Thoughts on The Man in the High Castle

I finished The Man in the High Castle in January. I discovered the show in November or December of 2017 and binged the first two seasons over the course of a single weekend, if I remember correctly. The show was just so beautiful, with the scenery of the reimagined U.S. under Japanese and German control. I loved the fashion. It was all just so beautiful, even while the world created depicted what would have been the world could have been like if ruled by fascism.

There is not a whole lot to spoil in the book. This is the kind of book that left me with more questions than answers, so I didn’t see any point to omitting anything. If you have been keeping up with the show, there is not anything I discuss that would spoil anything in the show.

I actually hoped I would find a hint of how the show would end by reading this book, but I was sorely mistaken. The show takes and adapts a lot from this book, but it is not a beat-for-beat adaptation. It’s actually a really wonderful adaptation that, I think, would be a really satisfying companion to the book for old fans. It takes philosophical ideas from the book further and develops a more compelling storyline.

• ⟡ • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick  • ⟡ •

I was left a little disappointed by the book overall, but that is mainly because the main draws of the show, in my opinion, are absent from the book.

Julianna Crane, the star of the show, is a mere shadow of herself in the book. The mystery that drives the show, the mystery of the films and where they come from are not in the book at all! There is no growing resistance in the book for which we can root, as there is in the show. Instead of a twisting plot, the book is heavy in philosophical quandaries and big ideas.

Instead of the films, the emergence of a banned book threatens the Nazi powers that be. We see from the perspectives of several different characters how this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, has affected the status quo. What has made this book so controversial? Well, it describes an alternative history in which the Allies and not the Axis powers won WWII. It shows what the world could be like, which would be a preferable reality to Americans and others under Nazi dominion.

The book goes into much greater detail than the show about what happened in other parts of the world, like South America and Africa. It also goes into greater detail of the warring Nazi factions. Cut out of the show was the space colonization project of the Nazi, which is slightly comical. It’s one of the many details that reminds you that this book was written before the first human walked on the moon in 1969.

What stuck out most to me is that the alternative history presented in the fictional book was not ours, but one in which the U.S. and Great Britain become the major world powers.

The alternatives presented in this book, one by the controversial book and one by the extremely unpleasant Joe Cinnadella, made me wonder which the author Philip K. Dick might have actually have been predicting would be the way our world could actually end up. While the U.S. did become a major world power post-WWII, the relative peace and freedom which Americans enjoy today was not a reality in the 1950s or 60s. It took a lot of work to get where we are today, and there’s still a lot to be done.

Did Dick think the U.S. was heading towards its own demise when he wrote the book? I ask this question because I also wonder in what ways the U.S. might still be hurdling towards this destruction today. We have a lot of social safe-guards at the moment, protecting our most vulnerable people and keeping us all safe as result. But the Republican party at large seems intent on taking these things away. Are we becoming a plutocracy? Will that mean the end of our world as we know it?

…Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive…

I think this idea of alternative universes must have been on many people’s minds during the Cold War, not least because I’ve encountered children’s literature that ponders the same the questions. I’m not really sure what to make of it, as I didn’t have time to look into it. If I had to guess, I assume it has something to do with the fear in the back of many people’s minds that the world could end at any moment. Maybe thinking that there were other worlds out there provided some peace of mind?

We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.

I actually finished this book as the third season of The Good Place was wrapping up, so it was oddly gratifying to see the familiar theme emerge that highlights how difficult it is to tell right from wrong in modern society. The choices you make and the kind of life you choose to live all depend on where you live, the power and economic structures in place, and the laws of the land. It is easy to look at different people and cultures and say that they have it all wrong. But it’s important to remember how many constraints we all live under.

He told us about our own world, she thought as she unlocked the door to her motel room. This, what’s around us now. In the room, she again switched on the radio. He wants us to see it for what it is. And I do, and more so each moment.

I am sure many things went over my head in this book. I admit I am not sure I was able to follow Julianna’s logic when it came to understanding why Abendsen wrote the book or what its purpose was. I’m not sure if I was supposed to or really needed to. The book was successful for me in that it was thought-provoking. It’s one I could see myself reading periodically throughout my life and picking up new meaning each time.

☙ ❧ End Note ❧ ☙

If you’re wondering if this is a worth-while read, I recommend picking it up if you are intrigued by any of the thoughts I shared above. It’s the kind of book you want to read and have a conversation about, so a book club or group reading might be the best situations in which to experience this book and its ideas.

It took me a little while to finish this post, so I have since read The Vanishing Stair, the sequel to one of my favorite reads last year, Truly Devious! You can expect a review of that one very soon.

Thank you for reading!
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