Jeffty Is Five

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"Jeffty Is Five"
Short story by Harlan Ellison
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Fantasy short story
Published inThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Publication typePeriodical
Media typePrint (magazine, hardback and paperback)
Publication date1977

"Jeffty Is Five" is a fantasy short story by American author Harlan Ellison. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1977, then was included in DAW's The 1978 Annual World's Best SF in 1978 and Ellison's short story collection Shatterday two years later. According to Ellison, it was partially inspired by a fragment of conversation that he misheard at a party at the home of actor Walter Koenig: "How is Jeff?" "Jeff is fine. He's always fine," which he perceived as "Jeff is five, he's always five."[1] Ellison based the character of Jeffty on Joshua Andrew Koenig, Walter's son. He declared:

... I had been awed and delighted by Josh Koenig, and I instantly thought of just such a child who was arrested in time at the age of five. Jeffty, in no small measure, is Josh: the sweetness of Josh, the intelligence of Josh, the questioning nature of Josh.[2]


Jeffty is a boy who never grows past the age of five — physically or mentally. The narrator, Jeffty's friend from the age of five well into adulthood, discovers that Jeffty has the ability to access current versions of popular culture from the narrator's youth. His radio plays all-new episodes of long-canceled serial programs, broadcast by stations that no longer exist. He can buy all-new issues of long-discontinued pulp magazines such as The Shadow and Doc Savage, with all-new stories by long-dead authors such as Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard. Jeffty can even watch films that are adaptations of old science fiction novels such as Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. While Jeffty is cute and has the sweetness and humor of an actual five-year-old, his parents are sad and scared of him.

The narrator takes Jeffty to a local movie house on a Saturday afternoon, but finds his TV store is swamped with customers. He leaves the boy waiting in line for a few minutes to help out. Jeffty borrows a portable radio from some teens in line and tunes in a radio show from the past. When Jeffty is unable to return the radio to its normal setting, the teenagers beat him badly. The narrator takes the boy home, but Jeffty's parents are unwilling to act. The narrator gives the boy to his mother, who takes him upstairs to bathe his wounds. It is implied she kills Jeffty so that she and her husband can resume normal lives.


"Jeffty Is Five" won the 1977 Nebula Award for Best Short Story[3] and the 1978 Hugo Award for Best Short Story,[4] and was nominated for the 1978 World Fantasy Award—Short Fiction.[5] It was also voted in a 1999 online poll of Locus readers[6] as the best short story of all time.

Publishers Weekly called it "touching but scary",[7] and called it "heartbreaking",[8] while at the SF Site, Paul Kincaid described it as "a wonder of sustained nostalgia coupled with despair at the modern world", but noted that it "only really succeeds because of the tragedy of [its] ending."[9]


  1. ^ Ellison, Harlan (2020). The Twilight Zone: The Complete '80s Series: Audio Commentary - "Shatterday" (DVD). CBS DVD.
  2. ^ Ellison, Harlan (1980). Shatterday. Houghton Mifflin. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-395-28587-9.
  3. ^ Nebula Award Winners 1965-2011, at Science Fiction Writers of America; retrieved February 26, 2017
  4. ^ 1978 Hugo Awards Archived 2011-05-07 at the Wayback Machine, at; retrieved February 26, 2017
  5. ^ Nominees, at the World Fantasy Convention; retrieved February 26, 2017
  6. ^ 1999 Locus Poll, at Locus Online (via
  7. ^ The Essential Ellison: A 35-Year Retrospective, at Publishers Weekly; reviewed January 1, 1987; retrieved February 26, 2017
  8. ^ 3 Quick Ways to Introduce Yourself to the Work of Harlan Ellison, by Ryan Britt, at; published May 27, 2012; retrieved February 26, 2017
  9. ^ Shatterday, by Harlan Ellison, reviewed by Paul Kincaid, at the SF Site; published 2007; retrieved February 26, 2017