Lee, Tanith

Lee, Tanith (1947–)

(pop culture)

Tanith Lee, a British writer of dark fantasy, began writing children’s books, and in 1975 her first novel for adults, The Birthgrave, appeared. Born and educated in London, after secondary school Lee studied art and held various jobs before becoming a writer. Her best work takes themes from horror, fantasy, and science fiction, and integrates a feminist vision and a dark twist, which provides the vehicle for exploring some of the larger issues to which Lee speaks (the nature of morality, the individual’s sense of control of their life, etc.). She has attained some degree of fame for her retelling of children’s stories with an adult twist in her Red As Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (1983).

Vampiric themes began to appear quite early in her writings, such as Kill the Dead (1980) and especially Sabella: or the Bloodstone (1980).

Sabella Quay, a resident of Mars, had at the age of 11 found a plum-sized stone with a ring at one end, which she later began to wear all the time. When she was 14 she had her first sexual encounter, and then killed the boy. Out of the experience she came to understand that she really was not human. Not of the undead, she lived a nocturnal existence because her blood was vulnerable to the rays of the sun. She finally learned not to kill the men with whom she had sex and took blood primarily from the deer in the nearby countryside. At one point her Aunt Cassi had figured out that Sabella was a vampire, and left her niece a jeweled crucifix. However, Sabella settled into a nice existence with her lover Jace from whom she takes blood and whom she allows to dominate her, realizing that the victim has to be stronger than the oppressor, or he dies.

Possibly Lee’s most important vampire fiction is the “Blood Opera” series, Dark Dance (1992), Personal Darkness (1993), and Darkness, 1 (1994), which reveal the life of the Scarabae. The story begins as Rachaela Day, a seemingly normal and unexceptional woman, is called to her family home, where she meets her ageless relative and is seduced by the handsome Adamus (whom her mother had told her to avoid). She soon learns that she is part of a plan to perpetuate the family. The three volumes follow Rachaela and her daughter Ruth’s efforts to cope with their heritage.

Lee has won numerous awards for her writings, including the World Fantasy Convention Award on two occasions. Additional vampire writings include The Beautiful Biting Machine (1984) and The Blood of Roses (1990). She has not returned to the vampire theme since the 1990s.


Lee, Tanith. Volkkavaar. New York: DAW Books, 1977. 192 pp. Rept. London: Arrow Books, 1988. 202 pp.
———. Darkness, I. London: Little Brown, 1978. Rept. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. 408 pp.
———. Kill the Dead. New York: DAW Books, 1980. 172 pp.
———. Sabella: or the Blood Stone. New York: DAW Books, 1980. 157 pp. Reprinted in Sometimes, After Sunset. Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, 1980. 140 pp. Rept. London: Unwin, 1987.
———. The Beautiful Biting Machine. New Castle, VA: Cheap Street, 1984. 43 pp.
———. The Blood of Roses. London: Century Publishing, 1990. 678 pp.
———. Dark Dance. London: MacDonald, 1992. Rept. New York: Dell/Abyss, 1992. 409 pp. Rept. New York: Warner, 1994.
———. Personal Darkness. (Blood Opera 2) London: Little, Brown, 1993. 435 pp. Rept. New York: Dell, 1993. 389 pp.