Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Jeffty is Five" by Harlan Ellison

Before I talk about this story, I have to say that I've never read any of Harlan Ellison's work before. I'm not sure why, and, frankly, I'm kicking myself for having taken so long, because this story was really good. Maybe my past reluctance to read Ellison has to do with the fact that everyone related to Science Fiction seems to hold that he is an asshole. From what little I know of the man, which is to say, what I gleaned from his introduction to the Shatterday anthology, which contains this particular story, I have to agree. He is a bit of an asshole. But he's a good kind of asshole, in that he doesn't let people get away with being stupid. He says what he feels needs to be said, and I have to say I like him for that. It also doesn't hurt that he seems to be very intelligent and well-spoken (written?).

Okay, so on to the story, which is the exploration of the main character's relationship with Jeffty, an eternally five-year-old boy. The narrator, Danny, grew up with Jeffty, they're the same age. But, where Danny grew up, went to university, and started his own television business, Jeffty hasn't aged a day since he was five. He is completely frozen in time.

Except he also isn't. As time passes, the narrator discovers that Jeffty actually lives in a sort of parallel time; a time of 1940s radio, pulp fiction, and movies. Somehow, in a world that has moved on to other things (much to the narrator's, and, one can surmise, Ellison's, dismay), Jeffty is still able to listen to new episodes of his favourite old shows, pick up new copies of old magazines, and see new movies with all the old stars every Saturday.

But the true thrust behind this story is Jeffty's unsettling ability to exist out of time, but how the present reacts to the existence of the past in its midst. Jeffty is not some kind of Stephen King-like monster child. He's a completely "normal" kid. Instead, the horror of this story, and I would describe this as a bit of a psychological horror, lies in how the past is anathema to the present, and how the present, unthinkingly, comes to hate it and want to destroy it.

This is a truly unsettling thought, but I'm not sure an entirely inaccurate one. Of course, we have a love affair with nostalgia in the modern day (just look at how well the two Transformers films have done and you can see how the modern world is obsessed with its childhood). I'm guilty of this myself (sadly, I did go see both of the aforementioned Transformers films, and even enjoyed the first one on a certain leveel). But I don't think we would act so kindly to a living, breathing past stepping up beside us. It would be unsettling. It would be a constant reminder of what was and is no more; a reminder of our own aging, and, ultimately, our own mortality. In short, if would be really, really disturbing.

Okay, so I've gone on far too long today. I should end this now. I'll be back with another story tomorrow.

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