Jeffty is Five

“Jeffty is Five” was Harlan Ellison’s contribution to the Year’s Finest Fantasy, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back. What struck me rereading it was how much my reaction differed from the first reading.
The narrator is a thirty something guy nostalgic for the movie serials, pulp magazines and radio adventure shows of his youth. Jeffty was his childhood friend, and now still a child, a five-year-old boy who refuses to age.
Which turns out quite cool for the narrator because whatever magic Jeffty invokes affects the media as well: when he’s around Jeffty he can go the movies and see new Humphrey Bogart films, read new Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom stories, listen to new adventures of Captain Midnight on the radio (eventually things go horribly wrong). When I was in college, I really loved the whole idea, and the execution. Rereading it, not so much. Not that I spot some hideous flaw in the story, it just didn’t move me.
As someone who rereads a lot of stuff (as you know if you follow this blog regularly), I’m often intrigued by how we don’t cross the same river twice. So I started thinking about what it was that didn’t work for me this time.
One obvious possibility is that I’m simply not as attached to reading (or watching movies, or TV or comics) as I was 35 years or so ago. I was shy, a little withdrawn and so a lot of my passion channeled itself into reading/watching fiction. I came alive with the characters, fell in love with them, felt my pulse race, etc., etc.
That hasn’t been true for a while. I still love fiction in all its forms, but it’s not my emotional center any more. I’ve learned to connect with people, even long before I met TYG. So where I could identify with the narrator’s yearning for all those fantastic tales he remembered, I don’t feel it now.
Which leads to a second point, there’s much less need for nostalgia now. If it was on TV or in the movies, it’s almost certainly on DVD or at least videotape (not always, but usually). The most obscure of comic-books, once unattainable, turn up in hardback collector’s editions or trade paperbacks. Internet used-book services make it possible to find pretty much anything. I don’t have to sit here wishing Mission: Impossible were still on; I have three seasons on DVD and I can stream the rest on Netflix. If I want movie serials, I can (and have) catch them on DVD too.
Of course, the “Jeffty” narrator isn’t just nostalgic: He’s quite clear that he doesn’t want to rewatch old stuff or listen to tapes of old shows, or watch cheap modern imitations—he wants new material done just as well as the old stuff, and in just the same style (reminding me of one column from the 1980s where Ellison complained about radical new changes to old comics characters, but also grumbled about Marvel’s New Universe competing with the company’s Silver Age line). And here we really part company.
It’s not just that I have no huge desire to see a couple more seasons of I Spy or the Addams Family or a few more albums of Beatles work (that might be cool, but even so I’m not moved by the prospect). It’s that I don’t see myself looking back at my childhood and teenage years and thinking everything was so vastly superior. I have nostalgia for my teen entertainments, but I can’t fool myself that it’s based on some immense difference in quality. Maybe the fact that entertainment hasn’t change that much (not compared to the death of radio drama and movie serials), or maybe I’ve just outgrown nostalgia in some way. When I saw the play Is There Life After High School in my early thirties, I was quite moved; when I saw it in my late forties, I wasn’t. The production was good, but looking back at high school just didn’t impact me so much. I think I’m supposed to grow more nostalgic as I age, but perhaps I’m doing it wrong.

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Filed under Movies, Personal, TV

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