animatorbeneath words: homedesigner


by Philip K. Dick

Valis is the first of Dick's final three novels (two others being The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), all drawing inspiration from a mystical experience Dick had in March of 1974. Dick described his encounter as "an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind." Valis invites the reader not only to explore and understand this experience, but to share it.

Horselover Fat, the ostensible protagonist of the novel, leads us into the labyrinth. Distraught from his inability to prevent the suicide of his friend Gloria, Fat teeters on the brink of madness and oblivion. It is at this lowest of lows that Fat has an epiphany. He is struck by a pink laser and his mind is shot full of information from an unknown source. The information is both metaphysical and practical. He is given specific medical knowledge relating to his son's health. With Fat's help, doctors are able to identify and eliminate an otherwise fatal problem in his son. The bulk of the information is much less straightforward. Fat is granted special insight into the structure and possible meaning of the universe. His vision, though, is always partial. Fat believes the information to be divine in origin. God is alive in the information; God, in fact, exists as sentient self-directed information. Drawing on linguistic, historical, and literary clues embedded in the information, Fat becomes convinced that the fate of his world in the late twentieth century is somehow inextricably bound to the hidden knowledge of the Gnostics, a long dead and persecuted sect of Christianity. They were imbued not simply with divine knowledge but with God itself as knowledge. Somehow, this knowledge was lost, until Fat's epiphany. In order to try and make sense of the unconnected dots in his mind, Fat writes an exegesis entitled Cryptica Scriptura, the entire text of which is included as an appendix in the book. Through his text, Fat  begins to challenge the very foundational assumptions upon which we build our understanding of the universe and our place in it. The phenomenal world, in other words, is not what it appears to be. There are worlds of knowledge hidden and separate, influencing our world. His knowledge imcomplete, Fat sets out to find its source, in essence, to find God.

Fat's quest is derided by his friends as a fool's errand, the product of an unhealthy and undersexed mind. Dick himself appears in the novel as Fat's closest friend. Even he counsels Fat to look for a more measured response to his mounting mental crisis. Then Kevin, another of Fat's friends, is exposed to a science fiction film entitled Valis. The text and symbolic subtext of the film describe the same principles and theories Fat has been espousing. Fat's experience, put simply, must have been shared by others. Fat's friends help him to locate and communicate with the people behind the film. 

The novel folds in upon itself when Fat is brought face to face with Valis, a sentient entity of pure information, housed in the body of a young girl. A second epiphany occurs, this time on the part of the reader. We learn that Fat himself is schizophrenic manifestation of Dick's own mind. Fat simply ceases to be and Dick is left to grapple with Fat's special form of knowledge. Dick, the author,  enables the reader to see that while Fat himself may be a fictional projection, the information and questions raised by Fat remain. In the end, the untimely death of the young girl housing Valis, prompts Fat to return to Dick. Our drive for metaphysical understanding and knowledge can drive us to destroy it and shatter our very notion of the self.

Valis is the product of a beautiful and complex mind. The book itself shoots information at the read like the pink laser. It asks fundamental questions about the nature of madness, death, and religion. And it forces us to entertain the possibility that even the most foundational assumptions we have about life and meaning are simply the products of a grander form of collective delusion. This book is an inspired treasure. Its mysteries and insights will grow deeper with each reading. 

sconway@subverbis.com   Stephen Conway   1313 Old Town North Dr. Indianapolis, IN 46260   317-843-9744