Philip K. Dick's VALIS Analyzes Religious Destiny
Explore the mind of Phillip K. Dick with an evaluation of religious destiny in his book VALIS.
If you really think about it, the story of Jesus is a work of science fiction. He's a man with superpowers that include turning water to wine, healing others, and coming back from the dead. All jokes aside, religion and science fiction truly go hand in hand although people often try to separate the two. Some of the religious themes that permeate sci-fi stories include the idea of the afterlife, reincarnation, original sin, fictional religions, Messianism, and many other themes that can be found in the works of Philip K. Dick. As a science fiction writer, Dick wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,A Scanner Darkly, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, VALIS, and many others. Some of the films that have been adapted from these stories include Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor. Throughout his lifetime, he won several awards including three Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, one British Science Fiction Association Award, and many others. There is even a Philip K. Dick Award that was established in 1983 which honors the previous year's best science fiction paperback original published in the US. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series. The writer died in 1982 after suffering two strokes at the age of 53, but his legacy lives on today in his stories such as VALIS.
Before writing the book of the same name, Dick imagined the philosophy behind VALIS after having a religious, paranormal experience. After taking medication because of wisdom teeth surgery, a girl making a home delivery visited him and he was taken aback by her beauty and her golden necklace. Calling it a “vesicle pisces” since it was shaped like a fish, Dick saw a pink beam flash off the jewelry and mesmerize him. He claimed it told him his infant son was sick although he didn’t show any signs of illness. After taking his son to the hospital and demanding tests be run on him just in case, the doctors found that the infant had an inguinal hernia which would have killed him if an operation hadn’t been quickly performed. Over the next few months, Dick experienced hallucinations which he referred to as "2-3-74" during which he experienced geometric shapes and patterns as well as brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome. He also claimed to live two lives, each in a parallel universe: in the first he was Philip K. Dick but in the second he was Thomas, a Christian persecuted by Romans in the first century CE. He began referring to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and "VALIS" (Vast Active Living Intelligence System), thus originating the story behind the book.
Science fiction author Charles Platt once said of Dick, "All of his work starts with the basic assumption that there cannot be one, single, objective reality. Everything is a matter of perception. The ground is liable to shift under your feet. A protagonist may find himself living out another person's dream, or he may enter a drug-induced state that actually makes better sense than the real world, or he may cross into a different universe completely." VALIS starts the same way, with a man who believes his visions expose the hidden facts about the reality of life on Earth. After convincing others to join his quest, they come up with the theory that there is some kind of alien space probe in orbit around the Earth that is aiding them in their quest, just like Dick who believed VALIS had helped him with his infant son. The team finds a film called "Valis" which holds an account of an alternate universe as well as references to revelations the main character Horselover Fat has experienced. The ultimately comes across a 2-year-old girl named Sophia who is the reincarnation of the Messiah.
VALIS is the first book in a planned trilogy by Dick although the final book was not completed before he died. Released in 1981, the sequel to VALIS is titled The Divine Invasion and does not feature any of the characters in the first book. The same religious themes that run through VALIS can be found in this book. Although the finale book of the trilogy, The Owl in Daylight, had not been finished by the time of Dick’s death, the Philip K. Dick estate approached other writers about the possibility of someone completing the novel based on his notes. However this proved to be impossible because he had never formally outlined the story. His former wife Tessa Dick ended up writing her own version of it which was published in January of 2009. She said, "I attempted to express the spirit of Phil's proposed novel, without using his plot or the one character that he had created. Phil had written very little about this novel. It was very sketchy and did not even name any characters. The Owl in Daylight is my concept of what Phil's novel should be." However, the Philip K. Dick Estate asked Tessa Dick to remove her novel from publication, making copies rare and hard to come by.
There have been many books written about Dick during the time that he wrote VALIS, but one of the most extensive examinations comes from The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. It is a collection of his personal journal entries which explore his religious and paranormal experiences as well as what was going through his mind at the time. Published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the book explains that Dick was inspired by his visions and personal faith for VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, one brief passage in A Scanner Darkly, and the uncompleted The Owl in Daylight, as well as many essays and personal letters. Ultimately, it was revealed that Dick acknowledged that VALIS might have also been inspired by visual and auditory hallucinations from either schizophrenia or drug addiction sequelae. It has been highly speculated that Dick was affected by some sort of mental illness whether it was depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, or schizophrenia which would make him hear and see things—such as the pink beam off the girl’s necklace—that were not there.
Dick has influenced many writers, including Jonathan Lethem and Ursula K. Le Guin. The prominent literary critic Fredric Jameson proclaimed Dick the "Shakespeare of Science Fiction" and praised his work as "one of the most powerful expressions of the society of spectacle and pseudo-event.” Fans of Dick even invented a remote controlled android of him—the kind that Dick often wrote about—and had him sit in on a discussion panel in a 2006 San Diego Comic Con presentation about the film adaptation of the novel, A Scanner Darkly. However, Dick will continue to live on in his stories as well as new adaptations such as Fox’s tv show sequel for Minority Report. As long as people continue to be captivated by this author’s incredible work, Philip K. Dick will influence writers, filmmakers, artists, and musicians for centuries to come.
What is VALIS? This question is at the heart of Philip K. Dick’s ground-breaking novel, and the first book in his defining trilogy. When a beam of pink light begins giving a schizophrenic man named Horselover Fat (who just might also be known as Philip K. Dick) visions of an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire still reigns, he must decide whether he is crazy, or whether a godlike entity is showing him the true nature of the world.