by Tanith Lee
In those days, (back in the mid 1970s) my own world, rather than becoming flat, had opened out into a Paradise, rich with possibility, and finally—at least for a while—secure. DAW Books, under the command of Donald A. Wollheim, had published my novels The Birthgrave, The Storm Lord, and Don’t Bite the Sun. Swiftly followed by sequels to Birthgrave and DBTS, and a new novel, Volkavaar. I had been able to give up the day jobs and concentrate on the only work I liked (loved) and was good at, writing.
At the time, I still lived with my parents. This was partly because formerly I’d been unable to afford to live anywhere else—most of the employment I took was poorly paid; but also because I enjoyed their company. My father and I had a strong intellectual rapport. He had even taught me to read when I, aged almost eight, and what would now be recognized as slightly dyslexic, had remained untaught at the ghastly schools I attended. My mother and I had an incredible relationship, magical and enlightening and including, among the rest, pure craziness. She it was too who typed all my first books, the only person ever able to decipher my long-hand writing.
That Sunday afternoon, post the washing-up, and my father away, (working by then in a telephone exchange, he was hardly ever home until Sunday evenings) she and I sat playing one of many invented word games. Suffice it to say this one involved clues in the form of enigmatic phrases. These, when suitably broken down, punned or realigned, rendered up famous names.
It was a warm afternoon. Outside the sky was blue. And the cat, having given up on trying either to undo the fridge door, or persuade us we had forgotten to give him lunch (some hope!) had left the building. My mother’s turn: she spoke the phrase-clue. Till then I’d been winning. Not now. Not only couldn’t I figure it out, the phrase itself had such an impactful ring I was totally distracted.
The answer, actually, was the name of the gorgeous movie (and by then TV) actress, Googi Withers. It was easy, when you knew at last that you broke the code this way: Go O gigi (gee-gee) plus Withers, i.e. shrivel, decay, decline. Or, Go nought horse shrivels-decays-declines. OR, as was the phrase she had coined: Go nowhere on a horse that fades.
Once I gave in, and had had the answer explained, I told my mother and myself, (or something told me), that there was a story in this phrase. In fact of course, there was book—a whole series—in it.
* * *
As is quite usual with me, the moment I put pen to paper, a tidal wave of places and characters rushed through. But two aspects of Night’s Master, and of the entire succession of books, perhaps, should be noted.
I’d been reading a lot of Oscar Wilde, always a favourite of mine, just before the famous phrase that Sunday. And I am certain that essences of Wilde’s lushly ornamental perspective colour the opus, and influence its ambience of Arabian-Nights-meets-Every-Myth-Under-the-Sun. Additionally, Wilde is surely one of the most erotic writers who ever lived. His oeuvre is embued by aching sensualities, both hetero-and homosexual, and all the more potent, maybe, for the confinement (mostly, and sometimes only just) inside the corset of 1800s censorship. This sexual current also informs NM, almost from the first page, and renders up a world consciousness that is normally bi-sexual, and which occasionally erupts into far bawdier escapades, not excluding spiders or, (in a later volume) the ocularly challenged.
The second aspect, and likely the most unique feature for the writer, of this and the succeeding books, is the nature of world flatness.
I had for some years before the hour when I began NM, been intrigued by the notion of a flat earth. I think I heard of it first at any length via TV pronouncements from the Flat Earth Society—who knows, they could be right, after all. And obviously, due to my obsessions with legend, theosophy and history, I’d come across the FE scenario already. I’d had a plan for some while to set a fantasy in such a world that truly was like a plain or a plate. But when Azhrarn entered, in the very first line of NM, he brought with him not only his titles, charisma and credentials but the backdrop of a four-edged world, lying beneath a heaven of indifferent gods—who made Man by mistake—and above an exquisite underworld ‘hell,’ peopled by demons who were not nearly indifferent enough.
The formulation of the Flat Earth must have gone on in what I now call the Backbrain of my mind. Deep in there, behind the everyday necessities and anxieties, and behind even the fount of inspiration and insane delight that mark, for me, stages of all my work, some colony of cunning and insubstantial backroom boys, (and girls) were, and are, laboring always. Evidently they did so even in the 1970s, solving plot lines, building my empires of paper and ink. And they, it seems, not I, made the world of Night’s Master.
* * *
I wrote the first story, then, which now appears as the three first tales of this book. Then the sequel to that story arrived. And after the sequel, other developments. In the end, the volume was complete, leading through its disparate adventures to an ultimate set of events, which sprang legitimately from all the rest.
Now I forget how long I took to write it all, but I know it wasn’t that long—a couple of months, probably.
After which, everything seemed completed. But not so very much later another development occurred to me. Besides, I, or someone, had invented a whole new world to play in. I had to go back... but this, of course, is another story.