Week 10 – Alt History/Sci-Fi

What role did the I Ching play in the novel’s composition and philosophical underpinning?

Alternative history refers to the science fictional genre which dramatize one or more historical events (Alternate history, n.d.). This genre is occurred by considering what if something happened instead of historical fact. For example, Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, The Man in the High Castle was written based on what if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won at the parallel universes of World War II (Mountfort, 2018). Therefore, with regard to the composition of The Man in the High Castle, the author used lots of historical elements to entertain audiences as if they were exploring the places in actual history through time-machine by written down historical and folksy elements in the novel.

Among those historical elements, especially I Ching is the vital part of The Man in the High Castle plot – in other words, without I Ching, the story could not be proceeded. I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes includes Chinese divination text uses hexagrams which is similar to the tarot card reading (Mountfort, 2016). According to Smith (2008), in the hexagrams, broken lines were referring the numbers 6 (六) and 8 (八), and solid lines were referring values of 7 (七) and 9 (九). Besides, I Ching, by Emperor Wu’s judgement, was placed among the Five Classics include “Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, yin-yang cosmology, and Wu Xing physical theory” (Smith, 2008, p.32). This attractive divination text captivates Dick and considered by him as the most significant and 5,000 years of representative oriental oracle as well as a number of characters’ acts are controlled by I Ching in his novel (Fitzgerald, 2016). In terms of the various aspects of narrative, characters, settings, and time period, The Man in the High Castle rely on “the texts of the hexagrams, randomly generated by the counting of yarrow stalks or the casting of coins” (Fitzgerald, 2016). Moreover, Mountfort (2016) argues that as an American author, it would be experimental for Dick to set a plot with I Ching. However, he was the first author who centrally, sophisticatedly, and self-reflectively applies oracle-text into novel (Mountfort, 2016). Thus, it is obvious that I Ching played important and dominant role in the novel’s composition.

I Ching has successfully played its role not only in the composition matter but also has successfully become the basis of philosophical background of this novel. For example, Mountfort (2016) describes how hexagram and its philosophy such as Daoism applied in the text and character:

“Tagomi’s result, hexagram 61 Chung Fu / Inner Truth, in turn also anticipates the I Ching’s answer to Juliana’s question about the meaning of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-a-novel that is paired metafictionally with The Man in the High Castle” (Mountfort, 2016).

As can be seen, the philosophy of I Ching becomes the clue to find the “meaning” of abstract and figurative novel. Moreover, since I Ching is the method of divination which is relevant to fatalism, and fatalism, in terms of alternative history genre, the supposition of US being ruled and suppressed by Nazi and Imperial Japan could be the real historical events if the fate favoured them, not US. Therefore, in fatalistic perspective, The Man in the High Castle could be more attractive and entertaining than those who are not because as I mentioned, this novel considers I Ching as the key philosophical method to handle the situations and overturn the fate.


Alternate history. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved October 11 2019 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/alternate+history

Fitzgerald, B. (2016, September 28). Something missing from Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle: the Author, the I-Ching. Retrieved October 12, 2019, from https://medium.com/@brianfit/meta-fiction-a-living-book-and-philip-k-dick-s-man-in-the-high-castle-eac578bdcb09

Mountfort, P. (2016). The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Science Fiction Studies, 43(2), pp.287-309. doi:10.5621/sciefictstud.43.2.0287

Mountfort, P. (2018). Science fiction doubles: Technologization of the doppelganger and sinister science in serial science fiction TV. Journal of Science & Popular Culture, 1(1), pp.59-75. doi:10.1386/jspc.1.1.59_1.

Smith, R. J. (2008). Fathoming the cosmos and ordering the world: the Yijing (I Ching, or Classic of Changes) and its evolution in China. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0-8139-2705-6.

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