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Monday, April 29, 2013

Reader's Guide to Theodore Sturgeon's "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast"

Summary:  Through a mishap in another dimension, an alien pet is sent through a scientific device that lands the creature outside a school room.  The teacher, Stott and students immediately begin to itch, but Stott spots the being and startles it.  When it returns, he's ready with powdered DDT--only things don't go as either the alien or human had planned.

Commentary:  What a heady shot of ingenuity from such a humble title.  This is good for science students as well cultural studies:  What works well on some organisms, does not work the same for all.  Moreover, how a drug works on one human does work the same in another.  Even within a body, drugs can have different effects on different cells.  The same holds true for those moving between different culture--even within cultures.


  1. What was your initial impression of the title?
  2. How does your interpretation of the word "happy" transform over the course of the story?
  3. Contrast how the Lirhtians think to the humans.
  4. Who is narrating the story?  Who did you think was narrating it?\
  5. How does the narrator get into the mind of the other creatures? (or does it?)
  6. What does it mean that both the Lirhtians mistakes turn things toward very different directions?
  7. Knowing that the teacher has forty students under his charge, the students are called "animals", the Moscow is discussed with places on Lirht, and the story begins, "Lirht is either in a different universal plane or in another island galaxy. Perhaps these terms mean the same thing," could the story be interpreted differently?
  8. If you buy #7, what does it mean that the humans scratch themselves?
  9. What does it mean that Stott's actions not only fail but also exacerbate the situation?  Is this not unlike his early overreaction with the ruler?

Selected Bibliography for the story (ISFDB):

  1. The Magazine of Fantasy, Fall 1949, ed. Anthony Boucher, J. Francis McComas
  2. The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1950, ed. Everett F. Bleiler, T. E. Dikty
  3. The Science Fiction Roll of Honor, ed. Frederik Pohl
  4. The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 11, 1949, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, 
  5. The World Treasury of Science Fiction, ed. David G. Hartwell
  6. The Perfect Host, ebook

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