"I will use big words from time to time, the meanings of which I may only vaguely perceive, in hopes such cupidity will send you scampering to your dictionary: I will call such behavior 'public service'.” -- Harlan Ellison
I finally had the chance to see the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth about my favorite living author, Harlan Ellison. Despite all the fame and accolades he's received in his impressive writing career, I still consider Ellison vastly underrated. In my opinion, he deserves even more praise and should be heralded alongside Ray Bradbury as one of the greats of speculative fiction.
His mastery of the English language and his daring imagination have given us some remarkable tales. He probably has as many foes as he does fans due to his bombastic personality, his litigation-happy reputation, and his spitfire opinionations. That's part of his charm. He's like the cantankerous but lovable uncle at the annual family reunions who always manages to cause a controversial scene -- we cringe sometimes at what he says and does, but we often recognize and marvel at the frequent brilliance he unleashes with seeming ease. Beneath the edgy voice is a gentle soul, even though he himself would vehemently deny it.
He's more than a wordsmith, more than a fantasist, more than a spinner of tales. He's a dreamer in the company of L. Frank Baum and Edgar Allan Poe.
When I think of Harlan Ellison, I don't envision the giant of speculative fiction or the crazy s.o.b. of Hollywood legend. Rather, I recall a phone call out of the blue from my writing hero, kindly calling me himself to thank me for something I had said about him on an online forum. I recall being pleasantly surprised to receive an autographed copy of one of the few Ellison books I didn't have in my collection. I recall that distinct voice heard in numerous recordings of his works, bringing his fabulous words to life, words that seem meant to be not only read and savored in the quiet of one's mind, but spoken aloud, bringing the stories of Paladin, the Ticktockman, and so many more to life.
In a future blog entry, I'll list my favorite Ellison stories. In the meantime, hunt down Dreams with Sharp Teeth. It's a revealing look at one of the great writers and personalities of our time.