The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

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Postby Jan » Tue Oct 13, 2009 1:44 pm

The Man Who Rowed Christoher Columbus Ashore (1992) - The deeds of a powerful man who calls himself Levendis, in the course of a month. - Chosen for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1993 by Katrina Kenison and Louis Edrich. Also a Nebula award nominee. Webderland review by K.C. Locke.

Some additional thoughts... To many readers less familiar with Harlan's works, this probably looked like a very experimental story, but it was really another exercise of "form follows function". Harlan did away with the unities of time and place and put a large question mark on the unity of character, thereby illuminating something about modern life. Free of traditional boundaries, some choose to exercise their freedom by being all they can be. Certainly this often seems true of Harlan, who likes to say he contains "multitudes". But their freedom and, in this case, power require a special sense of responsibility and discipline, or else their actions can become arbitrary and contradictory. For example, witness Levendis' penchant for practical jokes. The story reminds us that none of us can be left completely unsupervised. One thing can certainly be said about Levendis - he lives an active, varied life, not unlike Harlan's on some days. One can also imagine Levendis sending dead gophers to publishing houses and so on. The idea of doing good deeds, which Harlan believes in, is reflected in the story.

If one takes to heart what Levendis says about mediocrity - that it is "the only real evil in the world" - one can appreciate a little more the experimental nature of the story. Harlan called the story his "atheist tract", which is interesting, since Levendis, being an unlimited person, is a kind of god, and he intermittently does care. It's probably best to consider him a personification of fate, destiny, luck, and chance.

Experimental stories rarely work, so this one, being an experiment that doesn't exactly fail, certainly deserved some attention. Mind you though, it works mainly on an aesthetic and intellectual level, not so much on the level of character involvement and tension. Therefore, when it ends being of intellectual interest at about mid-point, the rest of the story, which continues in the same manner, is harder to get though. I also found the mix of realism with fantasy to be not in the story's best interest. For example, if Levendis doesn't have ears, if we take that literally, I don't believe much of the later things he does either. He's not even "living in a limited world" - he can do what he wants. He's Harlan's tool, his umpteenth incomplete symbolic self. Without character, without needs, there's nothing that takes you behind the words and ideas. :| :|

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