Strange Omnibus

Dark Castle, White Horse — Tanith Lee

dark-caste

Tanith Lee’s 1986 Dark Castle, White Horse is an odd little omnibus, two short novels in one cover.

It is an incongruous pairing.


The Castle of Dark (1978)

Raised in the Castle of Dark by two ancient hags, Lilune has no idea how odd her existence is. She does know that she does not like her routine, sleeping by day and waking at night, fed only a mysterious dark liquid. She also knows something her minders do not: Lilune has covertly learned enough magic to Call traveling harpist Lir to come retrieve her from the Castle of Dark.

Flight from the castle is not enough. Dreamy Lilune’s inability to tolerate sunlight, her deathlike repose during the day, and her aversion to mundane food reveals the flaw in her escape plan: it does no good to flee Castle if the curse that haunts her lives within her….

Comments:

I at first thought that Lee was playing with a plot-generating question: “what if the princess in the castle is essentially unlikable?” But not only is that being unfair to Lilune, but the text itself points out how unjust it is to judge her when she was deliberately kept in a state of terrible ignorance. In fact, the two hags who are in charge of confining Lilune (to protect the world from the Dark within her) are nearly as ignorant as Lilune, also through no fault of their own.

Lir for his part may or may not be working via an intermediary for the devil himself but given what Lir uncovers about the Dark, and the fact most of the people of this world are rather stupid, ignorant, and cruel, it is possible the devil is not quite as bad a chap as he is painted. Certainly, the Dark’s goals are not quite as presented.

Prince on a White Horse (1982)

Being a hero is hard enough; life is all random fairy princesses presenting magical swords and demanding that you use the swords to defeat some dread menace. But this hero has an additional problem; he has no idea who he is, how he got onto the back of his unusually talkative horse, or from what exactly it is he is supposed to protect the land. Not that the beings around him will let that stop them from pushing the Prince towards his destiny.

Comments:

Lee rejects the idea of a secondary world that looks like a stereotypical Dark Age Europe with Magic; she imagines a world with rules of its own, rules that neither the reader nor its protagonist know at the beginning. The result is very, very silly, the Actor’s Nightmare as a fantasy quest story [1].

General comments:

I found myself wondering if the format had been inspired by her publisher’s nostalgia for his old days at Ace, the glorious heyday of Ace Doubles.

Often those Doubles had some thematic unity. In this case, the pairing seems inexplicable. The tone of the two stories is very different. The first is a sad, moody story that could have, with a few changes, fit into the Flat Earth series. The other is a surreal, absurdist comedy

Perhaps the answer is that they are both about solving mysteries, whether archaeological or existential. Also, the comedy may have been intended as a palate cleanser for the first, rather melancholy, tale.

I did enjoy the book but I don’t think the combination sold well, because the omnibus seems to have had just the one edition. The problem may be that readers didn’t want comedy, absurdist or otherwise, from Lee. That may be why, while British readers can buy Castle of Dark here, I see no evidence of a recent edition of Prince on a White Horse. Pity.

1: Also, oddly reminiscent of the tone of certain Unknown stories.

Title

Missing or dead moms

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players

0

2

Delirium’s Mistress

1


The Blood of Roses

2

1

Castle of Dark

1

0

Prince on a White Horse

0

0

Total

24

20*



* Includes one uncle.



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