Basilisk • 1972 • magical realism short story by Harlan Ellison



Meta: isfdb. This magical realism short story appeared August 1972 in The Magazine of Fantasy and SF and was re-published in Deathbird Stories. It won the 1973 Locus Award.

Synopsis:  Vernon Lestig was caught by Viet cong, was tortured until he talked, lost foot and eyesight,  brought before a court-martial for treason, and returned home only to face his home in Kansas where nobody understood or accepted what happened in the face of public media.

Review:  A harsh story containing heavy violence about more than only the one eponymous monster ending in a climax full of swift action. It reflects the horrors of war and returning home where the neighbors and family don’t understand, accept, or even question what happened. They only damn and expulse.

The supernatural element of the Basilisk lurking in the background and granting superhuman powers didn’t add much to the story beside providing a great topic for the Magazine’s cover illustration by Dillon.

The story excels at the narrative side, e.g. where Ellison uses lists of images and analogies to immerse Lestig’s pain.

But the best parts are not the horrific actions but the more subtle confrontations with his ex-girl Teresa and her husband.


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