When I heard that Tanith Lee had died, in 2015, I wasn’t surprised. I assumed she was really old, since she had written two of my favorite childhood books. But she was only sixty-eight. Which made her twenty-four in 1971, when The Dragon Hoard was published, and twenty-six when Princess Hynchatti came out. Which was a surprise.
It turns out that these two books were pretty much the only ones Lee wrote for children. She went on to become a prolific writer of mostly science fiction for adults. But The Dragon Hoard and Princess Hynchatti are well worth picking up if you come across them. Both take classic fairy-tale setups and liven them up with relatable characters and sly humor. I remember one story in Princess Hynchatti involving a kingdom so poor that the royal family was reduced to living on sandwiches “made with real sand.”
The Dragon Hoard so impressed me and my best friend that we decided to write our own epic fantasy that was basically a straight rip-off. We warmed up for this monumental undertaking by making a map of the countries involved, which took a long time because we were essentially world-building without knowing it. (Although the aforementioned straight-rip-off nature of the project gave us a big head start.) When we finally started writing, we got bogged down almost immediately and decided that we needed an illustration before we could continue. As inspiration or something. So we commissioned one from a classmate who was a gifted cartoonist and also one of the only boys in school we could even consider talking to. His drawing of a harried frog wearing an oversize apron and stirring a bubbling cauldron with a huge spoon was the best, and one of the last, contributions to the epic work, which remains unfinished as of this time.