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

The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history novel written by Philip K Dick and published in 1962. The story is concerned with a possible reality in which Germany and Japan are victors in the Second World War and America has become a divide state between the two powers. The story is a landmark work of alternate history fiction and possibly Philip K Dicks most popular work. Interestingly though, the book was written as much by Dick as It was by an ancient Chinese divination text, called the I-Ching. The I-Ching played a crucial role in the stories composition. It dictated the outcome of the characters decisions and even wrote the end of the novel. Furthermore, the I-ching provided a philosophical basis for the work, where the concepts of time and relativity gives the work greater meaning and wider purpose. 

The I-Ching was designed during the Zhou dynasty and gained more popular use by the intellectual elite during the Sung period.The I-Chings purpose is to determine the correct path to take that would follow the Tao. (The Chinese philosophy of Taoism) By the use of coins or traditionally yarrow sticks and the three texts which help translate the 64 hexagrams of the I-ching. With this the user can help determine the correct path or choice to take. (Legge 1963) The Chines Sung dynasty was a time of innovation in science and technology. During which the I-ching was used by the new intellectual elite to help understand the moral place that man existed in and to provide greater clarity between the worlds or heaven and Earth (Smith, Bol, Adler & Wyatt 2014) The first translation to the west was by Richard Wilhelm in 1923, into German and then by Gray Baynes in 1949 into English. Warrick (1980) makes note that, the I-ching is not primarily concerned with telling the future. But to determine the correct path to obtain harmony between men and nature. By the time that Philip K Dick (PKD) came to use the divination text, its widespread use in western culture had made it a popular tool. However, Dick’s use would be far more in-depth and play a crucial role, especially with the conception of the events in The Man in the High Castle (TMITHC)

Mountforts (2016) makes a list of the twelve uses of the I-ching by the main characters in the story and suggest this as evidence of the I-ching playing a much more crucial role than a simple narrative device. The I-Ching weaves the events of the story together in a way which reflects Dicks philosophical concepts of time and relativity. The concept of time that PKD promoted in TMITHC is that of philosopher, Carl Jung, who designed a concept he called synchronicity. The idea of synchronicity is involved with two key concepts, that of meaningful coincidence and un-caused events. Synchronicity is philosophy that challenges the idea that the relationship between events is deeper than simple cause and effect. Carl Jung proposed that events were connected by an emotional level within oneself and at an external level. The concept of meaningful coincidence is that an occurrence that seems to be a coincidence is in fact an event pre-determined by internal and external forces. This directly changes the commonly held belief of causality, where one event follows another (Main 2004) How this then relates to, TMITHC, is how the story is an almost perfect description of this philosophical theory. Interesting enough, Coward (1996) suggests that the I-ching and Taoism play a crucial role in the development of this theory. It was a summer in 1920, in which Jung experiment with the I-ching and came to the conclusion that the coincidences between the outer and inner realms was more than mere chance. Though many people still debate the size of the impact Taoism has on Carl Jung,I think it is interesting to note in terms of this blog, as it feeds into the idea of the philosophical underpinnings of TMITHC. Where you have both Philip K Dick and Carl Jung being influenced by the I-Ching and Taoism, in much the same way as the characters in The Man in the High Castle. There’s a symmetry I feel PKD would appreciate. 

There is a novel in being written within the story called The grasshopper lies heavy, similar to the Man in the High Castle, it is a work of alternate history, however this shows our world, where the Axis powers were defeated by the Allies. It mirrors the creation of TMITHC itself, as this novel was also conceived by the I-Ching. The implication of this being that suddenly we are confronted with an idea of the many universe theory. Where our reality is just one of many. With this concept, the I-ching becomes a sort of guide from which these realities can be imagined and therefore, if they can be imagined, perhaps they exist (Mountfort 2016 )This also adds to the Tao, the philosophy under which TMITHC is written, since Taoism is often related to beliefs in the idea of symmetry between words (Kirkland 2004) Therefore, we can see how the I-Ching gives the novel its structure and also plays a crucial role in displaying the finer points which perhaps PKD was making with the novel. Specifically in displaying his personal philosophical beliefs. 

As a brief extension to the question we are hopefully answering, there is a confrontation of ideals in the novel that I believe is of interest and relevance to the question. Specifically to do with the philosophical concept of the novel and that of eastern philosophy, Taoism, coming into contact with Facism and the resulting collision of these two concepts (Warrick 1980) In one way PKD confronts Taosim by suggesting the existence of evil, which is refuted in Taoism, as evil is simply an opposite to good and evil. Light and darkness. This evil is the atomic bomb, which in TMITHC was created by the Germans and they are willing to use it on Japan and America if need be. Evil now has a name and such a degree of destructive ability that the concept of evil has become more real (Warrick 1980)

I want to conclude with my own thoughts in regards to this final point. Warrick’s point of view about TMITHC and the changing face of evil is interesting but I believe (this simply from my readings of Taoism) is that perhaps that this is Philip K, Dicks new understand of that religion. Again according to my own readings, there is no one definition of Taoism and the Tao is a way of life that promotes a certain way of thinking and perceiving the universe. My own understanding is at the very basic level, so my opinion should only be taken lightly but, if in a sense this philosophical concept can be defined by oneself, then maybe PKD was defining Taoism in his own way? 


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 

Kidder Jr, S.  Bol K, P. Adler A, J. Wyatt J, D (2014) Sung Dynasty Uses of the I Ching: New Jersey, America, Princeton University Press

Legge, J (1963) The I Ching: Sacred Books of China: The Book of Changes Volume 16 of Sacred books of the East

Main, R (2004) The rupture of time: Synchronicity and Jung’s critique of modern western culture. East Sussex. England: Brunner Routledge

Warrick, P (1980) The Encounter of Taoism and Fascism in Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” (The meeting of Taoism and Fascism in “The High Castle Master” by Philip K. Dick)

Kirkland, R (2004) Taoism: The enduring tradition. Georgia, America: Psychology Press

Harold Coward, H (1996) Taoism and Jung: Synchronicity and the Self: Philosophy East and West, published by, University of Hawai’i Press. Vol. 46, No. 4  

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