1967 - FROM THE LAND OF FEAR

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Subey2
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1967 - FROM THE LAND OF FEAR

Postby Subey2 » Sat May 07, 2005 6:32 am

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FROM THE LAND OF FEAR

11 Side Trips to the Dark Edge of Imagination (1967)

A mind-bending voyage into the infinite reaches of the imagination (1974)

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Langerhans info page

Mostly a collection of older stories (and a script), four of them from A TOUCH OF INFINITY, Harlan's long-out-of-print debut collection.

Known American editions - all paperbacks:
12/1967, Belmont (cover #1)
1973, Blemont-Tower (cover #2)
11/1974, Belmont Tower (cover #3)
1976, Belmont (unconfirmed)

For commentary about "The Sky is Burning" and "Back to the Drawing Boards" see the ELLISON WONDERLAND thread. The first page of this thread is devoted to our original discussion of "The Time of the Eye", started by Subey. (I have removed a few off-topic posts.) - Jan out

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Italian edition (1978)

_________________

"The Time of the Eye" (1959)

Preamble:

I think I should preface my spider selection by explaning a little about how I approach Ellison's stories. For me the most rewarding approach is to imagine that the story I am reading is an excerpt from some vast epic.

And in this way, I don't worry so much about deciphering all the various elements because I sense that their keys lie in portions of the epic that both preceed and follow the portion that is the story proper.

I have selected The Time of the Eye for several reasons. In part because I feel it is an exemplary example of this concept that the meaning of Harlan's stories can only be found outside their pages.

Analysis:

This idea is blatant with the protagonist's selection of the name "Sidney Carton". Without a thorough understanding of A Tale of Two Cities it is impossible to understand the significance of this. But by selecting the name of this literary figure Harlan is able to meld an extremely dense novels themes and symbols into his own story.

At his most basic, the Carton of A Tale is a christ like figure in that he ressurects Charles Darnay in London, and later Sacrifices himself in Paris for Darnay.

Harlan also anchors his stories more subtly. Norse Mythology contains an archetypal tale of the sacrifice of an eye for knowledge. With the guidance of the female Norns he sacrificed his eye in order to drink from a WELL of knowledge. From the end of Harlan's story:

"getting well"
"soak up the wonder of her"
followed by the loss of his eyes.

I would like to emphasis this Christian/Norse dualism a little by noting that it is stated that Sidney is at The Place as a direct result of having been in war. He feels he is dead, and that he is in Limbo.

In Norse mythology the only way to get to the afterlife is from a battlefield. With the help of the female valkyries of course.


***

There are many other elements whose meanings could be discussed. Does Gondy imply that Syndey is Piretta's coajutor? I will let others illuminate them as they will. For me the pillars in which this story have been hung from have been established.

I see Sydney as the Christian avatar, and Piretta as the Norse avatar. This is the story of the Time when and the Place where they met.

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Postby Yelena Virago » Sat May 07, 2005 12:49 pm

That's quite a fascinating take, Subey; not being much of a Dickens fan myself, let alone scholar of same, I would never have made that connection, although it's blatant the story is calling on mythology from some period of early pre-history, with the Cult of the Eye. (For some reason, I kept getting the shadowy mental image of a Druidic or (more likely) pre-Druidic archetypal "cult", for them. Or maybe I'm imagining things. :)) Not that the Cult of the Eye is mentioned very much at all.

My take on this story was far too simplistic, and definitely merits closer examination, and another rereading. (Hardly a chore. :)) I always thought it was just a rather lovely, simple parable, about a lonely, rather pathetic sort of guy, who just refused to find within himself the courage to face the chronic flux and sheer randomness of everyday life...and paid for it. He refused to see (or even acknowledge) the beauty in everyday life, even the mundane, drudge-ridden parts of it, and so his sight was taken from him altogether.

Of course, I could be completely off the mark, that's always a possibility too. :)

Velvet

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Postby the humble author » Sun May 08, 2005 12:35 pm

Wow.

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Postby Jan » Sun May 08, 2005 12:55 pm

Basically it’s a tragic love story with a twist ending, and what makes it special is the mental condition of the narrator. Since one does not expect a first person narrator to be mentally disturbed, it takes a few minutes to figure out that despite the weirdness it’s a pretty straighforward plot. One then begins to look behind the words, trying to see from the outside a reality that is filtered through the narrator’s perspective. Is this set in a normal mental institution? It seems strange that the protagonist has a lot of space to roam and doesn’t encounter a whole lot of people. It may be a mental asylum for the rich and honored like war veterans and celebrities.

There's also this undercurrent about dangerous, conceited women, which we find again and again in Ellison stories and essays. The idea is that men all too easily fall prey to good looks and the female personality in general, and they have to live with the consequences.

I thought it was very well written. I remembered this story slightly from a previous reading. As result, I’d call it memorable.

The verb "to sublimate" seems to be misused on the third page. Harlan probably meant "to suppress".

Subey, I don't get from your post what the significance of the Dickens connection is supposed to be. Why does he want to see himself as that character?

BTW, I read this in FROM THE LAND OF FEAR, it's probably the only book of short tales that doesn't have a contents page, dammit. In the foreword, Ellison says he wrote the entry because a girl challenged him to write a simple "boy/girl story that would warm the heart".

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Postby P.A. Berman » Mon May 09, 2005 10:36 am

Jan: "Sublimate" has a similar meaning to "suppress": to modify the natural expression of (a primitive, instinctual impulse) in a socially acceptable manner. Thus, Harlan used it correctly.

Is the Sidney Carton of this story making a heroic sacrifice for another's happiness? Or is his use of the name ironic in this story? Is Piretta bringing Sidney enlightenment by taking his eyes, or further punishing him for his inability to enjoy the world? Is Piretta a psychotic vixen who seduces Sidney to his doom? I'm really not sure. My feeling is that she is just an insane person who fooled Sidney into trusting her pretty face, only to harm him. Does this fit into a theme we're seeing about evil women in Ellison stories? Dare I even ask?

PAB

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Postby Jan » Mon May 09, 2005 11:20 am

P.A.: Hi there. P.A., um, I know what it means, and it doesn't mean "suppress", as you should notice yourself if you paid attention to your own words. I think it's a rather common mistake (you make it as well), and Harlan was young when he wrote the story. (I could go into more detail, if someone needs to be bored.)

Your feeling about Piretta seems correct to me, though.

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Postby akojen » Tue May 10, 2005 11:25 am

Subey2, I’ve got to say I found your post utterly fascinating. You are clearly well-read, and your analysis of “Time of the Eye” was far beyond anything I ever would’ve imagined. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into your post.

However.

My take is completely different. I, like others here, have always found “Time of the Eye” to be a beautifully written but fairly simple story. “Sidney Carton” could just as easily be “Lamont Cranston” or “Captain Midnight.” Everyone (I imagine) has that super-secret-squirrel alter-ego. Hell, even Superman wants to be Clark Kent sometimes. And indeed, “Sidney” does choose to vanish into his own little fantasy world.

His response to Piretta’s appearance falls into that category of being “struck by the thunderbolt.” He’s drawn to a woman he views as beautiful and helpless; a person somehow weaker than he. Piretta gives him an opportunity to be the “hero-man.” He’s been nothing but a shell for so long that he can’t help but respond. This is a new experience for him, especially since he’s been a patient for three years; he makes no decisions and has no interests beyond his general maintenance. This is the first woman he’s encountered who isn’t an employee or caretaker. And yeah, she’s pretty.

But this is not a case of the pretty package playing the poor helpless guy for a fool. Piretta makes no attempt to hide what she is; in fact, she goes to great pains to explain what she was and who she became. Even the name given is not really a lie or fantasy. She was Piretta. She was Piretta from head to toe. Whether it was her birth name or not doesn’t matter. Piretta has a history and life of her own, and it is real.

“Sidney” chooses to ignore everything that doesn’t fit into his dream of her. He already has her tagged as the person who gave him life, who will give him a future, and reality doesn’t enter into it at all. But his feelings are not love. It’s fantasy with a chunk of (inappropriate) sympathy and a dash of testosterone thrown in. He ignores the fact that she is supposed to be locked up on the second floor; there is a reason she isn’t out among the general populace. She tells him about becoming an acolyte of the cult of Kali (which would freak me out on its own), and he idly wonders why she’s telling him these things, and prefers to focus on her quick, clever hands. Never mind that those lovely hands are making--wake UP, for chrissakes--a weapon. She tells him about the Men of the Eye, and he dismisses it as “oh, my poor lovely Piretta suffering a delusion.” His response to confusion is to “fix” everything with a kiss. She hides nothing. He just refuses to listen.

Even in those final moments, “Sidney” remains glued to his fantasy of love and marriage and becoming a caretaker for a person who clearly needs none of those things.

I agree with Piretta’s assessment: SIDNEY is damaged goods. Piretta is just a zealot.

Amy

p.s. -- Harlan, I think you’re even more frightening when you try to write a nice little boy-girl love story.

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Postby P.A. Berman » Wed May 11, 2005 6:39 am

akojen wrote:I agree with Piretta’s assessment: SIDNEY is damaged goods. Piretta is just a zealot.


Piretta is just plain insane, twisted by her own jaded pursuit of thrills. Yes, Sidney is screwed in the head, as a result of being in a terrible war. Sure, Sidney latches onto Piretta and creates an elaborate fantasy about her in his head, but even people who are NOT in mental institutions do this... Harlan himself admitted to doing it in "Valerie," did he not? It's a fairly common phenomenon, and he who is not guilty should cast the first stone.

I think Piretta is a very scary psychotic with a pretty face and Sidney, sad and lonely, feeling dead, allowed himself to dream of happiness and companionship when he was out of practice dealing with his feelings and other people. The villain here is most definitely Piretta, and Sidney is the victim. Architect of his own tragedy? Yes, but more to be pitied than scorned.

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Postby akojen » Wed May 11, 2005 12:39 pm

PAB: After reading your post, I think we ultimately agree on many points. The bone of contention is small, and not worth getting into the whole blood-match ping-pong battle the "Valerie" discussion became. I appreciate your input.

Amy

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Postby akojen » Thu May 12, 2005 8:08 pm

Piretta’s motive: Whether you believe she’s crazy or not, she is clearly following the tenets of the Men of the Eye. It’s time for the sacrifice, and Sidney is chosen. The question is, why Sidney? Is it just because he’s the only one she can get at the time?

Piretta does have some limited access to others. She has her Miss Hazelet, after all, and she probably encounters other workers on a daily basis. Why not choose one of them?

Does Sidney meet some other requirement?

The Men of the Eye value life experience, and Sidney has his memories of war. When Piretta asks him if he is an unbeliever, he says no, albeit in a somewhat confused way.
“Do you sense the Time of the Eye, too, or are you one of them?”
"Who do you mean by them?"
She let her full upper lip snarl, and said, "Those women who bedpan me. Those foul, crepuscular antiseptics!"
"If you mean the nurses and attendants," I caught her line of thought, "no, I'm not one of them. I'm as annoyed by them as you seem to be. Didn't I hide you?"
"Would you find me a stick?" she asked.

"You said you weren't one of them. Are you lying to me? Are you making fun of me, trying to confuse me?"
“No, no, of course not; but don’t you see, I don’t understand? I just don’t know. I--I’ve been here so long.”

In Piretta’s binary way of thinking, that probably makes him a believer, which would make him a suitable sacrifice based on the little information Piretta disclosed about the MotE. His first denial of being “one of them” prompts Piretta to ask for the stick. Perhaps Sidney unwittingly sealed his fate with those words.

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Postby Subey2 » Sat May 14, 2005 11:07 pm

hmmm,

I will advance my case a little...

Harlan clearly places their location (and the entire story) in a divine context:

The transfer of knowledge between Piretta and Sydney occurs in the Garden. Of course this is the most famous location for knowledge exchange in Christianity. But how do I know he is referring to that That Garden? Look at his choice of adjective within that location... "no attendants were SLITHERING"

"I added a monosyllable". As the christian avatar, this sounds like allegory of his contribution of monotheism to the meeting.

People preceive Sydney as being clueless and naive with respect to Piretta. I suggest the evidence implies otherwise.

Syndey describes his location as being in "Limbo".
The stairs that lead to where he is, he describes as leading to "Hell".

This idea is echoed again when he is in the closet with her and this reminds him of Viet Nam "when we sensed what was coming with fear and trepidation".

Sydney displays 2 layers of foreknowledge. Limbo/Hell shows he is aware of the future on an archetypal level (Divine awareness) and with the Viet Nam observation (Human awareness). His access to both layers further emphasizes his identity as monotheism's avatar.

In effect he identifies the time of transition to hell with her arrival via the stairs. He then has it confirmed in the closet. How do you perceive someone who marches straight into hell? I think Piretta got it right "How foolish"

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Of Sticks and Bones. . .

Postby Steve Evil » Wed May 18, 2005 10:41 pm

Hmmm. I think a man can be forgiven if he doesn't expect a pretty lady to poke his eyes out with a sharp stick.

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Re: Of Sticks and Bones. . .

Postby akojen » Thu May 19, 2005 2:13 pm

Steve Evil wrote:Hmmm. I think a man can be forgiven if he doesn't expect a pretty lady to poke his eyes out with a sharp stick.

Oh, definitely. I didn't mean that he wasn't a victim at all. Just kinda dopey.

Have you ever heard Lenny Bruce's Interview with Dr. Sholem Stein? I listened to it again today, and for some reason, it brought me back here.

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Re: Of Sticks and Bones. . .

Postby Subey2 » Mon May 23, 2005 9:20 pm

I'll lay it on a little thicker.

The final scene of the story takes place in the "Box" hedges. Box would be a reference to the Kaaba.

When Sydney is in limbo his hands are locked behind his back. Part of the meaning would be a reference to the hands of a clock (as per the title of the story) which are no longer moving.

This idea that Sydney and Piretta are intertwined with time is one of the central threads running through the story.

"when she came down the great winding stairway" (winding a clock)
"winding our way out of sight" (the title of the story echoed... winding a clock, resulting in the loss of sight)

Then at the end of the story, the winding of the clocks is over.
"wound herself around me"
Now the clocks TICK again with the help of a sTICK.

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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 07, 2008 5:25 am

"We Mourn for Anyone..." (1957, a.k.a. "Mourners for Hire") is set in an undetermined future in which humanity has revived the tradition of duels and where the dead are often mourned by professional mourners. When a man hired one to mourn for his unfaithful wife, whom he murdered, he does not know that the mourner was her lover.

This is pretty gimmick-heavy formulaic science fiction spiced up with elements from the western and crime genres. Harlan mainly intended this as a satire on (or condemnation of) "the Funereal Society", i.e. humanity (or American society) as he saw it. This might be one of the cases where an essay might have better suited the cause, except of course, Harlan probably couldn't sell essays in those early days.

He was probably writing this for the dime, and if he was trying to move away from the pulps, this story shows little evidence of such an attempt. Like many early ones, the story is full of loathsome characters. We don't care about them nor about what they are trying to accomplish, and their schemes aren't sufficiently interesting to engage us on an intellectual level to make up for lack of emotional involvement. The only surprise appears midway through.

To make matters worse, the story can be taken the wrong way because it does not even aknowledge that there are legitimate causes for mourning, nor does it deal with its function in society. It's uncaring, cold SF of the kind people hate. Early Harlan comes across as someone who does not mourn the dead (which he surely did) and complains about those who do, questioning the authenticity of what many of them are doing. While there is certainly something very true in there (the best parts of the story deal with the mourners' acting strategies and the interesting matter of expected intensity levels), he simplified the subject matter so much that the story is more of a basis for discussion than sufficiently complete in itself. Being unfair, talking about what no one else dares to talk about and taking no prisoners while doing so may be chalked up to Harlan trying to be more provocative. While the subject matter may be valid, its treatment is sabotaged by very "pulpy" writing and perhaps not enough empathy.

He did remain critical about public displays of grief, like the ones following the death of Lady Di. On the other hand, having lost so many friends since writing this story, it's just completely unimaginable that he would write something like it the same way today. Still, it was easily one of the most telling and socially relevant stories Harlan wrote in those days, and it featured both Harlan the fearless provocateur, as well as Harlan the astute (and annoyed) observer of people and society. My rating: :| :oops:

In the introduction, written in 1967, Harlan describes what he would like to happen when he dies.

"The Voice in the Garden" (1967), a harmless joke written at the Milford SF conference, was later adapted for DREAM CORRIDOR Vol.2, where it works better.


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