Friday, April 20, 2012

Early Tanith Lee reviewed: like Anais Nin ghosting Robert E Howard

I've suggested here before that the hallmark of a good - truly memorable - fantasy story is  that you don't know how you feel about it. As further tokens of fantasy's power to unsettle, I offer these two Tanith Lee early seventies swords 'n' sex 'n' sorcery specials: The Storm Lord and Shadowfire.

And check out these covers! While the art raises questions - chiefly WTF leotard? in the case of The Storm Lord - it does capture the phantasmagorical nature of the contents.

Oh, Tanith Lee! Part 2

Oh, Tanith Lee! Part 1

At least at this early stage in her career, Lee comes on like Anais Nin ghosting Robert E Howard - pecs and princesses pulp fiction with its latent surrealism unfettered. She takes us through stunning descriptive set-pieces - a ship caught by a chain of erupting volcanoes, a gigantic, grave-robbed statue of a snake mother-goddess in a secret cavern, an underground road built by long-dead immortals - which seem more like Freudian dream-work than Tolkien-style landscape porn.

The dead-eyed amorality of her noble savages and decadents, again, amplifies the strangeness. There's little glorification of her muscular protagonists here, each sows the seeds of their own ruin. And while the rapture of the physical remains - there's a lot of sex and some troubling despite-strong-feminist-overtones consent issues which again remind me a bit of Nin - it's free from the sniggering schoolboy behind the male authorial gaze.

This is wierd fiction which defies easy qualification. And there's something in that inability to reduce either The Storm Lord or Shadowfire to their constituent parts which makes both of them worthy of note.

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