Barney Mayerson is a precognetic consultant at P. P. Layouts, a company that produces miniature accessories for a fictitious couple, “Perky Pat” Christiensen and Walt Essex. He is having a bad day. As the climate on Earth has worsened, the U.N. has started drafting people to become colonists, and Barney has received his draft notice. He is using a computerized psychiatrist to help him beat the draft by becoming mentally unstable. Helping this along is the fact that he is sleeping with Roni Fugate, his ambitious, insubordinate and equally precognetic new assistant.
He had divorced his wife Emily in order to advance his career, and now faces an awkward situation. Richard Hnatt, her current husband, is bringing him samples of Emily’s pottery, hoping to have them miniaturized and marketed as Perky Pat accessories. Barney turns him down, over Roni’s expressed objections.
Leo Bulero, the head of P. P. Layouts, is also having a bad day. Despite massive payoffs, the U.N. has seized one of the company’s shipments of Can-D, the illicit drug that allows people to experience their Perky Pat layouts as reality. Not coincidentally, Palmer Eldritch has crash landed on Pluto after a 10 year flight to deep space, and is rumored to have brought back a sample of an alien lichen that is similar to Can-D. Leo calls U.N. Secretary General Hepburn-Gilbert, requesting that he investigate Eldritch, and the Secretary replies that his chief drug enforcer, Ned Lark, is already doing so.
Deducing that the U.N. is siding with Eldritch, Leo uses Roni’s precognetic ability to trace him to Veteran’s hospital on Ganymede, where he is convalescing under a pseudonym. Roni also foresees that Leo will be arraigned for Eldrich’s murder, and threatens to go to the U.N. with that knowledge.
Returning home from his rejection at P. P. Layouts, Richard Hnatt meets and signs a contract with Mr. Icholtz, a consultant from the newly formed competing firm, Chew-Z Manufacturers of Boston. Richard plans to use the money to pay for evolution treatments for he and Emily, which will shield them from the climatic changes and increase their intellect.
Six colonists on Mars, Sam Regan, Tod Morris, Norman Schein and their wives, have an experience with Can-D. The drug allows them to enter the materialistic culture of Earth for short periods of time, although there is some disagreement about whether they are actually on Earth or are just having a hypnogogic or hallucinatory experience. Sam is having an affair with Fran Schein during their Can-D translations, which is interrupted when the other four take the drug, since everyone present occupies the same persona.
Leo Bulero goes to assassinate Eldritch, but is turned away from his hospital room by Frank Santina, the head of the U.N. legal division, and Zoe Eldritch. So he calls Felix Blau, the chief of a private police organization, and requests help getting to Eldritch. Felix informs him that Chew-Z Manufacturing is setting up a rival drug distribution operation and hiring artists to create layouts.
Leo calls Barney Mayerson and asks him to predict the time and place where he will attack Eldritch. Barney demands a raise and promotion in exchange for the information, that Leo should acquire false identification for a press conference on Luna. Then Leo backs out of the deal, leaving Barney and Roni to contemplate leaving for Chew-Z Manufacturing, or to set up an independent organization.
Richard Hnatt and Emily go to Dr. Willy Denkmal’s evolution therapy clinic to gain improved anti-weather traits and increased brain function. With his heightened intellect, Richard deduces that the U.N. approved Chew-Z, giving the alien Proxers a foothold for operations in the Sol system in order to ruin Leo Bulero, which seems like a very bad exchange. Emily, on the other hand, appears to have regressed.
Leo Bulero goes to the press conference, where he is captured and drugged with Chew-Z. Palmer Eldritch, speaking through an electronic device, tells him that the Proxers will invade Earth, but not in the usual manner, and that he obtained the Chew-Z lichen without the Proxers’ knowledge. Then reality dissolves, and Leo finds himself talking to a girl in a fantastic landscape. Using a computer that the girl claims is not connected to the outside world, Leo sends a message to Barney Mayerson, asking him to call Felix Blau.
Presumably back in the real world, Felix tells Barney that Leo has been spirited away to a satellite owned by a subsidiary of Chew-Z Manufacturing. Barney calls Zoe Eldritch and confronts her with this information, but she says that Leo is on Luna, resting comfortably in their infirmary. Barney is about to go to Luna to rescue Leo when he has premonition of his own death and decides against the journey.
Palmer Eldritch tells Leo that Chew-Z delivers eternal life, since time does not pass in the real world while you are under the influence. In addition, you can control every aspect of your experience. Eldritch used the fact that you can assume other forms in an eternal cycle of reincarnation to appeal to the Buddhists that control the U.N. Despite these differences, they plan to market Chew-Z as a replacement for Can-D. Eldritch lets it slip that everyone goes to their own alternate reality, so the experience is solitary and solipsistic. The fact that Palmer Eldritch is occupying Leo’s reality makes Leo suspect that he isn’t under Chew-Z at all.
Leo escapes on a staircase back to P.P. Layouts, but it turns out to be just another part of the alternate world. Eldritch soon reappears, and demands the use of P. P. Layouts’ ad satellites, transports, and plantations on Venus. Leo responds by killing the manifestation of Eldritch.
Since time is distorted under Chew-Z, Leo has no idea when he will return to reality. He wanders for a while, until he runs into a group of people from the future. They recognize him as the savior of the human race from the Proxers, the aliens who used Eldritch and were behind the global warming, and they show Leo a monument to his achievement. They also tell him that this is not a hallucination or an alternative reality, claiming that Chew-Z can make you a non-corporeal entity at a point in the future.
When Leo finally wakes up back on Luna, presumably done with his Chew-Z experience, Eldritch tells him that the monument exists in 45 percent of the possible futures and that he was merciful in not trying to kill Leo to avert that possibility. If Leo does not accede to his demands, however, he may change his mind.
Leo returns to Earth and promptly fires Barney for not coming to his aid. Barney tries to reunite with his wife, then tries to get a job with Chew-Z Manufacturing. When both of those fail, he briefly contemplates suicide, and then decides to volunteer for the draft. After making that decision, Icholtz calls him with a job offer from Chew-Z Manufacturing, but Barney finds that he can’t accept, knowing what Eldritch did to Leo Bulero.
After passing his physical and mental exams and getting his assignment to Fineburg Crescent on Mars, Leo comes to him with a plan. He asks Barney to go to Mars and take Chew-Z, and then file a complaint with the U.N. about the side effects. Barney considers it, knowing full well that Palmer Eldritch may try to kill him if he agrees.
En route to Mars, Barney meets Anne Hawthorne, an attractive Christian missionary. She claims that Can-D has brought many people into established churches, though her goal is to convert the colonists away from Can-D to more traditional Christian practices. She considers the translation experience of Can-D as inferior to the spiritual and eternal transformation of wine and wafers to the blood and body of Christ. He wonders where she found her convictions, since only the colonies would be so desperate for the hope that religion provides. He also compares his emigration to Mars to being born again.
Barney moves in with Sam Regan, Tod Morris and Norman Schein. After the group votes to switch to Chew-Z, he rebuffs their Can-D dealer for them. He declines to participate in the group’s last Perky Pat ritual. While the rest of group is in a Can-D stupor, Anne comes to visit. She is distraught, convinced that she will not convert the colonists to religion, but be converted by them to mind-altering drugs and promiscuous sex. She winds up taking Can-D and joining the other colonists, leaving Barney to brood over the collapse of her ideals.
When Anne wakes up, Barney walks with her back to her hovel. She comments that becoming Pat Christiensen was like being born again. He proposes marriage to her, and they make love on the surface of Mars.
On the way home, Allen Faine, a disc jockey from an orbiting broadcast satellite, lands and gives Barney a code book and a test tube of a drug that will simulate epilepsy. Allen tells him to take the drug after sampling Chew-Z, then go to a U.N. doctor for an examination, and then get an attorney. Barney agrees to the plan but rejects his reward, free passage off Mars.
The next day, Barney works on his garden, thinking that the drugs have made everyone else give up on a normal, productive existence. Then a simulacrum of Palmer Eldritch arrives, to sell Chew-Z to the colonists. He appears as a tall, gaunt man with an artificial arm, Jensen eyes and steel teeth. Eldritch asks Barney about his chat with Allen Faine, and hints that their plans to stop him will fail.
Barney takes the drug and finds himself back with Emily, but their relationship is still awful. Eldritch chides him for fixating on his ex-wife, and then Barney is in bed with Roni Fugate. Barney returns to Emily, but this time Richard Hnatt is there. Richard starts to display the arm, teeth and eyes of Eldritch, and then metamorphoses into Eldritch completely. Eldritch tells Barney that it can take many tries to chip away reality.
Anne wakes Barney up, presumably to reality, and he feels a massive craving for another dose. He thinks that the Chew-Z experience is like hell, an illusory world where Eldritch is god, and you are forced to repeat your worst experiences again and again. Anne smiles at him with steel teeth. He tries to execute the plan, but Allen Faine claims to have never spoken to him, the code book is nothing but blank pages, and the test tube of toxin is empty, and mocks him with Eldritch’s voice.
Leo Bulero confers with Felix Blau, trying to determine whether or not Barney is executing the plan. He has not made contact and Felix says the Anne Hawthorne, their spy, hasn’t reported either. Roni Fugate convinces Leo to go rescue Barney, to prove that he is more honorable than Barney was in the same situation. Leo has an attack of paranoia, thinking that Roni may actually be Eldritch, and that it is possible that he is still under Chew-Z. Leo prepares to go to Mars, but the captain of the ship has a metal arm, and speaks with Eldritch’s voice.
Barney swipes another dose from the entity that is either Anne or Palmer. He winds up in Leo’s office in the future, where Emily is divorced, Eldritch is dead, he is the head consultant, and Roni has his previous job. Then Eldritch appears and tells Barney that he took an overdose and is now a ghost, stranded in the Chew-Z reality. Barney compares his situation to the afterlife, and considers the possibility that he was manipulated by Palmer in the form of Anne into taking an overdose in order to thwart his plans.
Barney goes and talks to his future self, who tells him that people who take Chew-Z appear as phantasms in the future, that the effects of the drug wear off gradually, and that he was right about Eldritch manipulating him. Barney wants to return to his own time, but no one has discovered how to make that happen. Palmer offers to help him, then tricks him into switching bodies. Barney realizes that the Palmer that Leo will eventually kill is actually himself, and that the Barney Mayerson of the future will be Palmer Eldritch.
Eldritch tells Barney about his desire to occupy and control the lives of every colonist on Mars, and offers him the opportunity to fuse with him. Barney refuses, so Eldritch dumps him on the ship that Leo is about to shoot down. As he is about to die, Leo and Felix Blau wake him back on Mars. He refuses to take the drug that will cause epilepsy, knowing that as long as he doesn’t take Chew-Z again, Eldritch’s plan will fail. Leo and Felix leave him to spend the rest of his life on Mars.
From their time together, Barney has come to understand Eldritch better. Eldritch had been possessed by something on his long voyage, something ancient, who devised the plan to insinuate himself into the lives of the colonists in order to end its solitary brooding. The other colonists also felt that presence in their altered states. Barney labels it God.
Anne and Barney discuss the nature of the being that possessed Palmer Eldritch. Barney believes that it was God, but not as we know him, and while God may be understanding and want to help, his power to do so is limited. Anne replies that, as the map is not the territory, that creature in Palmer Eldritch is not God. Barney states that the artificial hand, the Jensen eyes and the steel teeth are symbols of inhabitation, similar to the stigmata of Christ, and Anne compares Chew-Z to the apple in the Garden Of Eden. Barney realizes that the fact that the creature tried to substitute a man for its own death, rather than die for mankind, made it at least inferior to the God of Christ, and perhaps even evil.
Alone again in his garden, Barney confronts a telepathic predator that calls him unclean and unfit to eat, because he displays the stigmata. Later, Eldritch stops by, and Barney recounts that event. Eldritch responds that the primitive mind often confuses the unclean with the holy. He say that after three centuries of contemplation, he decided to let Barney go. The whole scheme with Palmer Eldritch and Chew-Z was an attempt by the creature to perpetuate itself.
En route back to Earth, Leo Bulero and Felix Blau start to plan the attack that will eventually result in the death of Palmer Eldritch. Leo sees the stigmata on Felix, and considers the possibility that he is still under the effect of Chew-Z. Felix tries to reassure Leo by telling him that he also sees the stigmata, even though he has never taken the drug. Leo thinks that he will defeat Eldritch because there is something inside him not touched by the alienation, blurred reality, and despair that came with the creature. Humanity has lived for thousands of years under one ancient blight that has spoiled our holiness, and if that plague couldn’t obliterate our spirit, how could this creature? Despite these thoughts, he mistakes himself for the creature in a moment of confusion.
Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.
Revelations and Hallucinations
Religion And Drugs in Philip K. Dick’s “The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch”
There are two substantial challenges that must be addressed in any interpretation of this work. The first is the frequent shifting between objective reality and the often indistinguishable experience achieved through the drug Chew-Z. Two of the focal characters, Leo Bulero and Barney Mayerson, sample Chew-Z over the course of the tale (in chapters 5 and 10, respectively) and the veracity of all subsequent scenes told from their perspective is somewhat suspect. There are instances when the true nature of an event is fairly clear, such as Bulero’s first attempt at escape from the Chew-Z reality to his office at P. P. Layouts, which is explicitly revealed to be just another facet of the drug experience. On the other hand, the period between Barney’s awakening and his subsequent overdose (chapters 10 and 11) is slightly less clear. During the overdose, Eldritch tells Barney that he was never awake, and was manipulated into overdose, but if he wasn’t awake, how did he overdose? And was it really Eldritch, or did Barney hallucinate that explanation for his own benefit? Another example is Bulero’s vision of the stigmata on Felix Blau at the end of the book, which is a startling interruption to a period where Leo appears to be experiencing objective reality. Deep within a drug-induced vision, Barney is given the explanation that Chew-Z causes phantasms in the future but, unsatisfying as it may be from a storytelling perspective, there is a consistent interpretation of the book where neither Barney or Leo ever return to sobriety.
It is difficult to extract a coherent statement from the outcome of the story when the outcome itself is not clear, other than to say that Dick holds drugs, religion and confusion as integral parts of the natural human state. Any possible value judgments about the characters’ actions and beliefs with respect to drugs and religion are subsumed beneath the systemic ambiguity of the book. This theme of questioning the nature of reality is common to much of Dick’s work; in this case, that theme threatens to overwhelm the nuances of plot elements, forcing the reader to derive conclusions from the structure of the story rather than the content.
The second difficulty is that, with respect to religion, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is something of a Rorschach test. Dick provides sympathetic characters at both ends of the spectrum, in the devout Anne Hawthorne and the derisive non-believer Barney Mayerson. As an atheist with libertarian leanings, I was more sympathetic to Barney than to Anne, and had to strain to keep from assigning more relevance to her descent into drug use than to his reevaluation of his atheist beliefs, even though those two events are similar in many ways.
Despite these confounding factors, however, some conclusions can be drawn. It is clear that Dick is claiming that religious experience and drug use are, if not interchangeable, fundamentally similar at some level. In the book, this is true not only to the Buddhists who control the United Nations, who saw Chew-Z as the realization of the karmic circle, but also to the more rational Barney, who starts off considering both of them as merely escape mechanisms, necessary only in the harsh world of the colonies, and winds up a grudging believer in their power. There is a distinct parallel between Anne’s fall from grace, using drugs because religion is not sufficient to bring her happiness, and Barney’s fall from a different grace, accepting religious beliefs because atheism is not sufficient to bring him a coherent explanation for his Chew-Z experience. In the end, Barney can’t even tell the difference between religious phenomena and drug-induced hallucinations, believing that the methods of the Christians may purge Eldritch’s stigmata from him (page 225), and that the appearance of the stigmata saved him from the jackal (chapter 13) because they represented the presence of god.
By the end, the book has described a template for mankind’s relationship to a superior being. In the final chapter, Leo Bulero plots to kill Eldritch, and winds up unsure about whether he is himself or whether he is now Palmer Eldritch. By dethroning god, man creates a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. This statement can be read to imply that a supreme being must exist even if that role is not filled by a supernatural force, because in the absence of a supernatural force, we will fill that gap with whatever is handy. Although, in light of the rest of the book, the depiction of Leo assuming the role of Palmer Eldritch is overly optimistic; in the future of Philip K. Dick, we have not filled the gap with ourselves in an uplifting humanist manner, we have filled it with commercialized clutter, dolls and totems and psychoactive chemicals. These two possibilities bookmark the extremes of human nature, and in this work, Dick is nestled in his traditional home, near the extreme that is most dark, pessimistic and bleak.
Agree or disagree? Add a comment below.
27 thoughts on “Summary and Commentary by Brian Davies: The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch (1965)”
I finished the book today. I loved your article. Your finding two “difficulties” seemed astute, and I appreciated the way you carefully set out the spectrum of belief with Barney and Anne at opposite ends. You identify yourself as an atheist and you try to give Anne a fair hearing. I’m a Christian who enjoyed Barney and Leo’s perspectives. To me, this is the genius of this and my other Dick favorites: his ability to paint sympathetic portraits of Christians, cultists, atheists, agnostics, hedonists, Buddhists, and to give them all a reasonable voice in the discussion of the biggest ideas. Here’s a question. I think the character of Emily is critical to the story, but I’m not sure how. I remember another crucial potter in Flow My Tears, and the Biblical image of the potter is freely used near the end of 3 Stigmata. Any thoughts?
Speaking from the Eastern perspective, Karma and its productions are often referred to as the spinning of a potter’s wheel.
Hey Paul, I’m doing a report and have to determine whether I believe Eldritch is human or not and I can’t decide what I would classify him. Do you think Eldritch is human? Why or why not? Thanks 🙂
Dear Jenny and anyone else interested; I don’t believe Eldritch is human, although I think that Dick purposely leaves this question up for debate and makes us struggle with it. I made my decision not based on concrete evidence, like his various strange abilities or body parts, but on the book’s theme. I think the book is asking a very important question which I would state like this: What if “gods” are beings that aren’t perfect and infinite, but they exceed us in every dimension of time and space — superbeings? How and why would a god try to interface with humans? Could it ever work? So, I have an overall theory about why Dick wrote the book, and for my theory to work, we have to believe that Eldritch is a superbeing, an alien very different from human who strives to create a relationship with humans. You can certainly poke holes in my theory, but don’t you agree that it would make a great high school or college paper? I look forward to lots more discussion when anyone has time… Paul.
First off, thanks for this write up — it’s brilliant. I was happy to see a relatively current discussion going on this novel. I discovered Dick a few months ago and have been working through the ones I can find.
I finished this novel last night and ever since have been puzzling with what Dick might have meant with the final paragraphs. It was quite vexing since I am generally able to find a “meaning”, for lack of a better word, that I personally find pleasing on my own in Dick’s works. Part of the fun of reading Dick is puzzling away until you find something that makes it all tick in a way you like.
For a time I thought the book would have been better had it ended with Mayerson’s bleak final words and skipped the Leo ending. I finally broke down and googled for a second opinion and this article helped immensely — thanks. Only, I rather like seeing Leo’s “temporary slip” as him mistaking himself for a deity in his own right rather than as the Eldritch creature itself to fill the vacuum of Eldritch’s impending demise. It explains him harping on his highly evolved appearance and saying things like “Eldritch came from another space but I came from another time. Got it?” He sees himself as the “only one keeping the old way alive” and as a Protector. Perhaps this is only part of the alienation inherent to Palmer’s drug but it seems to me him reaching for divinity to fill a void which, as you say, nature abhors.
I very much liked your use of the term “Rorschach test” which I think applies perfectly to several Dick novels. My favorite Dick character would be Tagomi from The Man In The High Castle; in particular the scene where he ponders a shapeless piece of art in order to discover if there is anything of value or comfort in it. Only I try to take care not to stare too hard as he did or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, to be like Juliana from the same novel who is too impetuous and full of life not to mistake her first impression with concrete reality.
This is in response to Jenny’s question and Paul’s response. When I was reading this I focused quite a bit on the idea of “God” being lonely and having a lot of time to think (so to speak). I think it’s alluded to that if God weren’t involved in our affairs at all, then he/she/it would be in complete solitude. “God” may not be human necessarily, but needs human interaction to survive. If people believe that humanity needs God, they should also realize that God needs humanity to exist. If none of us believed in God, the idea wouldn’t exist.
I was also particularly intrigued by the few times that communion or transubstantiation is mentioned. I think in the book, the body and blood of Christ idea is equated to Eldritch as well. If at communion a person is actually a perpetuation or manifestation of the body and blood of Christ, it’s not a complete representation of God, but just a manifestation of some small part of God. The form God is taking so to speak. This is explained metaphorically in the Cat joke that Anne tells towards the end. “Don’t tell us Barney, that whatever entered Palmer Eldritch is God, because you don’t know that much about him; no one can. But that living entity from intersystem space may, like us, be shaped in his image. A way he selected of showing himself to us. If the map is not the territory, the pot is not the potter”. If you agree with Anne, Palmer Eldritch is no more God than we are or could perceive ourselves to be. I think this paints the portrait that Palmer Eldritch is not God, but it would also be hard to make the argument that he is human either.
I also focused on the idea of reality being a shared event. One of the main points I kept in mind about Can-D is that it can be a shared experience with other people, and I think it’s alluded to that reality itself is a shared experience. If it’s not shared with someone else it can be considered a dream or an illusion. When Eldritch is first explaining Chew-Z to Leo, he makes reference to the fact that there are no layouts and that the user is more in control of their own experience rather than sharing it with others (except for Eldritch of course). By the same logic though, I believe that Eldritch (or any God figure) still has some human elements because if they don’t share some sort of reality or space with us then how can they exist? Eldritch isn’t completely free of human influence which is why I think he “fused” with Barney during his use of Chew-Z. When Barney awakes from his Chew-Z experience in his Hovel, he and Anne discuss the fact that Eldritch needed to gain something from Barney during the experience, which is why I think they “fused” and I think that is the shared reality idea.
The main thing I’ve taken away from PKD’s work is the idea of opposing forces and “grey area”. By the end of almost every one of the 7 or 8 PKD novels I’ve read, a lot of roles end up being reversed and a lot of people end up 180 degrees from where they started. It’s a long and sometimes subtle transformation, but I find it often in his work. That also relates to the ultimate “grey area” idea too. I don’t really find too many concrete, black and white style answers in his work. A lot of times it’s very cleverly left up to the interpretation of the reader, and a lot of times I find myself sympathizing with a character I may not have typically done so with. I end up 180 degrees from where I started sometimes. It’s a challenging, and ultimately rewarding feeling for me. I guess what I’m getting at, is that Jenny’s question could be answered 1 million different ways. That’s the beauty of it.
Great question Jenny, great response Paul. This is a very informative and rewarding group of messages. Mr. Davies you did a great job with your explanation of the story, thanks everyone!
I also look forward to more discussion if anyone has the time or energy haha…
“God” may not be human necessarily, but needs human interaction to survive. If people believe that humanity needs God, they should also realize that God needs humanity to exist. If none of us believed in God, the idea wouldn’t exist.”
I think this is a really interesting point. If God existed but wasn’t known to humanity, it seems fair to reason that He’d reveal his existence (the Bible seems like pretty strong evidence for this). In a sense, God needs to exist in the really real that humanity occupies. If reality is a shared experience, as you suggest, then God needs to occupy that level of reality, needs to share it with us. But that kind of fundamentally feels absurd right? I mean, God is God, even if He can sense things how we sense things, He can’t sense them from our perspective (maybe I’m fuzzing omnipotence a little here but hey it’s kind of a fuzzy concept anyway). Eldritch fundamentally wants to share his level of reality with humanity and he does so at the end when he kind of inserts it into our shared level of reality.
It’s funny, you highlighted all the religious themes which I didn’t focus on when I was reading. I’ve read a lot of philosophy and the shifting nature of reality and existence is what really intrigued me most about the book. Part of what’s so cool about it is that it can be read in so many different ways.
Why would Eldritch be interested in Emily’s pottery if miniatures and layouts are not needed for Chew-Z?
I have been pondering this as well. Perhaps to annoy Leo Bulero and initiate the war of Can-D vs. Chew-Z. Maybe PE knew that the pottery would be successful in the world of Can-D (just as Roni predicted), and wanted to make sure users had no reason to go back to Can-D?
But then again, the experience of Chew-Z being so drastically different and much more intense, why would he even worry about some silly pottery?
Another thought – if he was truly trying to help humanity and be a part of them, and be able to see the outcome of reality, then surely he would have realized that his interest in the pottery initiated a spiral of different events (Emily taking e therapy and devolving, her husband being sentenced to Mars for his involvement with the Chew Z trade). It seems like those two got the short end of the stick, yet PE appears to have wanted to help Barney.
Just some thoughts – could be completely incorrect but wanted to think out loud.
Good question. Maybe Eldritch was trying to lead Barney, and thereby Leo, to assume he was planning to introduce a direct competitor to Can-D. Approaching the former wife of Leo’s close associate might be a good way.
To Devin: maybe Eldritch had a special plan for Barney from the start and giving Emily the contract ensured that Barney would leave to Mars heartbroken and take Chew-Z?
“By dethroning god, man creates a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. This statement can be read to imply that a supreme being must exist even if that role is not filled by a supernatural force, because in the absence of a supernatural force, we will fill that gap with whatever is handy.”
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.
How could it be otherwise? Almost by definition, we are incapable of comprehending any “higher power,” or “absolute reality” whether present or not.
Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is the apotheosis of a theme which recurs in many of the author’s books: idios kosmos v. koinos kosmos (a concern which may have arisen from Dick’s recurring fears of being schizophrenic).
Do we live in solipsistic worlds of our own creation? If in fact we live in a shared world, then bonds between people are possible (love as salvation).
This novel, in my opinion, posits that the essential state of humanity is eternal isolation. We can never find solace in each other. Each person is utterly alone, with no escape. None are capable of understanding others, nor of being understood ourselves.
Yet this vision of utter despair is consistently entertaining. And inexhaustible: with each instance of reading the work, one is accompanied by new concerns and an altered set of life experiences.
I feel that Philip was struggling with the identification of good & evil throughout eternity in this book. How to tell if one’s experiences are a manifestation of illusion, or some kind of damnation, that will continue forever without any kind of certainty or knowing that there is ever the possibility of escape from this endless cycle of suffering. Are our imaginary & imagined worlds some kind of hellish mirror wherein we see only ourselves & our own projections, or can they serve as a beacon or guiding light to freedom & to knowing? I think Philip wrestled with this for a good portion of his life & his experiences with drugs in a way served as both an inspiration & a torment for him. (Fortunately for us, he came out of it all with such a tremendous body of work that will continue to beguile readers for many, many years to come!)
As for Palmer Eldritch, weird & sinister pilgrim that he is, I feel like he represented Philip’s ambiguous feelings towards religion, or perhaps Christ in particular. Is he come to save or to deceive? Will what he brings to us release us into an eternal life of clarity & liberation from death, or into one of delusion & unknowing? Seeing life as through a glass, darkly, as it were.
I feel that he posited Palmer Eldritch as a human, but one who is overshadowed (to use an old parlance) by a foreign or higher entity, as in the Hindu teaching of Avatars. So I think in this sense he is clearly a Christ figure, although an ambiguous one & to me this ambiguity reflected a reticence of Philip’s to take a leap of faith in his own life (at least at the time of writing the book), choosing instead to ponder endlessly upon something I thing he never truly got the answers to. That said, I think he put in a heroic & heartfelt effort to find a clarity & meaning to it all & I feel he was in a way rewarded with his own ‘overshadowing’ in ’74 (perhaps he even had a precognition of it by writing of such things in his work). To me he was a true searcher & aspirant, willing to go into dark places & try to bring some light to them. I am glad that he did so with such integrity.
On an added note, I can’t help but think that Mars is like the Potter’s Field from the gospels. A burial place for lost travellers & strangers. An outpost for those in limbo.
Great summary and analysis Brian!
I believe the question of whether or not Palmer Eldritch was good or bad can partly be analyzed through Barney’s encounter with the Jackal-like creature at the end of the novel.
Positioning the Jackal under Christian notion as a manifestation of evil capable of giving birth to the anti-christ; and Barney as a manifestation of good (through Palmer Eldritch’s stigmata), it is no surprise that the Jackal found him unclean. While initially wanting to defend himself, Barney began to feel sorry for the creature because of how hungry he saw it was. He was even prepared to let the creature eat him – not out of a sense of self-destruction or even self-salvation, but rather, a sense of Christ-like mercy.
What I find weird though is that there was a sense of disappointment in Barney afterwards – almost like his obligation to save the creature (rather than himself) was not met. He even asks Palmer when this “uncleanliness’s” would go away? Perhaps, after the dust settled, he really didn’t want the responsibility of being the savior.
Really interested to read all of the above. On the subject of Emily, I’d be intrigued to know if the evolution treatment is part of Eldritch/creature’s plan, or linked to it. Definitely can’t be a coincidence that she devolved and was also, according to the conversation between Barney and Eldritch, difficult for Eldritch to manipulate.
Perhaps Emily de-evolved not because she lacked the capacity to evolve, but because she was so evolved spiritually that the only way for her to go was down. It is also possible that her de-evolution was actually a metaphor for spiritual, mental and physical decline resulting from her distance from Barney; since Barney seems to observe that turning his back on her was ‘self-destructive, ‘ as well.
It is also important to note, that the potter in “Flow My Tears, The Police Man Said” was named Mary Anne Dominic and Emily Hnatt was living in Marilyn Monroe… ; )
also emily won that plaque for one of her pots that made into a show, in flow my tears jason tells mary anne that he will make a segment for his show featuring the pot she gave him
Yes, I agree – as an accomplished artist, Emily is fully evolved already – the only way is down!
I was under the impression that maybe all the characters are hallucinations and the book takes place in the mind of Palmer Eldritch after getting possessed. The reason I think this is because at the start of the book Barney can’t remember anything and the whole scene at the end where Felix said he didn’t take chewz….oh yeah you seemed confused about how he could overdose while still under the influence…he didn’t wake up to another hallucination he woke up to reality but was still mildly hallucinating from the drug….it’s sort of like hes coming down from a mushroom trip…he’s not tripping balls but he’s still tripping.
But on what I previously said I think the whole story takes place inside the mind of Palmer Eldritch and there’s plenty of evidence to point to such a conclusion. The reason Palmer Eldritch is trying to kill himself is because he wants to end the possession so makes up the whole story to get out of it because its the only way to get away from the alien since he can’t control himself anymore. The first clue is Barney waking up not knowing what’s going on…this scene is very unique and it never happens again in the book until Leo starts forgetting who he is at the end. The next clue is when Leo first gets drugged, Palmer tells him that the hallucinations aren’t shared and can be controlled by the person hallucinating at which point leo asks if he’s just a hallucination in Palmer’s head. The next thing are the Phantasms which might be a sign that the different realities of Palmer’s mind are mixing together because he’s Probably had to play the suicide story out countless times before succeeding with his plan. Also just in case you forgot he can kill himself because Palmer mentions that you can actually hurt yourself while hallucinating. Also another big sign is how his ego seems to rub off into his hallucinations in that all the big characters seem to think pretty highly of him, even people who hate him act like he’s some kind of genius. The big one though is that he keeps seeing himself everywhere..there’s other things but I’m lazy so maybe will come back later.
Sorry this doesn’t seem like a good explanation to me, it just does not add up and honestly it would strip the book of it’s greatness and make it just a disposable novel. Also, he’s done it in another book and so brilliantly that it shows that it was intentional and that he is a master.
Reply to Alex: Interesting theory on the book. I think your explanation is plausible and points out how PKD succeeded in creating ambiguity. So that there is always another onion layer to peel away, depending on what bit of information the reader chooses (chewses?) to accept as factual, as reality.
Thanks, Brian, for a fine article. I would like to comment on one piece of the book’s puzzle, keeping in mind that I personally think the overall ambiguity of TTSoPE lends itself to endless speculation on its meaning.
You wrote in your Commentary section the following: “… the period between Barney’s awakening and his subsequent overdose (chapters 10 and 11) is slightly less clear. During the overdose, Eldritch tells Barney that he was never awake, and was manipulated into overdose, but if he wasn’t awake, how did he overdose? …there is a consistent interpretation of the book where neither Barney or Leo ever return to sobriety.”
Bingo! to your last quoted sentence.
I spent a little time cross-referencing the details about Barney’s 2nd Chew-Z translation and I want to throw out there the possibility that in Chapter 12 when Barney regains “consciousness” and thereby seemingly escapes death due to lying trapped in Palmer Eldritch’s ship as it is being fired upon, Barney’s reemergence back into the Martian hovel is only a reemergence from his 2nd Chew-Z translation. I think he may have still been unconscious and translating within the grasp of his 1st Chew-Z use.
There are multiple pieces of evidence to think that Barney never recovers from his 1st Chew-Z experience:
1) Anne is showing the stigmata during Barney’s stealing her bindle of Chew-Z. This occurs after the other hovelists supposedly woke up from their 1st Chew-Z trip.
2) The toxin tube is empty and Allen Faine’s code book has blank pages just before he steals Anne’s Chew-Z
3) Allen Faine doesn’t know who Barney is.
4) Barney lights a cigarette and ignores the match burning his fingers, as if in a dream. (see last line of Chapter 10)
5) Norm gets a headache and leaves the transmitter room in Chapter 10 by the time Barney lights his cig, but moments later in Chapter 11 as Barney grinds his cigarette out on the floor and steals Anne’s Chew-Z, Norm is back in the transmitter room yelling “Hey.” (I suppose it is possible Norm may have had time to get an aspirin and return to the room, during Barney’s smoke break.)
6) Finally, as Barney recovers from his near death aboard Eldritch’s ship, Norm specifically makes reference to Barney’s theft of Anne’s Chew-Z, thereby creating the possibility that Barney is still tripping on his 1st Chew-Z use and all the other hovelists are still tripping on their 1st use as well. Norm, in this case, is just a figment of Barney’s 1st trip as is everything else that happens, such as Anne supposedly waking Barney up from his first trip. Barney never wakes up from his first trip on Chew-Z (and neither does Leo come to think of it).