was in pain, I was nauseous, and I was hungry because I was afraid to eat due to the nausea… and I was totally enraptured by the book.  The other three novels in the series were eagerly devoured, too.

The next year I found Red Unicorn at a book fair.  I bought it, only to be told by my dad that it was the third in a trilogy.  So I hunted up Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn to read first.  Red Unicorn was a providential purchase.  The Unicorn series became one of my favorites… something my brother and I still quote.

When Dad announced Tanith Lee’s death the other night, my brother asked, “Who?”  I said, “Got a bone?” (A line from Black Unicorn).  Brother said, “Motherfucker.”

Indeed. He had performed her reworking of Snow White– Red as Blood— for a forensics competition a few years ago.  The same fairy tale collection inspired my (in-progress) collection of revised fairy tales, Ashes, and it’s damn good horror besides.  Speaking of horror, one of the best episodes of The Hunger was based on a Tanith Lee story, “Nunc Dimittis.”

And there were lots of other novels and short stories along the way.  It would take too long to go into them all and explain what they meant, but it comes down to this… books have always been friends to me, and Tanith Lee’s books offered me friendship, escape, lessons, companionship, adventure, fun new words that upset my mother (tronking okk’s grulps!), and a way for my brother and I to amuse ourselves that no one else understood.

We really have lost an old friend (and role model), and we are truly sorry for it.  Fantasy, science fiction, and horror are much poorer without Tanith Lee.

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2 thoughts on “Eulogizing Tanith Lee

  1. Laura W. says:

    I remember Wolf Tower, too! I was transitioning from reading mostly nonfiction and mystery to fantasy, and it was one of my early introductions to the genre. I remember obsessing over it because I was so bothered by certain parts of the story, and the romantic elements made me squirm, but it really made me think. This was around the time when my parents were making fun of me for reading so many fantasy novels, and teasing me about stereotypically “fantasy” titles and covers, so I had to hide it. (Honestly, they may have had a point — I was far too young to be reading Tanith Lee and Tamora Pierce because of some of the adult content, but they could have been nicer about it…)

    She also had some children’s books published before Birthgrave, I believe…I think I’ve read The Dragon Hoard, too, but I don’t remember it well enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds right. I have to admit, I didn’t fact-check carefully.
    I guess my dad had a lot of faith in me… the books were a gift from him. But he also made up an historically themed version of “The Three Little Pigs” involving scorched earth (I was seven or eight). That probably explains a lot how I turned out.

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