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

10 thoughts on “Meta Fiction, Story, and Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle”

    1. I am a fan of the book and it was hard for me to watch the TV series, due to the lack of the ICh­ing in it. It is a very over­looked plot device, if not the whole mean­ing of the thing. After it did not show up with the same pres­ence in the book and then Grasshop­per became film instead of books…I do not know. Given the time peri­od, it would be eas­ier to copy sub­ver­sive fic­tion then a movie reel. I guess I just did not get what the mak­ers were try­ing to do.

      1. It also would have made a nice Peter Green­way type graph­ic design for the TV series, to inter­lace the I Ching graph­ics into the TV series. It could have been very cre­ative. I guess no one wants to be cre­ative any­more.

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