I continued my Tanuary re(reading) of Tanith Lee with two short story collections. Let’s take each one, shall we? [Note: I have not included links in this post due to sheer laziness. I cannot recommend enough Daughter of the Night: An Annotated Tanith Lee Bibliography for all your Tanith Lee needs.]
Redder Than Blood
It turns out, I did read this before. This is a collection of Tanith’s fairy-tale-themed short fiction, with three tales making their first appearance in this volume. It’s a mixed bag and on balance, not my favorite. Stories like “Snowdrop” and “She Sleeps in a Tower” feature underage girls being raped and are just icky. The title story had me hooked, but in the end I don’t think it made sense. “My Life as a Swan” is, I think, just too long for the story she’s telling in it. These are just my opinions, and your mileage may vary, as they say.
This collection does have “Open Your Window, Golden Hair,” which is a wonderful horror story that I like very much. “Wolfed” is sexual, but it’s also fun. And it has a happy ending. Hooray!
Then there is “The Beast.” I adore this story. I love the imagery, how she writes the contrast between Vessavion’s magical mansion and an ordinary city. “The car purred through a city made of snow. Lights like diamonds glittered on distant cliffs of cement. … Vessavion had a garden that was like a cathedral, open to the sky almost it seemed of space, flashing with stars.” I love how I imagine Vessavion looks. I like the ending. I like the repetition of words: marvelous the first time, horrifying the second. It’s just awesome. Not a word out of place.
Here’s where I tell you how I recognized this volume of stories. It has typos. Many typos. It’s not the worst I’ve read in this regard; I remember a collection a few years ago where I actually wrote to the publisher to complain. And the truth is, I don’t have the original stories in front of me, so it’s possible that what I see as typos are actually what Tanith wrote. In those cases, I will shut up. But, for example, when a character’s name is spelled two different ways on facing pages for no apparent reason, something’s not right.
Now, I have a copy of the first publication of “The Beast,” in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears, collected by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. So I got it off my shelf and compared. In this new edition there are places where paragraphs are not indented properly, especially in dialogue scenes. Punctuation is off: commas for periods. And in the 5th paragraph from the end, there is a sentence that reads, “She found him in the blue bedroom that was a cave, on the blue bed that they had seeped in flame.” This sentence doesn’t make sense. In the Datlow book, it reads, “on the blue bed that they had steeped in flame.” I have to believe the more recent version is incorrect. This is one of my favorite stories, I’ve read it dozens of times, so maybe a person coming to the story fresh wouldn’t notice this. But I do, and it harshes my mellow every time.
A Wolf at the Door
I started by reading the novelette, “Nightshade,” because it was the longest story in the book. About halfway through I wondered if maybe reading only Tanith Lee for a solid month was a bad idea, as some patterns in her writing of which I am less fond became clearer. The writing is so dense (and the print so small) that I frequently had to reread whole pages because I didn’t follow them. There didn’t seem to be enough story, certainly not one that compelled me to keep reading. I know, if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it, but still. The author also keeps referring to a maid character as “the black girl.” Yes, she’s black, and she’s a contrast to the pallid Sovaz, but I got tired of it pretty quickly. I finished the story, and I think I know what happened, but I have no plans to reread it.
But I had committed myself, so I sighed and flipped to the beginning of the book, to the first story in it, “Huzdra.” And all was forgiven. This is a story, then, with a wicked witch, and a curse, and an ending where everyone gets what’s coming to them. Delicious.
I enjoyed the rest of the book. “A Wolf at the Door” is delightful. “The Puma’s Daughter” is sad and wonderful. I enjoyed “Table Manners,” though I wasn’t sure I would. The story pokes fun at so many things I love about vampire stories, but in the end, I was in. The story is right about them, anyway.
What sticks with me is Storm Constantine’s introduction, in which she writes that the original plan was to republish Tanith’s more obscure stories in themed volumes: werewolf stories, dragon stories, and so on. “[She] was prepared to write new ones to fill a collection, so it didn’t seem these volumes would be difficult to compile.” I wish I had that kind of confidence in my ability to come up with new stories. Of course, Tanith got sick and things didn’t work out the way they hoped.
There are two weeks left to Tanuary. I think I need a change of pace after these short stories, these adult fairy tales. So I’ve got Piratica, one of her YA novels, from the library, and we’ll see where that takes me.
[I am listening to Fernando Velázquez’s score for Crimson Peak as I write this. It seems appropriate.]