The Jewels of Aptor Critical Essays

Samuel R. Delany


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Inspired by a set of vivid dreams, Delany wrote The Jewels of Aptor when he was nineteen. Although the novel bears marks of imperfect craftsmanship, it contains a stylistic brilliance that sets it apart from many contemporaneous science-fiction works. It also incorporates many of the themes and motifs that pervade Delany’s later work. A revised version published in 1968 restored text cut from the original publication.

The Jewels of Aptor launches Delany’s use of mythological material. The three priestesses of Argo—the daughter, the mother, and the grandmother—echo Robert Gravess concept of the triple goddess, the first representing birth and growth, the second love and battle, and the third death and divination. By depicting the grandmother Argo working with the followers of Hama, Delany presents a symbol for the ultimate unity of dualities—white and black, female and male. The revelation of this unity creates the novels mystic moment on Aptor’s beach, when Geo and the rest realize the perfect harmony of light and darkness.

Another characteristic that became a Delany trademark is the scholar and poet as protagonist. Geo is the template for Joneny in The Ballad of Beta-2 (1965), Wong in Babel-17 (1966), Katin in Nova (1968), and Kid in Dhalgren (1975). These poet/scholars have a connection, directly or implicitly, with the criminal world. Geo, for example, becomes friends with Snake, the thief. This connection grows from Delany’s belief that artists and criminals both work outside societys norms.

Delany initiates his attention to two key social issues in The Jewels of Aptor. The novel possesses strong, capable female characters, the start of Delany’s continuing interest in feminist issues. Iimmi, as a black character, introduces Delany’s interest in racial matters and the depiction of race in literature. Finally, Aptor’s ruined city landscape foreshadows Delany’s epic urban novel, Dhalgren, and the sword and sorcery influences in The Jewels of Aptor reappear in Tales of Nevèrïon (1979) and the entire Nevèrïon series.