Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Open Road Integrated Media
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
In The Recombinant City, A Foreward, William Gibson says of Dhalgren:
It is a literary singularity … a work of sustained conceptual daring, executed by the most remarkable prose stylist to have emerged from the culture of American science fiction.
I have never understood it. I have sometimes felt that I partially understood it, or that I was nearing the verge of understanding it. This has never caused me the least discomfort, or interfered in any way with my pleasure in the text.
It caused me discomfort. A lot.
Maybe if I’d read Dhalgren in 1975, I’d have liked it more. I was 28, part of the youth culture, active politically and close enough to my college days that Dhalgren would have resonated and had context. But that was nearly 40 years ago. The world and I have come a long way since then.
When Dhalgren was originally published, I didn’t read it. I was working, taking care of my son, possibly too stoned to focus on a page. It was like that. Back then. Hey, how old are you? Have you qualified for Social Security? Almost there? Minimally, you have your AARP card? If not, you probably won’t understand this novel — and even if you are old enough to have been there back when, you may find — as I did — that the time for this book has passed.
To use an analogy, I read Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward Angel when I was 14. I adored it. Pure poetry end to end. Five years later, you couldn’t have paid me to read it. The story was perfect for an adolescent trying to grow up in a world that didn’t understand her but was irrelevant to a young, married woman in the suburbs. Context counts.
The writing is beautiful and the analogy to Wolfe not accidental. Like Wolfe, Samuel Delaney wrote prose that is pure poetry, rich with symbolism. Nonetheless, this isn’t a book I would have chosen at this point in my life. I might have loved it at a different age and stage.
The story centers on a bunch of kids in a city called Bellona in which something very strange and evil occurred. Exactly what? Well, something. The TV, radio and telephones don’t work. Signals don’t work. People have reverted to a sort of feral hunting society, in an urban way. The Kid (whose name may or may not be Kidd) comes down from the mountain. He meets other kids. They talk about stuff. Poetry. People. Random events. Think Thomas Wolfe on purple haze with a beer chaser. Beautiful words, haunting images. Poetry that never ends and a plot that never begins.
The publisher puts it this way:
In Dhalgren, perhaps one of the most profound and bestselling science fiction novels of all time, Samuel R. Delany has produced a novel “to stand with the best American fiction of the 1970s” (Jonathan Lethem).
Bellona is a city at the dead center of the United States. Something has happened there…. The population has fled. Madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. And into this disaster zone comes a young man–poet, lover, and adventurer–known only as the Kid. Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel and groundbreaking work of American magical realism.
It may be all those things and I’m not sufficiently intellectual or appreciative of art to enjoy it. After the first couple of hundred pages, I found it meandering and more than a bit pretentious. But to be fair, it’s a matter of taste. I have friends who really liked James Joyce and actually read Ulysses, not the Cliff Notes. Go figure, right?
This edition includes a foreword by William Gibson as well as a new illustrated biography of Samuel Delaney.
Dhalgren is available in paperback, hardcover and Kindle.
By Clement Clarke Moore
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
‘Twas the Night of the Solstice
by Kim Harrison
‘Twas the week before Christmas, and up in the Hollows,
Solstice bonfires were burning, to toast the marshmallows.
The pixies were snug in their stump, even Jenks,
Who claimed he was tired, and needed some winks.
So I in my parka, and Ivy in her boots,
Were toasting the season, with thirty-year hooch.
When out in the street, there came such a crash,
I thought that it had to be ‘coons in our trash.
Away to the gate, I trudged through the snow,
While Ivy just said, “If it’s Kist, say hello.”
I lifted the latch, and peered to the street,
My face went quite cold. We were in it thigh deep.
‘Twas a demon, who stood in the headlamps quite bright,
With his coat of green velvet, and his uncommon height.
His eyes, how they glittered, his teeth how they gnashed,
His voice, how he bellowed, his tongue, how it lashed
The street wasn’t holy, so on Big Al came,
As he bellowed, and shouted, and called me by name.
“Morgan, you witch. You’re a pain in my side.
“Get out of your church. There’s no place to hide!”
Like hell’s fury unleashed, he strode to my door,
Where he hammered and cursed, like a cheap jilted whore.
But Ivy and I, we circled round back,
To stand in the street and prepare for attack.
“You loser,” I shouted. “I’m waiting for you.”
And the demon, he spun, taking on a red hue.
Ivy stood ready, and I whispered, “Okay . . .
“If he wants to get rough, I’m ready to play.”
With nary a word, us two girls got to work,
Putting foot into gut, of the soul-sucking jerk.
I circled him quick, with a few words of Latin,
While Ivy distracted him with lots of good wackin’
“Get back!” I yelled out when my trap was complete,
And Ivy somersaulted right over the creep.
My circle sprang up, entrapping him surely,
Al fussed and he fumed, like a demonic fury.
The neighbors all cheered, and came out of their houses,
Where they’d watched the whole thing, like little house mouses.
So Ivy and I, we both bowed real low,
Then banished Big Al, in an overdone show.
But I heard Al exclaim, ‘ere he poofed from our sight
“You won this time witch, but I’ll get you one night!”
- – - – -
Kim Harrison, December 14th, 2005
- Stonehenge & Our Winter Solstice Giveaway (bodymindbeautyhealth.com)
- 13 Ways to Celebrate Yuletide by Selena Fox (completehealthcircle.com)
- Everything you need to know: December solstice 2013 (earthsky.org)