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Lee, Tanith

Entry updated 15 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1947-2015) UK author whose married name since 1992 was Tanith Lee Kaiine, though she continued to write under her own name; she began to publish work of genre interest with "Eustace" in The Ninth Pan Book of Horror Stories (anth 1968) edited by Herbert van Thal. Her first books were fantasies for children, beginning with The Dragon Hoard (1971); and then, beginning with The Birthgrave (1975), she focused primarily on Science Fantasy and pure fantasy for adults, often set in Planetary Romance venues where sf understories are varyingly emphasized, and sometimes ignored completely. Both these areas of concentration – children's stories and pure fantasy – lie outside the central focus of this encyclopedia, but it can be said that she was an inventive and fertile writer, that she encompassed her primary theme – the ethical and sexual initiation of an adolescent character into a volatile world s/he herself will shape, often through renunciation – in a wide variety of modes, and that, although her work differs vastly in tone and subject matter from that of C J Cherryh, both writers share a daunting comprehensiveness. Lee, however, never assembled her various singletons and series into one shared universe.

The Birthgrave sequence, comprising The Birthgrave (1975), Vazkor, Son of Vazkor (1978; vt Shadowfire 1978) and Quest for the White Witch (1978), is sf by virtue of the ending of the first volume, in which Earthmen arrive in a Spaceship to tell the albino heroine the true, non-supernatural explanation for the compulsions she feels and the voices she hears inside her head – having awoken with Amnesia in the heart of a volcano and wreaked considerable damage upon the world with her untutored powers, she is by this time sorely in need of some reassurance. The second and third volumes deal primarily with her son, who must deal with his own powers and learn that his mother is not evil. At trilogy's end, blessed with Immortality, and forgiving of one another, they commit incest. Don't Bite the Sun (1976) and Drinking Sapphire Wine (1977), both assembled as Drinking Sapphire Wine (omni 1979), form a genuine sf sequence set in a Far-Future world somewhat resembling that in Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time series, treated in this case as a Dystopia whose citizens, superficially free to shape-change and cavort, are in fact prisoners of the protectiveness of their artificial environment. Electric Forest (1979) depicts the rite of passage of an ugly child on a planet where her appearance is shocking. Day by Night (1980) is set on non-rotating mirror-worlds unconscious of each other's existence. Sabella, or The Blood Stone (1980) and its sequel, Kill the Dead (1980) – both assembled as Sometimes, After Sunset (omni 1980) – associate vampirism with Mars. The Silver Metal Lover sequence, comprising The Silver Metal Lover (1981) and Metallic Love (2005), concerns a love affair between a teenager (who grows up) and a Robot or Android. Days of Grass (1985) is set a century or so after an Alien invasion. The Secret Books of Venus sequence – beginning with The Secret Books of Venus, Book I: Faces Under Water: (Il Libro della Mascara) (1998) and ending with The Secret Books of Venus, Book IV: Venus Preserved: (Il Libro dell' Angelo) (2003) – is set in an Alternate History version of Venice, where alchemy rules. Indigara: Or, Jet and Otis Conquer the World (2007), set on a planet similar to Earth, features adventures in a kind of Virtual Reality based on films. Lee's sf, though she was clearly conversant with its instruments, made such individual use of the normal displacements of the genre that nothing – from Robots to cosmogony – failed to serve her primary impulses as a storyteller. For Lee, sf was a kind of metaphysical pathos: it illustrated her children. She was honoured with the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 2013.

Of her volumes of stories, some – like Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (coll 1983) – focus absorbingly on fantasy themes and story modes; but several are more far-ranging, and contain material of sf interest. They include Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee (coll 1986), Forests of the Night (coll 1989), Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women through Space and Time (coll 1989), Nightshades: Thirteen Journeys into Shadow (coll 1993), Space Is Just a Starry Night (coll 2013), Animate Objects (2013), which mostly contains very recent work, and Dancing Through the Fire: A Collection of Stories in Five Moves (coll 2015), which assembles work published over a thirty-year span. Tempting the Gods: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee, Volume One (coll 2009) and Hunting the Shadows: The Selected Stories of Tanith Lee, Volume Two (coll 2009) initiated a planned multi-volume traversal of her work, which was not continued.

In 2024 Lee was the second recipient of the SFWA Infinity Award, a posthumous equivalent to the SFWA Grand Master Award (which is presented only to living authors). [JC]

see also: Children's SF; DAW Books; Feminism; Radio; Supernatural Creatures; Werewolves.

Tanith Lee Kaiine

born London: 19 September 1947

died Hastings, East Sussex: 24 May 2015




Don't Bite the Sun

Wars of Vis

Castle of Dark

Tales from the Flat Earth


Silver Metal Lover

Secret Books of Paradys


  • Black Unicorn (New York: Atheneum, 1991) [Unicorn/Tanaquil: hb/Heather Cooper]
  • Gold Unicorn (New York: Atheneum/Byron Preiss, 1992) [Unicorn/Tanaquil: hb/Mark Zug]
  • Red Unicorn (New York: Tor/Byron Preiss, 1997) [Unicorn/Tanaquil: hb/Mike Mendelsohn]

Blood Opera

Secret Books of Venus

Claidi Journals



Colouring Books

  • L'Amber (Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex: Egerton House Publishing, 2006) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • Greyglass (Stafford, Staffordshire: Immanion Press, 2011) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • To Indigo (Stafford, Staffordshire: Immanion Press, 2011) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
    • Colouring Books: Gallery One (Stafford, Staffordshire, Immanion Press, 2020) [omni of the above three plus one story: Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • Ivoria (Stafford, Staffordshire: Immanion Press, 2012) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • Killing Violets: Gods' Dogs (Stafford, Staffordshire: Immanion Press, 2012) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
    • Colouring Books: Gallery Two (Stafford, Staffordshire, Immanion Press, 2020) [omni of the above two plus one story: Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • Cruel Pink (Stafford, Staffordshire: Immanion Press, 2013) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
  • Turquoiselle (Stafford, Staffordshire, Immanion Press, 2014) [Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]
    • Colouring Books: Gallery Three (Stafford, Staffordshire, Immanion Press, 2021) [omni of the above two plus one story: Colouring Books: pb/John Kaiine]


individual titles

collections and stories

about the author


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