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Literature / Tales from the Flat Earth

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Tales from the Flat Earth is a fantasy series by Tanith Lee, consisting of novels and short stories.

The setting is a world that is flat and square, and floats amid formless chaos. Its cosmology consists of four "layers"; apart from the Flat Earth itself, they are the Underearth (realm of the demons), the Upperearth (realm of the gods), and the Innerearth (realm of the dead).

This series contains examples of:


  • Artifact of Attraction: A collar made from the gems that were Ferazhin's tears. Any mortal who sees it has to have it, causing murder and mayhem.
  • Body to Jewel: Ferazhin, who was created from a flower, has tears that turn into gems.
  • Creative Sterility: In Death's Master, the immortal inhabitants of Simmurad stagnate because they're not driven by the awareness of having a limited amount of time in which to achieve.
  • Does Not Wear Shoes
    • Zhirem, from Death's Master, grew up barefoot; and after he has grown up into the powerful (and pretty evil) sorcerer Zhirek, he dresses in rich vestments, but still goes barefoot, as he is used to it. Later on, after he had become the philosopher Dathanja, a kind-hearted princess gave him shoes, "which he even wore sometimes".
    • Azhriaz, Night's Daughter, usually wanders barefoot as she scorns human convention and is completely indestructible so isn't inconvenienced by stepping on anything sharp.
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  • Fisher King: In Death's Master, Narasen's kingdom is cursed to be as barren as she was. After her death, she returns and reinvokes the curse in jealous revenge, contaminating the land with the poison that killed her.
  • Gender Bender: Simmu, one of the main characters of Death's Master, has the ability to shift easily between male and female.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: While the series definitely has Gods, they're Neglectful Precursors who created the universe, got bored with it, and now do nothing but stand around contemplating their own greatness. They've intervened in the world approximately three times, all of which were to deliver smack-downs on anyone who dared to challenge them. The primary protagonists of the series are chief demons/personifications of dark forces named the "Lords of Darkness," particularly Azhrarn, the Lord of Evil, who has a Blue and Orange Morality, and is probably as old as the Gods themselves. Much of the series is devoted to showing how he manipulates humanity for his own pleasure, but is still (arguably) a friendlier force to humanity than the Gods. In the first book, after inadvertently beginning a chain of events leading to the Apocalypse, he enters Heaven to ask the Gods to do something, which they point-blank refuse, after which he proceeds to save the world himself.
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  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The Lords of Darkness are personifications of human ideas such as Death and Madness, and most would cease to exist without human belief; the first Lord, the personification of Wickedness, is stated to be older than humanity, but it's implied even he would be diminished without humans around. The Gods themselves don't seem to care one bit whether humans die or not, and regard a very real threat to humanity with a nonchalant shrug.
  • Hell Has New Management: In Death's Master, the Queen of Innerearth was a human queen, Narasen, who owed Death a thousand years of servitude. However, she was too much of a queen to act as anyone's servant, and Uhlume, lord of Death, instead abdicated much of his role to her. He decided he liked roaming the Earth, but the inhabitants of Hell want him to come back and relieve them of Narasen's harsh rule.
  • Life Drain: In Death's Master, there's a wizard who takes on an apprentice and charges only one fee for his lessons: he gets to bugger the kid every night. When the apprentice finally quits, the wizard reveals that the sex was draining off years of his life (which were transferred to the wizard); and that to add insult to injury, for the few years left of the boy's life, he will act more like the lustful old wizard himself.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The Gods created the universe, got bored with it, and now do nothing but stand around contemplating their own greatness. They've intervened in the world approximately three times, all of which were to deliver smack-downs on anyone who dared to challenge them.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Ghouls are powerful supernatural beings that appear as beautiful humans and are incredibly gifted at love-making. They are an evil race and enjoy eating humans as a delicacy. Ghouls can interbreed with humans though the resulting offspring are weaker than a pure ghoul with succeeding generations further degenerating. The mightiest ghouls are nearly indestructible as no spell or physical force can harm them, a way to defeat one is to shine a light at it and then cut out its shadow. Its supernatural nature makes the shadow a corporeal thing and without a shadow, a ghoul is helpless and can be killed with normal means. The entire race meet their end when they annoy the demon princess, Azhriaz the Night's Daughter, who magically seals them within their city and they turn on each other, succumbing eventually to cannibalism or starvation.
  • Wonder Child: A lady who wants a child has a date with an angel. They kiss, and she is told she'll conceive the next time she and her husband are together; she does, and thereby hangs the tale.

Alternative Title(s): Deaths Master


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