Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

During my six hour layover in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Sunday, I read Harlan Ellison’s Hugo and Nebula-winning short story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” It was originally published in the December 1965 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, and it can be readily found today in The Essential Ellison.

It’s a story about a future ruled by efficiency and time keeping. Whenever you’re late, that time gets docked from your projected lifespan. If you’re late too much, as is the story’s joker-hero, Harlequin, you’re “turned off.” The Master Timekeeper, or as he’s called behind his back, the Ticktockman, is responsible for policing and enforcing the law of punctuality.

Ellison explicitly relies on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, particularly in the ending when Harlequin, aka Everett C. Marm is broken. However, he breaks with Orwell by making Harlequin a character that can actually disrupt the system instead of an individual who is a ball of yarn to the state-cat.

One element that I found lacking in the story is the way in which the lone speaking female character is portrayed. She is put off by Harlequin “annoying people,” and she’s ultimately the one that betrays him. This betrayal is voluntary, unlike Julia’s betrayal of Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It seems like Ellison is painting the woman in a traditional role as betrayer rather than a less stereotypical role.

That being said, I do like “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” a great deal. It’s a postmodern narrative that features great dialog exchanges that sound strange reading them, but perfectly normal if you say them out loud. Also, I like the way in which he employs jelly beans to create a cascading breakdown in system efficiency–most inventive!

We need more Harlequins today more than ever!

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

Posted in Review, Science Fiction
6 comments on “Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”
  1. YUPPPPPERZ! says:


  2. uhhhhh greed! i mean, i LOVE the story ” Repent Harlequin!” :) but– u guys need it on here! :D duH! how do your expect ur readers to know what u r tawkin about if the story is not awn here :( and uhhhh *<:) ya. BUH BYE :P!!!!!

  3. loner says:

    :) :( :D :] :[ yessssss!

  4. get the story on here… i want to read it. thanks. <3 LONESTARRS RULE. end of story. doyouwanttoknowwhatithink??everyonethinksitalksuperfastthatmywordscometogether.i

  5. hjblkbjk says:

    does anyone know where the FUCK i can find this story.

  6. Jason Ellis says:

    Here’s a good place to start:


    It’s also available for $0.99 from the online Kindle store:


    I don’t think I need to mention other obvious places it may be found.

Comments are closed.

Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

Reach him by email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu.


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