For many years I did not read much fantasy. I had read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and didn’t think that it could be bettered. Part of the reason for this was having encountered books that were pale imitations of Tolkien and also having read the book so many times I’d had my fill of fantasy. So, I read history books and discovered Thomas Hardy, who I like immensely although I would love to write a happy ending for ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.
The thing is with fantasy and by that I really mean good fantasy is that it should challenge our thinking. It should ask ‘what if’, it should make us think and look at our own world differently. Fantasy, which by its very name suggests it can be anything it wants to be, all too often it ends up being exactly what you imagined it would be. Sometimes popular works of fantasy get over-looked. Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock was pretty ground-breaking for its time having as it’s main character an anti-hero and being first and foremost great fun. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ also broke new ground, there wasn’t any fantasy before that it could be compared too, although some tried with ‘The Worm Ouroboros’ by E.R Edison.
The Flat Earth series by Tanith Lee is pretty unique. It asks questions about religion. Did the Gods exist before religion, or does religion make Gods? It asks questions about humanity. How would being immortal affect humanity? Is being in love a form of madness? Is there life after death, and if so how does that affect Death himself?
There are currently five books in the series with rumours/hopes that there might be two others sometime in the near future. I’ve just paused during typing to search for Tanith Lee’s website but it no longer seems up. This website http://www.norilana.com/norilana-taleka.htm seems to be relatively up to date. Anyway back to The Flat Earth series.
There are many things I like about this series. Firstly, the language. It is rich, descriptive but not overblown or long-winded. There’s plenty of humour. Tanith Lee enjoys language but she doesn’t lose sight of telling a good tale. Secondly, there are stories within stories and tales within tales. I know there are some reviewers who found this a bit much. It was complicating things too much but for me I liked the fact that it breaks the books into distinct sections. Thirdly, and this follows on from the second point, these books remind me of ‘The Arabian Nights’ perhaps that is why we have stories within stories.
In many of the books I’ve read by Tanith Lee (and I must confess I’ve not read a lot) she seems to have a fascination with the desert. Perhaps it’s the contrasts. Extreme heat in the day-time, freezing at night. Perhaps it’s the fact that the stars shine very brightly at night in the desert so heaven is closer. It is worth mentioning that these books are fantasy for adults. There is sex in these books but it isn’t gratuitous.
There is so much I’d like to say about these books but to do so would involve me divulging many of the plots and wonderful characters. I might do that in other posts but for tonight I shall simply finish by saying if you want to read books of wonder that make you think then give The Flat Earth series a try.