Meta Fiction, Story, and Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve not read The Man in the High Castle, the following contains plot element spoilers.

The Man in the High Castle manages to jam three of my favorite things into a single novel. First, it’s by Philip K. Dick, who may not have been the greatest crafter of prose in the world, but imagined some of the most enduring science fiction tales in English literature. Second, it not only features the I-Ching, Dick claims that it was actually in part written by the I-Ching. He says he used the book of changes as a creative guide, ceding decision making about many aspects of the narrative to the text of the hexagrams. And third, he may have made that whole thing up in order to create a mind-bending metafiction. Or not.

Now, to break down the central meta-fiction we’re dealing with here:

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative history in which Japan and Germany won World War II. Central to the book is another book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a novel written with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative to THAT alternative history in which Japan and Germany lost World War II.

In a nice twist, the television series coming out on Amazon Prime in November 2015 renders The Grasshopper Lies Heavy as a film instead of a book, neatly transporting the parallel mirror effect to the medium in which the story is told.

If that’s not meta enough, there are points in the plot where the I-Ching features as a doorway between worlds — two characters cast paired hexagrams, in different places at the same time, linked by a single changing line. Another character finds himself eerily transported into a surreal vision of San Francisco which may be the one in which Dick was actually writing the book — or at least one in which Japan had lost WWII — through a piece of jewelry crafted by the character who throws the identical hexagram. The hexagrams that are cast in the book all predict the future or shape the behaviour of characters, and (if he’s to be believed) were actually cast by Dick in order to determine plot movement and character behaviour.

In the final scene of the book, in the presence of the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Juliana Frink asks the oracle itself why it wrote the book.

The hexagram she casts is Inner Truth, Pigs and Fishes — the same hexagram which Tagomi casts after killing the two SD men, but which we only learn about as he is having his heart attack in Chapter 14, and making the crucial decision to spare Frank Frink’s life. My I-Ching App renders the judgment thus:

Inner Truth. Pigs and fishes.
Good fortune.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Perseverance furthers.

In dealing with other people, there are invisible forces which manifest themselves as visible effects. The cats’ paws on a lake are the result of the unseen wind. When one seeks to influence someone, one must seek the invisible forces which stir them. By intuiting them, and by placing your goal in the path of those forces, one establishes a bond which can accomplish great things.

Juliana interprets the hexagram to mean that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy represents the truth — that Japan and Germany lost the war, and she inhabits a fictional construct. She does, in fact, occupy a fictional construct created by Dick — which he constructed by consulting the I-Ching. But the fictional construct of the world in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is not in fact the world in which we and the author live — it’s similar in the outcome of the war, but diverges: FDR’s adviser Rexford Tugwell succeeds him as President, and the Cold War is between the US and an intact British Empire instead of the Soviet Union. But if that alternate history is real, then the upward implication from book within book to reader is that we ourselves live in a fictional construct — one which might betray its fictionality through consulting the I-Ching for a window on the next level up. This is irresistibly delicious stuff, classic Philip K. Dick: think of Dekkart not knowing if he’s a replicant or not in Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or the layers of ambiguity about what’s real in Total Recall/We Can Remember it for you Wholesale. In this case, however, he’s tied his metafiction to a 3,000 year old book that exists in our world and imbued it with a power to glimpse beyond the fourth wall.

Somewhat obsessively, I reread The Man in the High Castle recently and noted each of the hexagrams mentioned in the book. You are welcome. 😉

Chapter 1: Seated on his bed, a cup of lukewarm tea beside him, Frink got down his copy of the I Ching. From their leather tube he took the forty-nine yarrow stalks. He considered, until he had his thoughts properly controlled and his questions worked out.
Aloud he said, ‘How should I approach Wyndam-Matson in order to come to decent terms with him?’

Hexagram 15, Modesty

Chapter 1: A new question, then. Setting himself, he said aloud, ‘Will I ever see Juliana again? [While not mentioned in the text, I suspect that Frank cast a changing line at the top, which means his transformed hexagram was precisely the one Tagomi is throwing at this moment: Hexagram 28, Preponderance of the Great.]
Hexagram 44, Coming to Meet

Chapter 2: Mr Tagomi began. ‘I inquired of the oracle, “Will the meeting between myself and Mr Childan be profitable?” and obtained to my dismay the ominous hexagram The Preponderance of the Great. The ridgepole is sagging. Too much weight in the middle; all unbalanced. Clearly away from the Tao…obtaining Hexagram Ta Kuo, Twenty-eight, I further received the unfavourable line Nine in the fifth place. It reads:
A withered poplar puts forth flowers.
An older woman takes a husband.
No blame. No praise.

Preponderance of the Great (with changing line in the 5th place)

Chapter 2: My question regarding Mr Baynes produced through the occult workings of the Tao the Hexagram Sheng, Forty-six. A good judgement. And lines Six at the beginning and Nine in the second place.’ His question had been, Will I be able to deal with Mr Baynes successfully? And the Nine in the second place had assured him that he would. It read:
If one is sincere,
It furthers one to bring even a small offering.
No blame.”

Pushing Upward, which transforms with changing lines in the first and second place toDarkening of the Light

Chapter 4: Should I attempt to go into the creative private business outlined to me just now?’ And then he began throwing the coins. The bottom line was a seven, and so was the second and then the third. The bottom trigram is Ch’ien, he realized. That sounded good; Ch’ien was the creative. Then line Four, an eight. Yin. And line Five, also eight, a yin line. Good lord, he thought excitedly; one more yin line and I’ve got Hexagram Eleven, T’ai, Peace. Very favourable judgement. Or — his hands trembled as he rattled the coins. A yang line and hence Hexagram Twenty-six, Ta Ch’u, the Taming Power of the Great. Both have favourable judgements, and it has to be one or the other. He threw the three coins.
Yin. A six. It was Peace.
Opening the book, he read the judgement.
PEACE. The small departs,
The great approaches.
Good fortune. Success.
So I ought to do as Ed McCarthy says. Open my little business”

Hexagram 11, Peace moving into Hexagram 26, The Taming Power of the Great

Chapter 5: ““God speaks to man in the sign of the Arousing,”’ Mr Tagomi murmured.
‘The oracle. I’m sorry. Fleece-seeking cortical response.’
Woolgathering, Baynes thought. That’s the idiom he means. To himself he smiled.
‘We are absurd,’ Mr Tagomi said, ‘because we live by a five-thousand-year-old book. We ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. As is the Christian Bible; many books are actually alive. Not in metaphoric fashion. Spirit animates it. Do you see?’ He inspected Mr Baynes’s face for his reaction.”

Hexagram 51: The Arousing

Chapter 6: Mr Tagomi felt guilt. This is not a good day. I should have consulted the oracle, discovered what Moment it is. I have drifted far from the Tao; that is obvious.
Which of the sixty-four hexagrams, he wondered, am I labouring under? Opening his desk drawer he brought out the I Ching and laid the two volumes on the desk. So much to ask the sages. So many questions inside me which I can barely articulate …
When Mr Ramsey entered the office, he had already obtained the hexagram. ‘Look, Mr Ramsey.’ He showed him the book.
The hexagram was Forty-seven. Oppression — Exhaustion.
‘A bad omen, generally,’ Mr Ramsey said. ‘What is your question, sir? If I’m not offending you to ask.’
‘I inquired as to the Moment,’ Mr Tagomi said. ‘The Moment for us all. No moving lines. A static hexagram.’ He shut the book.”

Hexagram 47: Oppression (Exhaustion)

Chapter 6: At three o’clock that afternoon, Frank Frink, still waiting with his business partner for Wyndam-Matson’s decision about the money, decided to consult the oracle. How are things going to turn out? he asked, and threw the coins.
The hexagram was Forty-seven. He obtained one moving line, Nine in the fifth place.
His nose and feet are cut off.
Oppression at the hands of the man with the purple knee bands.
Joy comes softly.
It furthers one to make offerings and libations.
For a long time — at least half an hour — he studied the line and the material connected with it, trying to figure out what it might mean. The hexagram, and especially the moving line, disturbed him. At last he concluded reluctantly that the money would not be forthcoming.
‘You rely on that thing too much,’ Ed McCarthy said.

Hexagram 47: Oppression (Exhaustion) with 9 in the 5th place which transforms to Hexagram 40, Deliverance This, if my theory is correct, would be the second time that that Tagomi and Frink have cast identical hexagrams that differ only in their changing lines. In the case of Frink, however, the transformed hexagram is not only propitious, it’s actually prophetic: two sentences later, a “messenger” arrives with a certified check for $2000.00. The money is delivered, Frank and Ed are delivered from economic ruin.

Chapter 10: At seven o’clock the following morning, P.S.A. reckoning, Mr Nobusuke Tagomi rose from bed, started towards the bathroom, then changed his mind and went directly to the oracle.
Seated cross-legged on the floor of his living room he began manipulating the forty-nine yarrow stalks. He had a deep sense of the urgency of his questioning, and he worked at a feverish pace until at last he had the six lines before him.
Shock! Hexagram Fifty-one!
God appears in the sign of the Arousing. Thunder and lightning. Sounds — he involuntarily put his fingers up to cover his ears. Ha-ha! ho-ho! Great burst that made him wince and blink. Lizard scurries and tiger roars, and out comes God himself!
What does it mean? He peered about his living room. Arrival of — what? He hopped to his feet and stood panting, waiting.

Hexagram 51: The Arousing

Chapter 13: When she had parked she sat with the motor running, shivering, hands in her coat pockets. Christ, she said to herself miserably. Well, I guess that’s the sort of thing that happens. She got out of the car and dragged her suitcase from the trunk; in the back seat she opened it and dug around among the clothes and shoes until she had hold of the two black volumes of the oracle. There, in the back seat of the car, with the motor running, she began tossing three R.M.S. dimes, using the glare of a department store window to see by. What’ll I do? she asked it. Tell me what to do; please.
Hexagram Forty-two, Increase, with moving lines in the second, third, fourth and top places; therefore changing to Hexagram Forty-three, Breakthrough. She scanned the text ravenously, catching up the successive stages of meaning in her mind, gathering it and comprehending; Jesus, it depicted the situation exactly — a miracle once more. All that had happened, there before her eyes, blueprint, schematic:
It furthers one
To undertake something.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Trip, to go and do something important, not stay here. Now the lines. Her lips moved, seeking …
Ten pairs of tortoises cannot oppose him.
Constant perseverance brings good fortune.
The king presents him before God.
Now six in the third. Reading, she became dizzy;
One is enriched through unfortunate events.
No blame, if you are sincere
And walk in the middle,
And report with a seal to the prince.
The prince … it meant Abendsen. The seal, the new copy of his book. Unfortunate events — the oracle knew what had happened to her, the dreadfulness with Joe or whatever he was. She read six in the fourth place:
If you walk in the middle
And report to the prince,
He will follow.

I must go there, she realized, even if Joe comes after me. She devoured the last moving line, nine at the top:
He brings increase to no one.
Indeed, someone even strikes him.
He does not keep his heart constantly steady.
Oh God, she thought; it means the killer, the Gestapo people — it’s telling me that Joe or someone like him, someone else, will get there and kill Abendsen. Quickly, she turned to Hexagram Forty-three. The judgement:
One must resolutely make the matter known
At the court of the king.
It must be announced truthfully. Danger.
It is necessary to notify one’s own city.
It does not further to resort to arms.
It furthers one to undertake something.
So it’s no use to go back to the hotel and make sure about him; it’s hopeless, because there will be others sent out. Again the oracle says, even more emphatically: Get up to Cheyenne and warn Abendsen, however dangerous it is to me. I must bring him the truth.
She shut the volume.
Getting back behind the wheel of the car, she backed out into traffic.


Hexagram 42: Increase[with changing lines in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and top places, transforming into Hexagram 43: Breakthrough

Chapter 14: Could this, Mr Tagomi wondered, be the answer? Mystery of body organism, its own knowledge. Time to quit. Or time partially to quit. A purpose, which I must acquiesce to.
What had the oracle last said? To his query in the office as those two lay dying or dead. Sixty-one. Inner Truth. Pigs and fishes are least intelligent of all; hard to convince. It is I. The book means me. I will never fully understand; that is the nature of such creatures. Or is this Inner Truth now, this that is happening to me?
I will wait. I will see. Which it is.
Perhaps it is both.
That evening, just after the dinner meal, a police officer came to Frank Frink’s cell, unlocked the door, and told him to go pick up his possessions at the desk.

Hexagram 61: Inner Truth

Chapter 15: The oracle,’ Abendsen said, ‘was sound asleep all through the writing of the book. Sound asleep in the corner of the office.’ His eyes showed no merriment; instead, his face seemed longer, more sombre than ever.
‘Tell her,’ Caroline said. ‘She’s right; she’s entitled to know, for what she did on your behalf.’ To Juliana she said, ‘I’ll tell you, then, Mrs Frink. One by one Hawth made the choices. Thousands of them. By means of the lines. Historic period. Subject. Characters. Plot. It took years. Hawth even asked the oracle what sort of success it would be. It told him that it would be a very great success, the first real one of his career. So you were right. You must use the oracle quite a lot yourself, to have known.’
Juliana said, ‘I wonder why the oracle would write a novel. Did you ever think of asking it that? And why one about the Germans and the Japanese losing the war? Why that particular story and no other one? What is there it can’t tell us directly, like it always has before? This must be different, don’t you think?’
Neither Hawthorne nor Caroline said anything.
‘It and I’ Hawthorne said at last, ‘long ago arrived at an agreement regarding royalties. If I ask it why it wrote Grasshopper, I’ll wind up turning my share over to it. The question implies I did nothing but the typing, and that’s neither true nor decent.’
‘I’ll ask it,’ Caroline said. ‘If you won’t.”

Hexagram 61: Inner Truth

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