Harlan Ellison

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Once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.

Harlan Jay Ellison (born 27 May 1934) is an American author (mostly of speculative fiction) and media critic.

Quotes[edit]

You can live in your dreams, but only if you are worthy of them.
I have no mouth. And I must scream.
You never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you're willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time
This is a test. Take notes. This will count as 3/4 of your final grade.
The greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!
Don't start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don't. They'll make you look like chopped liver.
The great tragedy of my life is that in my search for the Holy Grail everyone calls True Love, I see myself as Zorro, a romantic and mysterious highwayman — and the women I desire see me as Porky Pig.
Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.
The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.
Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you.
  • Now he had form and substance.
    He had become a personality, something they had filtered out of the system many decades ago.
    But there it was, and there he was, a very definitely imposing personality. In certain circles — middle-class circles — it was thought disgusting. Vulgar ostentation. Anarchistic. Shameful.
    • "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (1965)
  • Where did he get jelly beans?
    That's another good question. More than likely it will never be answered to your complete satisfaction. But then, how many questions ever are?
    • "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (1965)
  • You can live in your dreams, but only if you are worthy of them.
    • "Delusion for a Dragon Slayer" (1966)
  • Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled.
    • Title of book (1968)
  • Christmas is an awfulness that compares favorably with the great London plague and fire of 1665-66. No one escapes the feelings of mortal dejection, inadequacy, frustration, loneliness, guilt and pity. No one escapes feeling used by society, by religion, by friends and relatives, by the utterly artifical responsiblities of extending false greetings, sending banal cards, reciprocating unsolicited gifts, going to dull parties, putting up with acquaintances and family one avoids all the rest of the year...in short, of being brutalized by a 'holiday' that has lost virtually all of its original meanings and has become a merchandising ploy for color tv set manufacturers and ravagers of the woodlands.
    • "No Offense Intended, But Fuck Xmas!" (1972) The Harlan Ellison Hornbook
  • My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration and ignoble deaths; that there is security in personal strength; that you can fight City Hall and win; that any action is better than no action, even if it's the wrong action; that you never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you're willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time; and that once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.
    • The Harlan Ellison Hornbook, (9 August 1973)
  • This is a test. Take notes. This will count as 3/4 of your final grade. Hints: remember, in chess, kings cancel each other out and cannot occupy adjacent squares, are therefore all-powerful and totally powerless, cannot affect each other, produce stalemate. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion; the sect of Atman worships the divine spark of life within Man; in effect saying, "Thou art God." Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox on the corner. Not everyone tells the truth. Operational note: these sections may be taken out of numerical sequence: rearrange to suit yourself for optimum clarity. Turn over your test papers and begin.
  • I think love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word bear and the word bare. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.
    • Introduction of "How's the Night Life on Cissalda" (1977) in Shatterday (1990)
  • Heaven began to run at the edges.
    • "Hitler Painted Roses" (1977)
  • They did it wrong, Doc. They made mistakes. And they'll keep it this way, just because everyone wants to believe it. They don't want to know the truth, Doc. It's easier for everyone this way. If enough people believe the fantasy, well, then it becomes the reality. But we know, Doc. We know who belongs where, don't we?
    • "Hitler Painted Roses" (1977)
  • "Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!"
    Auditorium monitors moved in, truncheons ready to club down anyone foolish enough to try jumping the lecture platform; and finally there was relative silence. And I heard scattered voices screaming from the back of the room, "Who? And I said, "Yes. Who!"
    • Recalling an address to science-fiction fans, in his Introduction to Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977) by Terrance Dicks, p. vii
  • Don't start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don't. They'll make you look like chopped liver.
    • IguanaCon Guest of Honor speech, Phoenix, Arizona, (1978)
  • "Hey, gang!" I squeaked in my terrifically accurate Mickey voice. "Everybody ready to shoot the ultimate Disney flick? The film that rips the lid off the goody two-shoes hypocrisy that lies sweltering beneath the surface of G-rated true-life adventures? Okay, you guys, let's get that hand-held Arriflex right down there between Minnie's legs! I wanna see closeups of quivering labia!"
    • The Three Most Important Things in Life (1978)
  • Scientology is bullshit! Man, I was there the night L. Ron Hubbard invented it, for Christ's sakes! ... We were sitting around one night... who else was there? Alfred Bester, and Cyril Kornbluth, and Lester del Rey, and Ron Hubbard, who was making a penny a word, and had been for years. And he said "This bullshit's got to stop!" He says, "I gotta get money." He says, "I want to get rich". And somebody said, "why don't you invent a new religion? They're always big." We were clowning! You know, "Become Elmer Gantry! You'll make a fortune!" He says, "I'm going to do it."
    • "The Real Harlan Ellison" in Wings (November-December 1978) p. 32
  • I used to think that television could be potentially the most powerful medium for the dissemination of knowledge that the world has ever known, it could be a very rich and rewarding thing if handled properly and that the problem was in the execution. I've now come, after ten years in the business, five years of which was as a television critic, to taking the very extreme view point. I think television itself is bad.
    The idea of television, the act of watching television kills the imagination. It's not like radio, with radio you had to listen, had to make things, you had to build things in your mind. Movies do that. Television is something else again. Television lays it all out there in a very prescribed way and the bare minimum of imagination on the part of the viewer is needed and I really fear for all of us.
    • Interview in 1979, quoted in The Online Copywriter's Handbook (2002) by Robert W. Bly, p. 19
  • I don't know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.
    • Introduction to Shatterday (1980), p. 2
  • What he wrote was this: The great tragedy of my life is that in my search for the Holy Grail everyone calls True Love, I see myself as Zorro, a romantic and mysterious highwayman — and the women I desire see me as Porky Pig.
    • Grail (1981)
  • I am anti-entropy. My work is foursquare for chaos. I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrator or critic with umbrage will say of my work, "He only wrote that to shock." I smile and nod. Precisely.
  • I talk about the things people have always talked about in stories: pain, hate, truth, courage, destiny, friendship, responsibility, growing old, growing up, falling in love, all of these things. What I try to write about are the darkest things in the soul, the mortal dreads. I try to go into those places in me that contain the cauldrous. I want to dip up the fire, and I want to put it on paper. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work. … It is a love/hate relationship I have with the human race. I am an elitist, and I feel that my responsibility is to drag the human race along with me — that I will never pander to, or speak down to, or play the safe game. Because my immortal soul will be lost.
    • As quoted in Contemporary Authors New Revision Series: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Non-Fiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television, & Other Fields (1982) by Ann Evory
  • Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.
    • Paladin of the Lost Hour (1985)
  • You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the fucking game.
    • Interview with Gary K. Wolfe (28 July 1987), quoted in Harlan Ellison : The Edge of Forever (2002), by Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe
  • For a brief time, I was here; and, for a brief time, I mattered.
    • His brief afterword to The Essential Ellison (1987)
  • He was just Ron and I kinda liked him, mostly because he wrote well, and I never felt he took all that Scientology nonsense seriously but knew how to make a good buck, and he liked me, and... well, he was a friend who died.
    • Introduction to Angry Candy (1988)
  • Did you have one of those days today, like a nail in the foot? Did the pterodactyl corpse dropped by the ghost of your mother from the spectral Hindenburg forever circling the Earth come smashing through the lid of your glass coffin? Did the New York strip steak you attacked at dinner suddenly show a mouth filled with needle-sharp teeth, and did it snap off the end of your fork, the last solid-gold fork from the set Anastasia pressed into your hands as they took her away to be shot? Is the slab under your apartment building moaning that it cannot stand the weight on its back a moment longer, and is the building stretching and creaking? Did a good friend betray you today, or did that good friend merely keep silent and fail to come to your aid? Are you holding the razor at your throat this very instant? Take heart, comfort is at hand. This is the hour that stretches. Djam karet. We are the cavalry. We're here. Put away the pills. We'll get you through this bloody night. Next time, it'll be your turn to help us.
    • "Eidolons" (1988)
  • NO ONE GETS OUT OF CHILDHOOD ALIVE. It's not the first time I've said that. But among the few worthy bon mots I've gotten off in sixty-seven years, that and possibly one other may be the only considerations eligible for carving on my tombstone. (The other one is the one entrepreneurs have misappropriated to emboss on buttons and bumper stickers: The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.
    (I don't so much mind that they pirated it, but what does honk me off is that they never get it right. They render it dull and imbecile by phrasing it thus: "The two most common things in the universe are..."
    (Not things, you insensate gobbets of ambulatory giraffe dung, elements! Elements is funny, things is imprecise and semi-guttural. Things! Geezus, when will the goyim learn they don't know how to tell a joke.
    • Introduction to Blast Off : Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age of Space Toys (2001) by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, Mike Richardson, p. 6; the quote on hydrogen and stupidity is said to have originated with an essay of his in the 1960s, and is often misattributed to Frank Zappa, who made similar remarks in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989): "Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe."
  • I don't own a computer, or a modem, or anything like that; I still work on a manual typewriter, by choice, and to those who consider me a Luddite I say: Fuck you and yo mama. I operate at the level of technology that best suits my needs. And I type at 120 words per minute — two fingers — I make no mistakes, and my manuscripts are real. You can pick them up and hold them. My typewriter doesn't dump its memory — I don't lose a book.
  • Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.
  • Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It's not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.
  • He had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
    • About Isaac Asimov – quoted in Page Fright : Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (2009) by Harry Bruce
    • Variant: Most writers hate to write, and will grasp any excuse to do something else … There are exceptions. Isaac Asimov actually was never happier than sitting at a keyboard — first, his old typewriter; then, the TRS-80; and later, a more conventional PC. But then, Isaac was unusual, and his experience with writer's block was the worst 10 minutes of his life.
      • Jerry Pournelle, in "Chaos Manor: Is there an Upgrade in your future?" in Dr. Dobb's Journal : Software Tools For The Professional Programmer (2005), Vol. 30, Issues 374-379, p. 9

Autograph profile (2010)[edit]

If I miss, during the evening, saying something offensive to you, insulting your sexual proclivity, your physical disability, your race, your religion, your sex, anything, please, raise your hand. I’ll get to you, I promise. I’ll say something really nasty.
Quotes from a student question and answer session reported in Autograph Magazine (2 January 2010)
  • It is my hope that all of you who walk down the street with an iPod plugged into your head are hit by a Seven Santini Brothers moving van. I look down on a lot of you … not because you’re not terrific people, but because you’re not stupid, you’re ignorant. Big difference. Ignorance is never having seen a film by Akira Kurosawa. It’s not knowing who Guy de Maupassant is. …By the way if I miss, during the evening, saying something offensive to you, insulting your sexual proclivity, your physical disability, your race, your religion, your sex, anything, please, raise your hand. I’ll get to you, I promise. I’ll say something really nasty.
  • I’ve been on my own since I was 13. I grew up having to use my wits. My parents were not wealthy. We weren’t poor, but we had a lot of meals with noodles. I was born during the Depression.  My parents died pretty much penniless. Every dollar I’ve ever made I earned myself. I don’t believe in luck. Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." The smarter you are, the more you know, the better. I was the only Jew in town and I was my generation’s Bart Simpson. I knew the world could be mine.
  • I go to bed angry every night, I wake up angry every morning. There are certain injustices in this life you’ve got to do something about. You can’t just say that you can’t fight it, or it’s too much trouble, or that you don’t have the time or the effort, or that you can’t win. Forget all that. Fight them all! I fight them all because you never know which one is the big one. You never know which you give up and then it will come back and bite you in the ass. You never look away from a mountain lion, you lock eyes and you don’t let him get behind you.


Misattributed[edit]

  • If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you.
    • Don Marquis, as quoted in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Vol. 12, No. 2 (February 1958), p. 48; this has sometimes been attributed to Ellison, as well as to George Bernard Shaw.

Quotes about Ellison[edit]

  • Harlan is a giant among men in courage, pugnacity, loquacity, wit, charm, intelligence — indeed in everything but height.

External links[edit]

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