The Birthgrave Trilogy Critical Essays

Tanith Lee


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Tanith Lee had several children’s books to her credit before she wrote the Birthgrave trilogy. Despite the fact that the trilogy was her first published adult fantasy, it was the work that boosted her career. The first volume was published by DAW in 1975, when Ballantine Books began an effort to increase interest in fantasy literature with novels such as The Sword of Shannara (1977) by Terry Brooks. Prior efforts to establish fantasy as a profitable business had failed, with the exception of retellings of well-known legends. Ballantine’s success led DAW to feature new fantasies, including the Birthgrave trilogy. Lee became one of director Donald A. Wollheim’s protégés. The year 1976 saw the beginning of a boom in science-fiction and fantasy book publishing, and Lee’s lengthy trilogy could not have been better timed.

Critics’ response to the Birthgrave trilogy is mixed. Marion Zimmer Bradley, a renowned author with a reputation as a harsh critic, wrote an introduction for the trilogy praising Lee’s presentation of credible characters and rich settings. Other critics agree with Lee’s description of her style as undisciplined and erratic. Her prose is highly descriptive, but the meaning often gets lost in grandiose wording. The trilogy lacks balance as a whole. The Birthgrave is 408 pages, whereas Vazkor, Son of Vazkor is a mere 220 pages. Quest for the White Witch is almost as long as The Birthgrave, at 381 pages.

The Birthgrave trilogy, with its tale of a beautiful princess from a lost civilization, follows an...

(The entire section is 652 words.)