Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

In 1981, write Laurie Johnston and Robert Thomas Jr. in their article ‘‘Notes on People; A Short Story Is Born on Fifth Avenue,’’ Ellison ‘‘brought his portable typewriter to the B. Dalton book store on Fifth Avenue and spent the day writing a short story in the front window.’’ Apparently...

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In 1981, write Laurie Johnston and Robert Thomas Jr. in their article ‘‘Notes on People; A Short Story Is Born on Fifth Avenue,’’ Ellison ‘‘brought his portable typewriter to the B. Dalton book store on Fifth Avenue and spent the day writing a short story in the front window.’’ Apparently Ellison had done this before, in other bookstores in other cities. Some people thought it was a ploy to grab attention for the release of his collection of short stories Shatterday (1980), in which his story ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ was first collected. The New York Times book reporters claim that Ellison denied that this was a publicity stunt, but rather that he just wanted to ‘‘take some of the mystery out of what he insists is just ‘a piece of work.’’’ From this public display, one can see that Ellison is not only a writer but also something of an entertainer.

That is exactly what Dorman T. Shindler says in his article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ‘‘Ellison entertains, enlightens and emboldens.’’ This comment refers to Ellison’s most recent collection of short stories titled The Essential Ellison (1991) in which ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ again appears.

Although there are not many specific reviews of ‘‘Jeffty Is Five,’’ in general reviewers like Eric P. Nash, writing in the New York Times in 1997, say that Ellison is ‘‘the reigning bad boy of science fiction.’’ Nash states that Ellison ‘‘writes with a relish for gutter slang, veins-in-the-teeth violence and brand-name pop culture, and his work hums with a relentless narrative drive.’’ Robert F. Moss, also writing for the New York Times, states that ‘‘Mr. Ellison has some of the spellbinding quality of a great nonstop talker, with a cultural warehouse for a mind.’’

C. W. Sullivan, writing on Ellison in Twentieth- Century Science-Fiction Writers, claims that ‘‘it cannot be denied that Harlan Ellison is a good writer who has had a significant impact on contemporary science fiction.’’ He goes on to say that Ellison’s writing might even be said to have changed ‘‘science fiction considerably.’’ Often criticized for his use of what some call offensive language, Ellison not only justifies the vocabulary that he uses, he also encourages other writers to do the same. Sullivan says that Ellison encourages other writers to send him stories that other publishers have refused. ‘‘He encourages not only ‘‘experiments with language, but experiments in subject matter and in style as well.’’

In the introduction to The Essential Ellison, Terry Dowling describes Ellison as a rebel. He says that Ellison ‘‘deals in ideas, sometimes so full of love and compassion that they stun with their simple honesty; sometimes set with barbs and hooks that catch and tear and make us gasp and make us feel.’’ In his role as rebel, Dowling says, Ellison must use the following tools to ‘‘accomplish his task: shock, surprise and grotesquerie, violence and suffering, hard language, hard knocks and even harder emotions of fear, anger, guilt, pain and love.’’ Dowling continues that Ellison ‘‘has become, too, a tester of civilization, a quality control, a challenger . . . a fixer, determined not to let humanity ignore the abyss that produces Third Reichs and Vietnams.’’ Dowling concludes that civilization is better off because of rebels like Ellison.

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