Dreams of Dark and Light

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This volume includes science fiction, heroic and historical fantasy, revised fairy tales, explorations of religious myth, and contemporary settings of classical myths. Taken together, the stories reveal the author’s interest in the human soul’s relationship to the world and to desire. Tanith Lee is also an accomplished technician and stylist. Her sophisticated presentations carry the reader along breathlessly, yet her style invites reading aloud.

Especially sophisticated is “Foreign Skins,” a multilayered initiation story based on Hindu myths. The son of a domineering English civil servant in India travels into an underworld where he learns his true identity as the current incarnation of a hero. Beneath the layer of heroic fantasy, the author explores Hindu myth and presents a psychological allegory which may involve a Jungian encounter with archetypes or a Freudian working out of Oedipal conflict. Because the story works on several levels it simultaneously appeals to both popular and intellectual audiences.

Like many of her stories, Lee’s revised fairy tales often contain a feminist undercurrent. “When the Clock Strikes” reinterprets “Cinderella” with the stepdaughter as vengeful witch. “Wolfland” retells “Little Red Riding Hood” with werewolves.

Lee’s science fiction usually explores states of consciousness. “A Day in the Skin” examines the implications of a machine which stores minds. “Medra” presents a woman whose “true” life is the dream in which she helps sustain the damaged cosmos. In “Tamastara,” a machine allows a woman to meet and “change” a previous incarnation.

Lee’s stories offer depth of idea and character beneath an entertaining surface.