Harlan Ellison: Ellison Wonderland

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Harlan Ellison Ellison Wonderland
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Ellison Wonderland is a collection of short stories by author Harlan Ellison that was originally published in 1962. Gerry Gross bought the book from Ellison in 1961, providing him with the funds he needed to move to Los Angeles. Subsequent payments after the book was published supplied the author with enough money to survive until he was able to find a job writing for a television series. It was later reprinted in 1974 by New American Library with an introduction by Ellison. The stories are in the genre of speculative fiction, and concentrate on the themes of loneliness, the end of the world, and the flaws of humanity. Ellison wrote a short introduction to each story, a tradition that he would repeat in many of his later short story collections. Many of the stories in this collection, such as "All the Sounds of Fear", "The Very Last Day of a Good Woman" and "In Lonely Lands", would turn up in later anthologies of Ellison's short stories. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellison_Wonderland

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Harlan Ellison

Ellison Wonderland

The original edition bore this dedication: This random group of leftover dreams and wry conspiracies I offer to Wednesday’s Child…KENNY

with love and pride, and more than just a touch of sorrow.

Fourteen years later, and links of the broken chain have been joined once more, not welded shut, but merely joined. And so, with fourteen years’ more love and pride, and with that touch of sorrow removed, once again I offer this ragbag of illusions to His Own Man…


Introduction: The Man On The Mushroom

The arrival in Hollywood was something less than auspicious. It was February, 1962, and I had broken free of the human monster for whom I’d been editing in Chicago. It was one of the worst times in my life. The one time I’d ever felt the need to go to a psychiatrist, that time in Chicago. I had remarried in haste after the four-year anguish of Charlotte and the Army and the hand-to-mouth days in Greenwich Village; now I was living to repent in agonizing leisure.

I had been crazed for two years and hadn’t realized it. Now I was responsible for one of the nicest women in the world, and her son, a winner by any standards, and I found I had messed their lives by entwining them with mine. There was need for me to run, but I could not. Nice Jewish boys from Ohio don’t cut and abandon. So I began doing berserk things. I committed personal acts of a demeaning and reprehensible nature, involved myself in liaisons that were doomed and purposeless, went steadily more insane as the days wound tighter than a mainspring.

Part of it was money. Not really, but I thought it was the major part of the solution to the situation. And I’d banked on selling a book of stories to the very man for whom I was working. He took considerable pleasure in waiting till we were at a business lunch, with several other people, to announce he was not buying the book. (The depth of his sadism is obvious when one learns he subsequently did buy and publish the book.) But at that moment, it was as though someone had split the earth under me and left me hanging by the ragged edge, by my fingertips. I went back to the tiny, empty office he had set up in a downtown Evanston office building, and I sat at my desk staring at the wall. There was a clock on the wall in front of me. When I sat down after that terrible lunch, it was 1:00….

When I looked at the clock a moment later, it was 3:15….

The next time I looked, a moment later, it was 4:45….

Then 5:45…

Then 6:15…


Somehow, I don’t know how, even today, I laid my head on the desk, and when I opened my eyes again I had taken the phone off the hook. It was lying beside my mouth. A long time later, and again I don’t remember doing it, I dialed a friend, Frank M. Robinson, a dear writer friend of many years.

I heard Frank’s voice saying, “Hello…hello…is someone there…?”

“Frank…help me…”

And when my head was lifted off the desk, it was an hour later, the phone was whistling with a disconnect tone, and Frank had made it all the way across from Chicago to Evanston to find me. He held me like a child, and I cried.

Soon after, I left Evanston and Chicago and the human monster, and with my wife and her son began the long trek to the West Coast. We had agreed to divorce, but she had said to me, with a very special wisdom that I never perceived till much later, when I was whole again, “As long as you’re going to leave me, at least take me to where it’s warm.”

But we had no money. So We had to go to Los Angeles by way of New York from Chicago. If I could sell a book. I would have the means to go West, young man, go West. (And that was the core of the problem, not money: I was a young man. I was twenty-eight, but I had never become an adult.)

In a broken-down 1957 Ford we limped across to New York during the worst snowstorms in thirty years.

My wife and her son stayed with a friend I’d known in the Village, and I slept on the sofa at the home of Leo & Diane Dillon, the two finest artists I know. Leo & Diane slept on the floor. They are more than merely friends. It was December of 1961, and amid the tensions and horrors of that eight-week stay in New York, two things happened that brought momentary light, and helped me keep hold:

The first was a review by Dorothy Parker in Esquire of a small-printing paperback collection of my stories. How she had obtained it I do not know. (When I met her, later, in Hollywood, she was unable to remember where the book had come from.) But she raved about it, and said I had talent, and it was the first really substantial affirmative notice from a major critic. It altered the course of my writing career, and provided my ego—which had been nourishing itself cannibalistically on itself—with reason for feeling I could write.

The second happening of light was, the sale of this book. Gerry Gross bought it for short money, mostly because he knew I was in a bad way. But it provided the funds to start out for Los Angeles.

We traveled a bard road down through the Southwest, and in Fort Worth we were staved in by a drunken cowboy in a pickup. Rear-ended. He had a carhop on one arm, and a fifth of Teacher’s in the free band. Rammed us on an icy bridge, smashed the car, crushed the rear-end trunk containing our luggage and my typewriter, and I suppose it was that typewriter that saved our lives. The typewriter has paid the rent and put food on the table many times, but that time it physically gave up its life to save me.

We were laid up in Fort Worth for a week, with our money running out. Had it not been for the help of the then-police chief, a man whose name I’ll never forget—Cato Hightower—we would never have gotten out of Texas. He got me a new typewriter, had the car repaired for a fraction of what the garage would have stiffed a tourist just Passing through and be paid off the motel.

I arrived in Los Angeles in January of 1962 with exactly ten cents in my pocket. For the last three hundred miles we had not eaten. There wasn’t enough money for gas and food. All we’d had to keep us alive was a box of pecan pralines we’d bought before the accident and had in the rear seat. The arrival in Hollywood was something less than auspicious.

My almost-ex-wife and her son moved into an apartment, and I took up residence in a fourteen-dollar-a- week room in a bungalow complex that is now an empty lot on Wilshire Boulevard. I tried to get work in television, got some assignments that paid the various rents, and bombed out on all of them. Nobody had bothered to show me how to write a script. And when it looked as though I’d hit the very bottom, ELLISON WONDERLAND was published in June of 1962, the publisher sent me a copy, and the check for the balance of monies due on publication. It was enough to pull me through till I got another assignment—writing Burke’s Law for the Four Star Studios and ABC. It was the very moment my luck changed.

I remember the morning the mail arrived, with the book in its little manila envelope. I ripped open the package, and out fell the check. But I didn’t even look at it. I sat in that room smelling of mildew and stared at the cover of Ellison Wonderland. The artist, Sandy Kossin, had taken a photo of me, and he’d drawn me in sitting cross- legged atop a giant mushroom, while all around me danced and capered the characters from the stories in this book. Skidoop and Ithk and Helgorth Labbula and the crocodile-headed woman from “The Silver Corridor” and that little jazzbo gnome with the patois now long-outdated and so unhip.

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