Archive for June 3rd, 2009
Last week I received my DVD of Dreams With Sharp Teeth, the new documentary about Harlan Ellison. I’ve watched it a couple of times now, thoroughly enjoying it. Neil Gaiman makes the observation in the film that Ellison has been engaged in a great big piece of performance art called “Harlan Ellison” and I think he’s spot on. Harlan—he is one of the only writers who ever worked in the realm of fantastic literature to be known almost immediately by his first name—is very much part and parcel of his work. You don’t get the one without the other.
Which is not to say the work doesn’t stand on its own. It does, very much so. No doubt there are many people who have read the occasional Ellison story and found it…well, however they found it. Anything, I imagine, but trivial. If they then go on to become fans of the stories, eventually they will become aware of the person, mainly by virtue of the extensive introductions Harlan writes to just about everything he does, secondarily by the stories told by those who know, or think they know, something about him, either through personal experience or by word of mouth.
He’s fascinating to watch. Sometimes it’s like watching a tornado form.
Harlan was born in 1934, which makes him 75 now. This seems incredible to me, sobering even. He will always seem to me to be about 40, even though I have seen him now for years with white hair and other attributes of age. The voice has gotten a bit rougher, but he’s just as sharp as ever.
I have been in his actual presence on two occasions. In 1986 he showed up in Atlanta at the world SF convention that year and I have a couple of autographed books as a result. He dominated a good part of one day for us. The second time was in 1999 or so, at a small convention called ReaderCon in Massachussetts, where he was guest of honor. On that occasion I had lunch with him and few others and that lunch remains memorable, because I got to see the man when he isn’t On. That is, it was before the convention began and he was, so to speak, “off duty” and was more relaxed, less hyperbolic. And it was a great pleasure. It is easy to see why people are drawn to him.
He is something of a contradiction.