On The Recent Passing of Author Tanith Lee

“Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.” Tanith Lee, 19 Sept. 1947-24 May 2015

Tanith Lee died the other day at the age of 67. Most people I know have never even heard of her, let alone read any of her books or short stories. From what I’ve heard, she was struggling with getting any of her new work published. Hers was an unusual genre and style. Sometimes it was very difficult to read and understand where she was going or where exactly she’d just taken you, but at the same time it was always fun and thought-provoking.

My first exposure to Tanith Lee was a series of short stories called, “Red As Blood, Or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer” back in 1983. It contained some amazing twisted fairy tales that I immediately fell madly in love with. From there I went on to read “Sometimes, After Sunset”, before moving on to “Night’s Sorceries” which was the fifth and final book in her Flat Earth series. Only last year I read the Paradyse series for the first time. With 90 novels and over 300 short stories to her name, I am woefully behind. I fully intend to get to work on correcting that situation.

Her writing has a sort of ‘Modern Art in Literature’ feel to it. You have to stand there and look at it for a while. In just the right light it makes all the sense in the world, but when the sun shifts just a little, you may find yourself lost in another realm, twisted around backwards walking through an upside down haunted forest only to step a few more paces to find your place again and wondering what the hell just happened. It felt weird, but in a good way. I loved that about her. I loved the uniqueness. I loved her voice and her style even if I didn’t always quite get it. Most of the time I was right there with her, wrapped in the images and sounds. She was one of the few who could actually make me see the things in my head she was describing no matter how obtuse.

No one else ever made me ‘see’ science fiction the way Tanith Lee did. It’s no secret that Sci-Fi is NOT my genre of choice for that reason. Visualizing future technology has never come easy to me. Tanith could do it though and she seemed to do it so easily. I’m not sure why, but it worked for me. Perhaps it was just something in the female psyche we shared.

In that regard, she inspired me to write in such a way as to have my readers do more than just see the people and places of my own works. Many have complimented me on that ability and told me, “It was like I was right there while I was reading!” I have Tanith to thank for that, for making me so much more aware of including not just what is visually in a space, but what is there in the other senses. What does the air smell and taste like? What sounds are steady or just passing through? How does that glass of milk feel in the characters hand?

Something that very, very few people know is that Tanith also inspired me on a more spiritual basis. Not so much the actual beliefs, as I have NO idea what sort of spirituality she practiced, but with her name. Tanith. Tanith is likely derived from the goddess Tanit who was worshipped in what is now known as Tunisia. She was the equivalent of the Goddess Astarte, and later worshipped in Roman Carthage in her Romanized form as Juno Caelestis.

I was really getting interested in Paganism around the same time I discovered Tanith Lee’s work. One of the first things many people do is to adopt what is called a “Craft name”. It’s the name you are known by during ceremonies, a name of your choosing, a name you use to keep your mundane identity a secret. The name Tanith fascinated me. It was unique and magical sounding all on its own. But at the same time I didn’t want to copy it completely so I combined it with my Totem animal, the Raven. Using the first three letters of Tanith and the last three letters of Raven reversed, my Craft name became Tannev. Before now, I don’t think more than a handful of people have ever known how that name was created.

Even though I no longer consider myself a pagan, I still hold that name Sacred, as part of who I was, the things I learned during those ten or so years and how those teachings lead me to where and who I am today.

Tanith inspired me to write my own twisted fairy tales. She inspired me to write with all my senses. She inspired me to believe and be part of the magical realm. She made it okay to write weird things that maybe only I would ever really understand. My heart goes out to her family and friends during this sad time.

R.I.P. Tanith, you were a wonderful and will ever be an inspiration to me.

Nanu, Mr. Williams. Nanu.

Johnathon Winters is quoted as saying, “You’ve got to be an observer. And you’ve got to take time to listen to people, talk, to watch what they do.” As a kid, I really liked Mr. Winters. My parents had this old vinyl album called “The Very Best of Johnathon Winters” that I listened to countless times. In fact, that record is still in my collection. I loved his stories and the way he did all the voices for his characters. In retrospect, I wonder if that is why I always did that for my kids whenever I read to them. It seems the most natural thing to do, doesn’t it? I think so anyway. Winters made me laugh, a lot.

Though I certainly played with Barbie’s and baby dolls, my most favorite playthings were puppets. My best friend Sherry and I had a vast collection of puppets. Pink rabbits, purple frogs, a hippy, a white cat and an old hound dog that, ironically, our black lab, Amos, dragged home one day, just to name a few. No, we didn’t put on too many puppet shows. We were more sophisticated than that. My Barbie Townhouse became an apartment building along with a small bookshelf tucked behind my dad’s recliner. Sherry created 312 Seymour Drive in the corner of her dad’s home office. Our puppets met, fell in love, married, had children and we even had a funeral for one of them. Every puppet had its own voice. Those are some of my favorite memories of childhood.

In 1978 a new television show came on the air called “Mork and Mindy”. By then I was nearly thirteen years old and have left the puppets behind me, but by no means the myriad of character voices. I could recite the “Wizard of Oz” nearly by heart, voices, songs and all. I was a goofy kid or so I was labeled by my Aunt Brenda. You’ll get no argument from me. A goofy kid is a happy kid and there are only a scant few unhappy moments I can recall from my childhood. I was, am, truly blessed. With the arrival of “Mork and Mindy” in my life, it made it alright for me to be goofy. My outburst of randomness and over dramatized voices were so much like Robin Williams’s character of Mork, it helped me to settle more into my own skin and be who I really was. You can but imagine how enraptured I was when Johnathon Winters appeared on “Mork and Mindy”! Two of my favorites! Winters and Williams were made for each other and I sucked it up like the sponge I was. All the voices that lived in their heads were tossed out there for all the world to see and hear.

Partially through them and because of my love of storytelling, I began to observe people and their characters. I started looking at people and wondering how I could recreate them into a workable persona for a story. I am perfectly content to sit and people watch. For all the enjoyment I got, and still get, out of bursting into random voices, I am in general a very quiet person. I’ve been known to sit and take notes on people I watch. Bits and pieces of conversations I’ve eavesdropped on have been incorporated into story dialog.

There are very few celebrities out there that I care enough about to take note of their deaths. I may think, “Oh, gee, that’s too bad,” one minute and be going on with my life without a second thought of it the next. I can name the ones I’ve cried over on one hand; John Denver, Roddy McDowall, Johnathon Winters and now, most recently, Robin Williams. Roddy McDowall was probably the hardest. You might say John Denver taught me to sing as I have a very clear memory of singing “Country Roads” to a group of my grandmother’s church lady friends when I was about seven years old. I thought Roddy McDowall was the cutest guy in the world and would watch anything and everything he was in. He’s also the only celebrity I ever wrote to asking for an autograph. He graciously obliged and that signed picture is one of my prized possessions to this day. Winters and Williams showed me it was alright to be goofy.

Some people have heroes. I don’t know as I’d call any of those guys heroes, but I did admire them all on deeply personal levels at some point in my life. Part of them became part of me over the years even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I admit I have cried over the death of Robin Williams mostly because of my memories and how I could so easily relate to Mork; an alien, someone from the outside looking in, someone trying to be like everyone else, to fit in and at the same time, helpless against their inner nature that every now and then BURSTS out into the open.

Mork was an observer. Mork was sent to listen to people, talk to them, watch what they did and report it back to Orson at the end of each show. We will likely never know the thoughts that were running through Robin’s head in those final minutes, as we did when he spoke to Orson. I don’t really want to. It’s bad enough I now have this all too graphic image in my head of his death. I hope he found peace. I hope he’s found a place where his laughter no longer masks the pain. And I hope we, his fans, can remember the way he lived and the laughter he brought to billions, instead of the tragic ending he brought to his own brilliant, loving and tender mind.

I think Mork himself said it best at the end of one episode of “Mork and Mindy.”

Orson: What did you do this week, Mork?

Mork: Well, sir, this week a made a friend.

Orson: If you made a friend, why are you so sad?

Mork: Well, you see, sir, I lost him.

Orson: Can’t you make another?

Mork: No, sir. Well, I could but I haven’t got the heart for it.

Orson: What do you mean?

Mork: Well, sir, you know when you create someone and you nurture them, they grow. Well, there comes a time when they have to live their own life, or die their own death.

Orson: And now your friend is gone forever?

Mork: Oh, no, sir, no. I’ll always keep him right here. *touches his heart* Until next week, sir. Nanu.


Nanu, Mr. Williams. Nanu.