To Honour a Writer: Tanith Lee

What can I say? How can I record a dream as it evolved everywhere about me, record it, and yet keep the dream intact? I could state every event as it occurred, every tiny and wondrous event.

– Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee

Some of my favourite fantasy authors would recommend Tanith Lee in the same breath as writers like Patricia Mckillip, Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin. I was curious but it took me a few years until I finally sat down and read some of her extraordinary books.

I remember when my amazing bookish friend Jess recommended White as Snow by Tanith Lee to readers who love fairytale retellings. Older books are hard to track down but a year later, the wonderful Nafiza sent me a former library copy as part of a book exchange.

From the first page, White as Snow pulls the reader into one of the most poetic, macabre and haunting mythic crossover retellings of Snow White and the Persephone myth I’ve ever read:

…And often then, the mirror stood shut by its silver lid, like a sleeping – or a dead – eye.

However, today the mirror had been opened.

What did the mirror see, looking in?

The Silver Metal Lover (Silver Metal Lover, #1)

My second encounter with Tanith Lee’s writing was The Silver Metal Lover, which I discovered through Felicia Day’s co-hosted romance book club.

It was a beautiful voice, like a minstrel’s, but futuristic, as if time were playing a circle inside the notes.

The Silver Metal Lover delves into a futuristic world and the life of a captivating android musician through the eyes of Jane, a young heroine. Despite some of Jane’s polarising choices, I loved her honest, raw and self-aware reflections. One of Tanith Lee’s previous editors/publishers, Anne Groell describes that enduring connection and resonance with this coming of age tale so well, here.

In the same year, I read Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. This story is set in a hedonistic speculative world where people can swap bodies (and therefore, sex/gender) at a whim. I’ve never read anything quite like Biting the Sun. I loved the subversiveness and satire of gender norms in this novel. It’s as playful and as lush as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

What can I say? How can I record a dream as it evolved everywhere about me, record it, and yet keep the dream intact? I could state every event as it occurred, every tiny and wondrous event.

– p. 281, Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee

After I heard the news of Tanith Lee’s passing, I borrowed Cold Grey Stones – a collection of her short stories from the library.

Tonight no bird sang. Not a thread of wind silked the branches.

– Clockatrice, from Cold Grey Stones by Tanith Lee

Perhaps, the best way to honour a writer’s life is to catch up on their words:

Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.

Tanith Lee

Tributes:

– Tanith Lee: Where to Start Reading by Catherine Lundoff (via livejournal)

Tanith Lee Was An Indispensible Author by Charlie Jane Anders (via io9)

Tanith Lee: An Appreciation by Anne Groell (via Del Ray Spectra)

– In Memory of a Dear Friend – Tanith Lee by Storm Constantine (via Dreams of Dark Angels)

– A look back at Tanith Lee’s legacy, an outstanding oeuvre containing a common concern with gender and sexuality by Brit Mandelo (via Tor.com)

A Tribute to Tanith Lee by Elizabeth (who inspired me to write this post)

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7 thoughts on “To Honour a Writer: Tanith Lee

  1. The Silver Metal Lover is very, very high up on my list of books to read, but somehow I missed out on Biting the Sun – it totally sounds up my alley, and knowing Tanith Lee’s writing it’s certain to be uniquely thought provoking. Thanks for including my post in with the other posts celebrating Tanith Lee! There’s a sense of solidarity that comes from realizing that someone or something else makes other people feel as strongly as we do about them.

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    1. Biting the Sun is a quirky read – it took me a little while to adjust to the unique voice but I ended up loving the book once I got into it. I’d be curious to read your thoughts on The Silver Metal lover – Jane can be polarising but I still connected to her (even when I thought she needed help). Definitely! I’m glad there are readers of Tanith Lee out there with that feeling.

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  2. Tanith Lee sounds like an absolutely incredible writer, and someone who is clearly very close to your heart. I would absolutely love to try some of her work, especially after reading your descriptions, thoughts and the quotes you included in this post. I feel I might really like some of her work but not get into others so much, so I’d like to start off really well. Which would you recommend as your favourite?
    Lovely post, Glazia. xx

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    1. I’d recommend starting with my friend Elizabeth’s favourites – classic YA fantasy tales – The Wolf Tower and Black Unicorn. Probably easier to find in the library too. I’m hoping to borrow them from the library so I can review them in the future.

      My personal favourite is The Silver Metal Lover because it has a unique YA scifi feel to it. Some readers in my book club found Jane’s extreme mood swings to be tiresome but I thought she grew by the end of the book.

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