For the second day of Women in SF&F Month, I’m excited to welcome back T. Frohock! Her excellent debut novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale, is a character-driven, dark—though not completely devoid of light!—fantasy with a unique take on battling demons and compelling protagonists. Los Nefilim, her latest book, is a collection of three novellas set in Spain during the 1930s, and like Miserere, it features a world that breathes new life into the familiar with its angels and daimons. You can read more about her work (as well as a couple of her short stories) on her website.
Requiem – Tanith Lee
She looks through water,
She looks through air,
She leaps at the moon
And she looks in.
Give her silver, Give her gold,
And bind her eyes
With a brick and a pin.
—Tanith Lee, “Where All Things Perish”
This post was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be, but then again, it’s always that way with things that I love. It’s even more difficult to describe the influence that an author such as Tanith Lee had on my rural upbringing, but the short answer is that she changed the way I saw the world. Because of her, and authors like her, I learned about diversity and acceptance of both myself and others. I felt less alone after reading her works. It seemed there was, after all, someone out there like me.
Lee was a prolific writer, and while her novels did well, it was always her short stories that I craved the most. She had Poe’s talent for creating characters and worlds that were simultaneously poetic and horrific in the true gothic fashion. Utilizing what the poet Gwendolyn MacEwen called a language both beautiful and lethal, Lee could describe the sun as a “pale yellow wound in the sky,” and then later liken it to a blade (“Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur”) in order to evoke a vampire’s pain without the prose seeming either purple or effuse. Likewise, she was the mistress of allusion, such as when she uses the orchid, flower of death, in “Elle est Trois, (La Mort)” to describe La Belle Dame sans Merci on the street “dressed in a wave of black velvet. It was a cloak such as those worn by the rich and the fashionable to the Opéra. But it wrapped her within itself as if it, too, were alive, some organic creature, folding her as if in the petals of a black orchid.”
Lee’s works are rife with these small elegant touches—the turn of a word, the touch of a phrase.
She twisted fairytales in her brutal retelling of “Cinderella” with “When the Clock Strikes,” a story of revenge. Her variation on “Little Red Riding Hood” became “Wolfland,” where a young girl finds her own myth amidst werewolves and malicious grandmothers and wolf goddesses in the north.
Sword and sorcery are the tools she uses like flash and glamor to lead the reader into tales about choices and consequences. But shining above it all is her wit. She gives a sly wink and a nudge to ecclesiastical themes, such as when she tells of the vampires’ ancestry in “Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Fur.” Here the vampires are a different species with little understanding of the people they haunt. “They sense they are attributed to some sin, reckoned a punishing curse, a penance, and this amuses them …”
“Written in Water” is a very short science fiction story with a feminist twist. A woman has lived her whole life in loneliness, which leaves her well-equipped to be the last survivor of a pandemic. Then one day, a snow white star falls from the sky and brings her a mate with eyes golden like the sun.
Lee has proved time and again that gothic tales still have the power to thrill, whether they are set on fallen worlds, or in fairytales, or on a cold spring day in France. And even though Tanith Lee is no longer with us, her stories are. I managed to find a good copy of her short story collection Dreams of Dark and Light, which is all of her best short stories gathered in one place. If you ever happen across it, buy it. You’re in for a treat, because while all things might perish, stories are forever, and I hope you have the chance to discover hers.
|T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and history into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale, and Los Nefilim, an omnibus of three novellas: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death in addition to numerous short stories.
She lives in North Carolina, where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.