The world of literature is vast. So much so that in the wide tide of literary exploits, authors are forgotten about by the simple passage of time. I’m afraid that many tellers of great stories, whose ability to create unique worlds should be lauded and respected, may go unremembered.
Time isn’t intentionally cruel. It tries to treat every writer the same.
I fear my own mortality as a writer, which is why I pay homage to my predecessors, in the hopes that one day some young teller of tales will pay me a similar tribute.
Writing is an act of intense hope and Tanith Lee is one of the authors who I choose to celebrate, hoping to keep her work alive.
An author of over 90 novels and 300 short stories, Lee was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award in 1980, with her novel Death’s Master, the second in her Tales from the Flat Earth fantasy series.
She died in 2015 of breast cancer. Lee was 67-years-old.
To me, her most prolific piece of fiction is Biting the Sun. In the book, Lee creates a world where the material wants of the citizens are always met and a teenage group named “Jang” are searching for excitement (the Jang are equivalent to Hipsters).
Lee’s world presents itself as one that sees the pleasures and wants being gifted to her characters at their beck-and-call without resistance.
Written in 1976, Biting the Sun, captures the 21st century consumerist pension for immediate and plentiful satisfaction. Where we see this challenged, though, is in the novel’s use of dreams.
Dreams in Biting the Sun provide a conduit that describe a yearning the characters cannot fully fulfill. Things called “Dream Rooms” are in the novel, where characters strap themselves up to machines to allow them conscious access to the untapped regions of their minds.
Dream Rooms represent access to wants which are buried beneath the surface, resting unrealized by the masses. Through the Jang’s encounters in the Dream Rooms, we see that her and others are seeking deeper connections than that which their real world context gives them access to.
Unbeknownst to the Jang, Dream Rooms display that individuals want an experience of love different from the perverted and unattached version of love that society enjoys.
Love and marriage in the novel are detached and treated as goods and services, things to be consumed.
Tanith Lee presents both as commodities, no different from any other pleasure that the society gives characters access to. When love and marriage are discussed in the novel, it’s as if they are drugs to be taken for pleasure or a delicacy to be eaten.
“I haven’t had love for two units now, and I wondered if perhaps we can get married for the afternoon” (Lee 10).
In moments like those, the novel foregrounds love as a direct by product of marriage; love and marriage are two components of the same product. Marriage is something to be consumed and love is the by product of its consumption.
The effects of love are temporal, as if it wears off, making marriage an undervalued and unbinding experience.
This could be a commentary on how Lee herself felt about marriage in the real world, but what’s certain is that love acts as a commodity in the novel.
Love as a product is mentioned in relation to a measurement of time, the “unit.” In Biting the Sun, a unit is equivalent to a day. It has been two days since love had been consumed and its time for it to be consumed again, and with a different person.
Dream Rooms have an affect on the novel’s idea of the commodification of love. The Dream Rooms represent the antithesis of the consumption and thrill-seeking culture of the youthful Jang.
“Thinta liked the Dream Rooms, though, it was reckoned to be pretty anti-Jang really”(12).
What makes Dream Rooms “anti-Jang” is what dreams place into minds. Dream Rooms remove the characters from external satisfaction and place them in the throughs of an experience stemming from internal desires or lessons which impact waking life.
Though a machine is used to resurrect it, dreams are a product of internal machinations.
Dreams interface with reality, working as a problem solving mechanism that can challenge conceptions of society. Some dreams appear to create new experiences, preparing us for the future, generating new ideas, or providing helpful insights to our waking life.
Dreams have the ability to manifest new energy for the experiencer, becoming reflections of the society that the experiencer lives within.
In the waking life, dreams contain insight even without the consent of the dreamer. Tanith Lee gives her characters a similar relationship to dreams.
In the novel, Dreams represent feelings inside of the characters that eventually manifest in their real world. For example, when talking about a character named Hergal’s dream, the narrator mentions how he always dreamed of flying when in the Dream Room (15).
In the beginning of the novel, when we meet Hergal he chooses to be reborn as a body with,“… silly wings growing out of his shoulders and ankles” (3), showing a correlation between what is dreamed in the Dream Rooms and what occurs in the real world:
“I know of people who go to a Dream Room just to dream about having love, but what’s the point? I mean you can have love any time you want, really any way you want, and there are millions of pills and stuff to guarantee results” (19).
Dream Room’s represent the antithesis of what the society of Biting the Sun cultivates.
When love can be commodified and easily accessed, the notion that individuals come to the room and dream about it is telling to the arc of society that Lee stewards.
As symbolized by the dreams sought, the characters are seeking a genuine connection. Yearning genuine connection is incredibly human. Lee was able to bottle that yearning and create a timeless piece of fiction surrounding it.
Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee possesses a world where thrills and excess are in the foreground, but inside of that reality, the commodification of love is central. Love and marriage are treated as commodities to be exchanged as opposed to experienced with dreams representing a sliver of true reality for the characters to receive.
We should never forget the sculptors of worlds, celebrating what they’ve brought to society, regardless of what time dictates.
We can beat time if we continue to celebrate each other.
Rest in Peace Tanith Lee.