The Man in the High Castle

 

 

 

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Ecclesiastes 12:5

 

The late Philip K. Dick, paranoid, left-leaning, mentally ill and drug abuser, was nevertheless a science fiction writer of pure genius.  His book The Man in the High Castle (1962) introduced me as a boy to the genre of alternate history, with his unforgettable evocation of a United States divided by the victorious Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  One of the main plot devices in the book is a novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which posits an alternate reality in which the Allies won World War II.  Like most of Dick’s work, the book suggests that the dividing line between alternate realities can be very thin.

 

“The Nazis have no sense of humor, so why should they want television? Anyhow, they killed most of the really great comedians. Because most of them were Jewish. In fact, she realized, they killed off most of the entertainment field. I wonder how Hope gets away with what he says. Of course, he has to broadcast from Canada. And it’s a little freer up there. But Hope really says things. Like the joke about Goring . . . the one where Goring buys Rome and has it shipped to his mountain retreat and then set up again. And revives Christianity so his pet lions will have something to—”

 

Dick’s novel brings out the contingency of history, a factor overlooked by many people.  History is what has occurred.  While we are living it, making our contribution to what will be the history of our times, we understand that what will be is the result of many factors and predicting the future is a fool’s game.  The past seems rock solid by comparison.  Understanding however the events and circumstances that shaped the past, and also comprehending that different paths could easily have been followed, gives us a different view of the past and the present.    It is one thing to go through life with the philosophy that “what will be, will be” and quite another to appreciate that the future depends upon what we and our contemporaries do now.

 

 

 

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Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Man in the High Castle  
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