“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman – Harlan Ellison

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman



An essay by Harlan Ellison followed by his short story about totalitarianism and independence.


Had I realized this book contained only two short pieces, I’d have passed it by. It’s a good sampler size, but I’d already decided to dig further into Harlan Ellison’s work, so this was frustratingly little. Not only that, but I wasn’t highly impressed, and if I really had been sampling, I might have stopped here.

The book contains a brief and not very absorbing essay in which Ellison discusses, in poetic terms, his soul’s desire to rebel. It’s fine, but as with most such efforts, it didn’t move me. It strikes me that it would only really resonate with committed fans. I’m not (yet) one, and I shrugged and moved on to the main event.

“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman is a look at the costs and consequences of thought independent of the customs and norms. It cites George Orwell’s 1984, and in fact in many ways, the story is a conscious revision of that book – a summary version. Unfortunately, Ellison’s prose is less balanced than than Orwell’s. He begins pretentious and opaque, then spells out his theme quite bluntly, and then fades into a seeming stream of consciousness approach. It didn’t work for me.

While the theme is derivative, there are interesting elements (authority’s power to ensure obedience by subtracting moments of life), and I wish Ellison had done more with those, and either left 1984 to itself, or done something innovative with its ideas. A decent story, but not the masterpiece it’s claimed to be.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *