Werner's Reviews > Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer

Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee
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's review
Apr 21, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, books-i-own, short-stories
Recommended for: Fans of speculative fiction
Read in April, 2009 , read count: 1

The common thread binding the nine stories (five previously published in various magazines) of this collection is that they're all re-imagined fairy tales, and all of them are of high literary quality; but otherwise they exhibit a wide variety. Lee wasn't well-served by the jacket copy, or by the above description, both of which tend to sensationalize these stories, under-stress their emotional complexity, and paint an exaggerated image of grimness. Only two of the tales could justly be called "horrific," and Lee's fertile imagination isn't "fiendish," in any reductive sense --it embraces the upbeat and beautiful as often as the dark and tragic (and various outcomes in between), and her moral vision discriminates between good and evil, in favor of the former. She also writes (at least here) with very little violence, mild bad language only in a single story, and no sex; an element of erotic attraction is present in some stories, but not in any degrading or defiling sense. Her prose is sumptuous and evocative --a treat to read.

Each of the chronologically arranged stories is fitted with a loose setting in history and geography, ranging from "Asia: The Last Century B.C." to "Earth: The Future." The last selection, "Beauty," is straight science-fiction; the title story and "Wolfland" could be considered supernatural fiction. (Those three are my favorites here.) "Black as Ink" really has no speculative element; it employs ambiguous suggestions of the supernatural, as in Hawthorne's novels, just for color. In most of the stories, though, the supernatural element is clear, and the setting is vague and removed enough from real-world reference points to make in effect a fantasy world.

Several stories have religious elements, borrowed from various religions; these should be viewed as literary conceits Lee uses without literally endorsing any of the religions --including Christianity, though "Red as Blood" has very real Christian symbolism. (The reference to Satan as the brother of Christ there reflects a sub-Nicene Christology, not an exaltation of Satan, and the picture of Satan as used by God to serve His own ultimate purposes is actually biblical --though Lee's Satan serves these more willingly than the real one probably does.) "Paid Piper," on the other hand, is the most theologically flawed of these stories.
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03/08/2009 page 38
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message 1: by Steve (new)

Steve I've not read Lee before. I recently picked up Birthgrave at a used book store (I think I'd seen the title on "list" somewhere). Sounds like she's worth checking out.

Werner I'd read a couple of her short stories, including the title story, before and liked them; so when I could get this collection cheap at our local flea market, I snatched it up! :-) Yes, I'd say she's well worth checking out. I've heard of Birthgrave (it's mentioned in at least one of the editions of The Anatomy of Wonder that we have in the library where I work); so I'll look forward to reading your review of it, Steve.

Terence Werner wrote: "`Paid Piper,' on the other hand, is the most theologically flawed of these stories."

Now, you see, "Paid Piper" is my favorite in the entire collection. I first read this book soon after it came out (early to mid '80s, the "college years") and the theme that our gods are but reflections of our selves strongly appealed (and appeals) to me. And Lucifer as the "left hand" of God in "Red as Blood" was, for me, a wonderful reinterpretation of Satan's relationship to God and his "brother."

I'm not a major fan of Lee. She's one of those authors whose novels either work for me from page one or they don't but I'd recommend Tales from the Flat Earth: The Lords of Darkness and Sometimes After Sunset. The latter is a combined edition of two novellas - "Sabella," a vampire tale, and "Kill the Dead," a ghost story with a nifty twist ending.

Werner Yes, Terence, our reactions to the messages of stories owe a great deal to where we're coming from ourselves. It's interesting that Lee's stories can appeal to readers with widely different perpectives --though sometimes, as here, different stories speak more to different readers.

Glad you liked the review! And thanks for the book recommendation --I'll keep an eye open for it.

Werner Sadly, Tanith Lee died earlier this week. :-( She will be greatly missed in the speculative fiction community.

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