“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison, Rick Berry (Illustrator)


Hardcover, 48 pages
Published October 28th 1997 by Underwood Books
Source: Library

“And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule, worshipers of the sun’s passing, bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don’t keep the schedule tight.”
― Harlan Ellison, “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman

“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman is a short story written by Harlan Ellison who has penned several other scifi novels. According to Wikipedia, he wrote it in about twenty minutes and it went on to win awards such as the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 1996 Nebula Award for Best Short Story. You can read it online here. Though not strictly children’s literature, it is dystopian and manages to encompass in 48 pages what many YA novels can’t in three novel length books.

The story is set in a dystopian world where everyone is enslaved by time. Everything is done on time and people are policed by the Ticktockman who simply turns off (or perhaps a more apt word would be unwinds) people when their time is up. Then along comes Harlequin who rebels against everything the dystopian society stands for. He disrupts people and their routine, making them late or lose time by doing activities other than the ones prescribed.

The story may be short but it’s layered, complex and will speak to all of us who finds ourselves slaves to time. The Ticktockman is an intriguing villain and occupies an ambiguous space in the story. What I think is most amazing about it though is how deeply it makes you think. Entertainment value aside, I think the story though written more than a decade ago reflects contemporary society and our priorities in daily life. I recommend it.

“Why let them order you about? Why let them tell you to hurry and scurry like ants or maggots? Take your time! Saunter a while! Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the breeze, let life carry you at your own pace! Don’t be slaves of time, it’s a helluva way to die, slowly, by degrees…down with the Ticktockman!”
― Harlan Ellison, “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman