Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

Philip K. Dick
Completed 12/31/2017, reviewed 12/31/2017
4 stars

This book is considered the third book in the VALIS trilogy.  In actuality, the third book was supposed to be The Owl in Daylight, but Dick died before he had outlined the story.  According to online sources, though, he did once consider Transmigration to be part of the trilogy.  While it doesn’t deal directly with his psychic/psychotic event, it does deal with God, theology, and Gnosticism, topics which appeared in the previous two novels.  This book is the most mainstream novel Dick ever wrote.  It has no science fiction element, but does have some speculative aspects.  It’s literary and intellectual, but mostly accessible to the average reader.  It’s also the first time Dick has a woman as the main character of a novel.  I really enjoyed it, even though the content is fairly tragic.

The plot is a little more straightforward than in the last two books.  Angel Archer goes to a self-help guru on the day that John Lennon is shot and reflects on the previous decade or so and her relationship to her husband, Jeff, his father and Episcopal bishop of California, Timothy, and Timothy’s lover Kirsten Lundborg.  Timothy Archer is based on Bishop James Pike, a friend of Dick’s who died in the Dead Sea Desert.  He’s the central figure in her relationships as he draws everyone into his own personal existential crisis.  He becomes privy to new scrolls found in the Dead Sea caves which indicate that Jesus’ sayings may be two hundred years older than Jesus himself.  They are part of a Gnostic tradition that points to some sort of Messianic event pre-dating Christ.

I did a little reading of Bishop Pike’s life and found that Dick didn’t just loosely base the book the Pike, he basically created a docudrama of the bishop’s life.  If you read about Pike, you’ll have the plot of Transmigration.  What makes it interesting is that it is told from Angel Archer’s point of view.  Dick shares his own personal theology through her and her interactions with the other characters.  That’s what makes the book fairly intellectual.  Yet the headiness doesn’t distract from the story.  Sometimes Angel’s thoughts get pretty rambling, but they’re still interesting.

Dick also continues his exploration of mental illness.  Kirsten’s son, Bill, is schizophrenic.  He’s not a central character, but does come into play more fully towards the end and has to do with the transmigration of Timothy Archer’s soul.  The best thing about the character is that he’s quite real, and shown in quite a compassionate light.  We see him when he’s normal and when he’s in the throes of his illness.  We know that Dick was quite possibly schizophrenic himself, and I have to hand it to him for keeping his depictions of it based in reality and not in fear. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  It kept me quite engrossed for two whole days.  I would have liked a little more elaboration of the Gnostic scroll findings but what we get is pretty good.  As I mentioned earlier, the book is quite tragic, but so was Pike’s life.  And through Pike/Archer’s tragedies, we get a pretty clear peek into Dick’s theology.  

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