With the passing of our American Memorial Day holiday, a harbinger that summer is upon us, we’ve entered a portion of the year ripe with traditions. It is the time of romances and adventures, of vacations and memories. A common denominator between summers and much of what occurs, is the original drive-in movie theater/concert venue: the campfire. It is a summer time tradition that has gone back to the dawn of man and the invention of fire. The migrant hunter-gatherer families would sit around the fire singing songs to keep the monsters at bay and telling stories of the monsters to scare the rambunctious little ones to sleep. Music and the scary story have been an inseparable tandem ever since. Have they evolved wit with the eras? Most certainly. Drums have become guitars and other stringed instruments. The stories, though the settings and locales have changed, the themes are still the same. They are moral fables, teaching our young what happens when we misbehave. A good boogeyman stays relevant. You see, we live in a world where the scares of our ancestors are our scares today, we only perceive them in that manner. I regret the summer is starting off rather shitty because we have one less storyteller at the fire. We lost Tanith Lee this same weekend, she finally succumbed to the illness that had been ravaging her. Unless you are a die hard dark fantasy fan, you may not even know who I’m talking about. but Tanith had a lasting impact on fantasy and horror, blurring the lines between the two and throwing conventions out the door. Her manipulation of prose created a kaleidoscope of visuals that none have matched in our lifetime. Lee’s influence can be felt throughout fiction as a whole, she’s written nearly a hundred books and three times that many published pieces of short fiction, for Christ’s sake. Her accolades precede her, with 20 major awards in science fiction, horror and fantasy, including a Life Time Achievement award. But it’s her darker fantasy elements that seem to draw the most moths to her flame, especially her Gothic Horror. I learned quickly that when reading Lee’s books you needed to throw away any preconceived notions about the subject matter. Why? Because she’s already dumped them at the door before you’ve turned the first page. My personal experience with her works is through her vampires in the Blood Opera Sequence: DARK DANCE, PERSONAL DARKNESS and DARKNESS, I. I went into DARK DANCE with the assumption it would be comparable to Whitley Streibers’ THE HUNGER. How wrong I was. This fable turns the ideal of the romantic Bram Stoker vampire into something much more sinister, combining taboo sexual elements with vampirism throughout the trilogy. Fans of Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray rejoice, I’ve just provided you with some books to read. Maybe they’ll lead you to Lee’s World Fantasy Award winning GORGON, or the British Fantasy Award winning DEATH’S MASTER, who knows.
Sleep well, Tanith Lee. You are immortal through your prose, and we thank you for your gifts to us. Your bold twists on traditional stories will continue to be told at campfires for many summers to come.