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Leah has many fine qualities

The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales

By Tanith Lee 

12 Feb, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee


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I didn’t care for 1985’s The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales when I first read it, when it first came out. Not because it lacked any virtue but simply because it wasn’t my favourite, Lee collection, Red as Blood. What it is is another fine collection by Tanith Lee, one with fewer dark fairy tales and more horror.

The Gorgon • (1982) • novelette:

What secret lurks on Medusa’s Island? Our sensitive narrator is determined to find out!


The moral of this story is there is no physical handicap that cannot be made worse by a community of ablist jerks.

Anna Medea • (1982) • novelette:

What dreadful purpose drives the new governess’ determination to drape charms on her youthful charges? It’s up to dad to find out!


Back when I was reviewing 1950s radio shows, I mentioned that there was a whole genre of stories about how terrifying children can be (later, this morphed into stories about how terrifying teenagers and twenty-somethings can be). If I were ever to edit an anthology about scary kids, I would include this story. That said, it isn’t an expression of anxiety about Baby Boomers so much as a retelling of a much older tradition. 

Meow” • (1981) • short story:

Can there be such a thing as loving cats too much?


That’s a rhetorical question: the T. Gondii that most likely infest me would prevent any answer other than NO.

The Hunting of Death: The Unicorn • (1984) • novella:

An encounter in the woods ties a mortal soul to an enigmatic force of nature.


I don’t know how I feel about this story, which is a bit odd for me. I think it plays into one of my blind spots. Stories about the unknowable don’t appeal. Just the facts, ma’am.

Magritte’s Secret Agent • (1981) • novelette:

A young woman becomes obsessed with a disabled boy, somewhat to the discomfort of his mother.


The dreadful secret the boy embodies is nowhere near as horrible as the backstory to this tale: his mother’s mistreatment and misery. I would like to say that in these enlightened days, a woman who found herself pregnant after being raped would be treated better by society than is the mother in this story … but to do so I would have to lie. 

Monkey’s Stagger” • (1979) • short story:

A timid Inglishman’s survival may depend on an unsavoury talent no proper Inglishman would admit to having! 


This is a thinly disguised parody of old-time adventure tales about British explorers confronting dangerous natives. Some story elements (such as the demons) may seem fantastic, but the back-story is pure SF. The Inglish are shipwrecked starfarers whose adherence to Star Trekian ideals vanishes like sugar in the rain as soon as they realize that there are natives to exploit. 

Sirriamnis • (1981) • novelette

Buying an attractive young woman as a sex slave seems safe enough (to the buyer, at least). It would be safe, except that her true master is not the young aristocrat who purchased her, but something much darker.


Even for a horror story, the narrator of this little tale (a high ranking slave) is remarkably misogynistic. He is also almost completely ineffectual at dealing with the young woman preying on his master. I suspect the two facts are not unrelated.

Because Our Skins Are Finer” • (1981) • short story:

Violent death and the skin of a murdered son provide the necessary coin to buy a night with the woman of one fisherman’s dreams.


The Fair Folk are strange and their ways eerie, but I suspect the real reason the Fay woman in this does not take a more brutal vengeance is because the protagonist in this story is so unpleasant and self-loathing that the worst thing she could do is to let him live as he does.

Quatt-Sup” • short story:

As aliens reflect humans, so do their pets reflect ours.


I have not been tracking ailurophobia in Lee stories and am not going to start now. I do notice that two of the stories in this collection center on the cruelty of cats. That may not indicate fear so much as an honest assessment of feline character. 

Draco, Draco • (1984) • novelette:

Against his will, a wandering apothecary is drafted into one idiot hero’s quest to slay a maiden-eating dragon.


Oh, this dragon-slaying story. I would have sworn this was one of Glen Cook’s cynical little tales. A quick peak at ISFDB does not reveal the source of my confusion, but I did stumble over this collection, now on my to-read list:

La Reine Blanche” • (1983) • short story:

Imprisoned for life in her tower, the widow-queen finally learns the ouroborosian secrets behind her fate. 

General comments:

As I previously noted, I didn’t care for this in 1985 because I came to it with the wrong expectations. A lapse of thirty years seems to have dispelled the expectations and allowed me to appreciate this collection at its real worth. 

There is apparently a recent edition from Fantastic Books, but I cannot find a link for it.

(The grand chart of missing parents is not really applicable to collections. I think)