Shattered Like a Glass Goblin • 1968 • magical realism short story by Harlan Ellison


Meta: isfdb. This magical realism short story appeared 1968 in Damon Knight’s Orbit 4 anthology and was re-published in Deathbird Stories.

Synopsis:  Veteran Rudy comes to a L.A. rundown house called „The Hill“ to find his girlfriend Kristina. He finds her together with ten other drug addicts. Rudy moves in and becomes a sort of manager, the only contact to the outside world. Some night, Rudy tries drugs and from then on slowly starts to change into a goblin made of glass. He cannot endure the sun any longer, his body mutates. The other inhabitants also change, one turned into a swamp monster, others to vampires or to giant bats. Kristina is transformed into a werewolf, chasing him and smashing him into a million pieces.

Review:  This expressionistic fairytale story reminds me a lot of Kafka’s The Metamorphis, where the character also undergoes a metaphorical transformation. Ellison is a stern moralist again, preaching against drugs with images like The Hill „bordered on the north by acid and mescaline, on the south by pot and peyote, on the east by speed and redballs, on the west by downers and amphetamines“ or Rudy’s surrealistic transformation paralleling his fragility of minds caused by drug abuse. Kris‘ refusal literally shattered him to pieces.

It is also a fairytale story: The Hill represents the Otherworld where fairies live under hills. Rudy asks three times for Kristina, a magical number to gain entrance to the Otherworld. When he gains entrance, the house grants him an unwanted gift, changes him forever. Ellison put much work into the structure of his narration centered around that magical number, using intentional repetitions to reflect the feeling of fairy tales. It isn’t exactly obvious but a re-read is worth the effort.

Drugs change people, destroy their relationships and personality. Ellison preaches heavily against their use.



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