Tanith Lee (1947-2015) was a prolific British SF writer, who wrote over 70 novels and over 200 short stories. Her works include science fiction, fantasy, and horror, for adults and for children.
A dyslexic, she didn't learn to read until she was eight years old, when her father taught her. Thereafter she read insatiably. Her first novel, The Dragon Hoard (1971), is a comic fantasy that takes the mickey out a wide range of fairy tale and mythology tropes while telling the story of how Prince Jasleth was forced to go on a quest after his family was cursed by a sorceress who wasn't invited to his birthday party. Other notable works for younger readers include The Unicorn Trilogy (1991-1997) and the Piratica series (2004-2007).
Lee's first novel for adults was The Birthgrave (1975), which was nominated for a Nebula Award. Other notable works for adults include The Silver Metal Lover (1981); the Biting the Sun duet (1976-1977); and the Tales from the Flat Earth cycle (1978-1986).
Owing to changes in the publishing industry in the 1990s, her work fell out of favor precisely because she was incredibly prolific and changed her subject matter and even her subgenre often. Publishers wanted authors to stick with one style, one genre, create an image and produce that way all the time. She continued to write, but had to store all her manuscripts because nobody wanted them. She was helped by the small press movement and the resolution of a court fight over some of her rights. At the end, she was working on a "Colouring Book" series, contemporary Gothic tales.
Her handwriting was almost illegible and she joked it would prove she was a "maniac".
In 2010, she revealed that she had been treated for breast cancer. On May 24, 2015, she died in her sleep. She was 67.
Works by Tanith Lee with their own trope page include:
- Biting the Sun Duet (Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine)
- The Claidi Journals (Wolf Tower, Wolf Star, Wolf Queen, and Wolf Wing)
- The Dragon Hoard
- Tales from the Flat Earth
- The Unicorn Trilogy (Black Unicorn, Gold Unicorn, and Red Unicorn)
- White as Snow
Tanith Lee's other works provide examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Jane's mother in The Silver Metal Lover.
- Berserk Button: In Vivia, Vaddix was in peace negotiations with a defeated enemy when one of the disarming soldiers accidentally discharged his crossbow, killing Vaddix's horse. He crucified the lot of them right there and then.
- Chariot Race: Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, aka Shadowfire, has a chariot race that's an obvious homage to Ben-Hur.
- City of Canals: The Books of Venus.
- Clothing Damage / Defeat by Modesty: Vivia hides inside the flames after an attempt to burn her at the stake only succeeded in reducing her clothes to ash.
- Country Matters: In case the brutal murders were not enough to tell the readers that Vivia's father is a nasty man, he also swears a lot and calls his underlings rude words.
- Dead All Along: Parl Dro in Kill the Dead.
- Deal with the Devil: Beautifully deconstructed in the short story "Sold". A woman with serious medical and financial problems calls on the devil, asking if he would really give her health, wealth, beauty, and long life in exchange for her soul. When he replies in the affirmative, she calls off the deal: all she really wanted was proof that she had a soul and that it was worth something.
- Disease Bleach: Felix Phoenix of Piratica used to have dark hair, until years in a workhouse as a child turned his hair white.
- Expy: In Kill the Dead, Parl Dro and Myal Lemyal are notorious expies of Avon (played by Paul Darrow) and Vila Restal from Blake's 7.
- Foreshadowing: Even before Parl Dro appears on-page, his status as a ghost himself is subtly hinted at: Ciddey mentions that she'd heard stories of him "long ago".
- Grimmification: Some of her fairy tale retellings.
- Haunted Fetter: In Kill the Dead, ghosts have an item from their previous life that links them to this plane. If the item is damaged or destroyed the ghost is sent to its final destination.
- Humans Are Bastards: To Vivia
- Horny Devils: "The Demoness" Sex with the title character leaves men completely insane. Made all the more tragic by the fact that she doesn't really understand what she is most of the time.
- I'm Not Afraid of You: In Companions on the Road, three mercenaries involved in sacking a castle are pursued by the vengeful spirits of people killed there. The ghosts invade their sleep and kill them in nightmares; but when the last remaining member of the group realizes that he pities the ghosts more than he fears them, they vanish.
- Implausible Deniability: The white horse in Prince on a White Horse is not a Talking Animal, and will tell you so itself if you ask.
- Implausible Fencing Powers: In the Piratica books, this is practically a signature move for Art and her pirate crew. Almost all of them are actually actors, and have only been trained in stage combat.
- The Insomniac: In Companions on the Road, the main character is in danger from ghosts that kill in dreams, and so does everything possible to stay awake, including using drugs. After a few days, he's in terrible shape, exhausted and thinking confusedly, though not delusional.
- Interspecies Romance: The Silver Metal Lover and its sequel, Metallic Love, in which, you guessed it, girl falls in love with robot.
- Istanbul (Not Constantinople): The Secret Books of Paradys are set in an alternate Paris, while The Secret Books of Venus are set in an alternate Venice. She also refers to the "Remusan Empire" in Cyrion.
- Lady Land: In East of Midnight, a charming rogue unwittingly travels from a male-dominated world to a parallel female-dominated one, in which he happens to resemble the consort of the (female) Moon King.
- Orifice Invasion: Featured in a story about a demon that takes possession of humans via their orifices.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Vivia
- Parental Abandonment: Dead parents appear rather often. James Nicoll is reviewing one Lee book a week for a year. His reviews include a table of dead parents: after 50 books we have 37 missing or dead mothers and 32 missing or dead fathers.
- Perspective Flip: Red As Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer
- Pirate Girl: The Piratica series.
- Power Perversion Potential: A vampire demonstrates in Vivia.
- Quest for Identity:
- Reincarnate in Another World: At the end of Prince on a White Horse, the knight regains his memories and learns that he is an example of this trope, having lived a full life in our world before dying and being reincarnated as the knight.
- Sex Bot: In The Silver Metal Lover (and its sequel, Metallic Love), a corporation comes out with a line of male and female humanoid robots in various metallic skin tones; they're advertised as "artists" (golds specialize in acting, silvers in music, coppers in dance) and though they can do those things, everyone seems to assume that they're really intended as sex bots and the other capabilities are just frills. Kind of a robotic High-Class Call Girl.
- Show Within a Show: The entirety of Electric Forest, which isn't revealed until the final chapter that completely turns the preceding events upside-down and purple, creating a last minute Mind Screw while simultaneously acting as a Mind Screwdriver.
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: "Strindberg's Ghost Sonata"
- Spooky Photographs: "Yellow and Red"
- Taken for Granite: The witch in Prince on a White Horse has an annoying habit of paralysing people at random, fortunately temporarily.
- Talking Animal: In Prince on a White Horse, the Prince has reason to suspect that the horse can talk, but the horse says he can't.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Sabella, Kill the Dead
- Twice-Told Tale: Many, including all the stories in Red As Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer, and Sung in Shadow (a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet).
- Vagina Dentata: "The Weasel Bride"
- Wicked Stepmother:
- Subverted in "Red As Blood", a retelling of "Snow White" in which the stepmother is trying to save the day.
- Subverted majorly in "The Reason For Not Going To The Ball" Turning her stepdaughter into a scullery maid was to shield her from the notice of her molester father. The story/letter is to offer her stepdaughter a safe home and a way to escape the prince, a man who'd make the Marquis de Sade proud — the reason for trying to prevent her from going to the ball in the first place.