What role did the I Ching play in the novel’s composition and philosophical underpinnings?
Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history novel where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II and occupied their respective areas of the USA. In fact, according to Mountfort (2018), The Man in the High Castle is a formative example of parallel universes as a science-fiction device (pg 62). Dick’s novel was heavily inspired by the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text, in relation to important elements in his novels such as the novel’s composition and philosophical underpinnings.
The I Ching played a huge role in both the lives of the characters in the novel and with Philip K. Dick in the process of actually writing The Man in the High Castle. Essentially, both the author and his characters had consulted with the I Ching and asked the oracle several questions which ultimately has affected the storyline and the narrative. For example, Philip K. Dick consulted the oracle for inspiration and ideas for his novel; he asked about turning points in the novel and also asked questions about what should happen next to his characters and how those characters react to it and so on. So, the I Ching was used by Dick to help develop his story, however, he took it a step further and also incorporated the I Ching into his novel. So now, Dick’s characters also use this divination text in the novel for their own purposes. As mentioned previously, the I Ching is a divination text, and by going through its processes can predict the future or give the user an idea of what to do next. The oracle is seen as an important aspect of the novel as it allows the readers to understand the characters more – because when those characters consult the oracle they can learn more about what is bothering or worrying them. Therefore, the I Ching is important in the sense that it “… introduces an element of chance…” in the novel and “…suggests that alternative possibilities always exist.” (Mountfort, n.d, pg 288). So, it is evident that the pure anatomy and makeup of The Man in the High Castle rely on the I Ching.
The I Ching also played a huge role in The Man in the High Castle’s philosophical underpinnings. The story itself gives readers an alternate reality as to who won the second World War (Nazi Germany and Japan) and everything else which occurred as a result of their victory. In relation to his, Saavedra (2015) asked in his article “What is reality? Is there a real reality and a false reality? Can there truly be two realities? Those are the types of questions that PKD sought to answer during his long trips into the darkest caverns of the mind and society.” Philip K. Dick did answer those questions in his novel, for example, while in our reality it was the US and Russia who were locked in the Cold War in the twentieth century, but in Dick’s novel, it was Germany and Japan who were in a silent nuclear arms race. In fact, Germany was perceived as being more technologically advanced in the novel than the actual winning side of the War in our reality. Not to mention the I Ching is woven into all of these circumstances created as a result of the Second World War. There are characters from different sides and affiliations in the novel who consult the I Ching’s philosophy. So, through an alternate reality of the plot, The Man in the High Castle is also exploring different philosophical views.
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), 59-75. Doi: 10.1386/jspc.1.1.59_1.
Mountfort, P. (n.d). The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Science Fiction Studies, 43, 287-309.
Saavedra, J. (2015, November 19). Why The Man in the High Castle is Essential Science Fiction. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from