Inexplicably Obscure

Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women Through Space and Time — Tanith Lee

Women-as-Demons

Tanith Lee’s 1989 Women as Demons: The Male Perception of Women Through Space and Time is, like Red as Blood or The Gorgon, a single author collection. Oddly enough, I had never seen this one until my niece Amy bought it for me. This may be because the collection has, as far as I can tell, had exactly two editions in the last quarter century. More on that later …

The title is pretty descriptive: Lee is writing about women as figures of malign, terrible power. Will she embrace the trope? Will she subvert it?

She certainly ranges across the full scope of speculative fiction.



Preface (Women as Demons) • (1989) • essay:

A brief preface explaining the theme of the collection.

Comments:

For me the interesting detail is how closely Lee says that she identifies with her characters when she writes. If the character is a woman, Lee writes as a woman. If a man, as a man. I am tempted to call this Method Writing. I am also curious (but a bit afraid) to discover what she thought the inside of men’s heads were like.

The recurring distinction between valuable and powerful in Lee’s fiction isn’t something she does unconsciously.

The Demoness” • (1976) • short story:

To catch the pale woman’s attention is to die, but in a world where no self-respecting warrior would strike down a woman, what possible defence can there be?

Deux Amours d’une Sorcière” • (1979) • short story:

Determined to keep her true love’s identity safe from her jealous elderly protector, Jhane feigns love for a different man. The consequences are tragic.

Comments:

This has a wonderfully snarky exchange between the protector and the man Jhane is pretending to love:


“I return you then, to your father’s care.”
Jhane’s protector came to his feet. Coldly he said “I am not madame’s father.”
Le Soliel was contrite. “Humbly on my knee your pardon. Her grandfather then, monsieur.”

The Unrequited Glove” • (1988) • short story:

The cad flees, pursued by dread nemesis in misleading form.

Gemini • (1981) • novelette:

Seducing the recluse is a deceptively dangerous business; she is never out of reach of her jealous, deadly companion….

Into Gold • (1986) • novelette:

What magic does the foreign witch work? Not the magic the wary guard suspects.

Comments:

This tragic little story seems to be the mirror image of 1981’s Sirriamnis. In both, the witchy woman is viewed with deep suspicion but in one, the mistrust is justified, whereas in the other….

The Lancastrian Blush” • (1989) • short story:

Can the brave young man escape sorcerous entanglement in time to reach his destiny on Bosworth Field?

You Are My Sunshine • (1980) • novelette:

One man alone survives of the starship’s crew. He alone knows what happened to his ship. It is a tale no other will believe, but he will carry the proof of the tale forever.

Comments:

The science in this is almost Ray Bradburian in its rigor. Also, in this story (and the book in general), I am struck by how deadly wallflowers often turn out to be.

The One We Were • (1984) • novelette:

Nobody adores the author Clara Von Oeau half as much as Clara adores herself. How enchanting to discover she is the reincarnation of the remarkable Simplice de Meunier! How very annoying that Antoine Valiere also claims to be the reincarnation of the very same de Meunier!

Comments:

“Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong.”

As it happens, Clara and Antoine patronize the very same occult seer.

The Truce” • (1976) • short story:

Two races’ survival depends on Kloll and Issla’s ability to overcome their natural revulsion towards each other. But it would only take a momentary lapse to end the truce and doom everyone.

Comments:

This is something of a twist story, but I saw the twist coming very early in the story. Ah well.

The Squire’s Tale” • (1980) • short story:

A hapless squire is forced into service of something far darker than his liege lord.

Discovered Country • (1989) • novelette:

Having spent a lifetime locked in a destructive, dependent relationship with his mother, a wealthy, beautiful, spoiled man is left contemplating whether or not to accept his mother’s final legacy to him.

Winter White” • (1978) • short story:

Crovak the warrior is no man to fear a magic flute! Or the mysterious woman it summons.

But he should be.

Written in Water” • (1982) • short story:

Sole survivor of the great global pandemic, Jaina is left an Eve with no Adam. Until the day the beautiful man tumbles from the sky….

Mirage and Magia” • (1982) • short story:

Irresistible Magia sits in her mansion like a spider in its web, and to her go the men of the town, never to return.

The Thaw • (1979) • novelette:

A morose underachiever finds a singular purpose in life when she is appointed custodian of a relative, frozen centuries ago.

Comments:

Previously reviewed here.

Northern Chess” • (1979) • short story:

Warrior after warrior has died trying to take the cursed castle. Now it falls to Jaisel to try her luck. Death seems certain … but Jaisel has an advantage the men before her lacked.

Comments:

“Do not needlessly over-specify your curses” really needs to go on the Evil Overlord list.

General comments:

Not surprisingly, given that I like Lee’s fiction enough to have launched a year-long celebration of her work, I enjoyed this collection. That said, this was a bit slighter than I would have liked; I kept finishing stories wishing they’d been just a little longer. Ah, well. The problem is I am comparing this to Red as Blood, when I should be comparing it to other, lesser collections by other, lesser authors.

As I mentioned earlier, there has been a shortage of editions of this. One was the original 1989 Women’s Press edition, which is the one I was given. The other, more recent edition, can be found here, although if you are not British, it won’t do you much good.



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