“The Drowned Giant,” J. G. Ballard, 1964

“The Drowned Giant,” J. G. Ballard, 1964 — A giant human(oid) male washes ashore.  The protagonist, a librarian, is assigned by his peers to investigate and make sense of what’s happened.  He notes that, after initial period of wonder and fascination–which includes tourist excursions up and down the giant’s frame–the townspeople eventually lose interest.  Their curiosity transforms into an almost mechanical instinct to make use of the body.  Scavengers arrive to find practical purpose in the “noble” body–a hand is removed for food, a rib bone becomes the arch of a doorway, etc.–until eventually the town is decorated with the giant’s bones.  After the the body is fully dismantled, leaving nothing but a rotting, headless torso, it begins its final stage of decay.  When all traces have disappeared from the beach, some will maintain that the giant never existed at all.

Comments: Read in Kafkaesque.  Themes of bodily decay/mortality, mutilation of the body, consumption, confrontation with the unknown.  An early analysis of the story is available at Science Fiction Studies, “J. G. Ballard and the Limits of Mainstream SF” (1976) by Charles Nicol.   An excerpt:

“Once the initial premise is stated, the remainder of the story develops three actions or processes simultaneously. Two of these are the initial excitement and steady decline of interest among the townspeople; and the decay and eventual dismemberment of the giant corpse. Both of these plot-lines are observed by an unnamed narrator, who remains passive throughout; a librarian, he is the only resident of the city sensitive to the possible significance of this monstrous visitation, the only observer capable of limning this event for history (a task eventually assigned him by his fellow librarians). The librarian comes to perceive the dead giant as an event in his own life, assigning personal meaning to this otherwise random event—this constitutes the third plot line. Since the significance of the giant is personal to the librarian, it tends to shift; and as it shifts, it builds up a series of possible meanings. That interpretations are proposed suggests that this is a meaningful event; and that the interpretations are rejected suggests that the meaning has not yet been found. The drowned giant’s dissolution is a significant event, the meaning of which is unclear but undoubted. The story has resonance and power, conforming to that specific type of modern literature, the open-ended parable.”

Author: Wikipedia: “James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction” and the author of Crash.  There are several blogs devoted to Ballard’s fiction, including Ballardian and J. G. Ballard’s short stories.


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1960-1969, consumerism, fantasy/fable/fairy tale, function/utility/skeumorphs, knowledge/truth/epistemology, the body, time/history/causality, tourists. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “The Drowned Giant,” J. G. Ballard, 1964

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Sounds fascinating. Thankfully, I have a collection of Ballard’s entire corpus of short stories — around half read.

    I love Ballard — I love Billenium and The Concentration City. I have a penchant for overpopulation themed sci-fi.

  2. jennre says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Ballard’s short story collections. I’ve heard there’s one that collects his stories about the senses–I suppose “Sound Sweep” would be one. Fascinating writer. So sad that few mainstream readers seem to realize that they might greatly enjoy his sf.

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      I recommend the recent publication of all his shorts (The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard). I’m reading the them in groups — as in, the listings of the published collections.

      Very tangential, but, what do you think of Brian N. Malzberg and D. G. Compton? They fit the criminally under read category in my opinion. I have a collection of Malzberg’s shorts which I can’t wait to read. I’ve read his novels mostly…. If you know anything about Malzberg I recommend ‘The Truth of It’ for laughs and giggles. It’s a juvenile short story he wrote which contains almost all his major themes — which, as you probably know, are very “adult” in content.

      Here’s a scanned copy of the story.


      • jennre says:

        Ah, Joachim, you’re killing me. I’m so immersed in my new schedule right now and have no time to post. This looks fascinating. I’m hoping to have more time around Thanksgiving. (I also just bought the complete stories of JG Ballard. He truly is the siren of the senses…)

  3. Your face says:


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