The final book in Philip K. Dick’s VALIS trilogy, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer brings the author’s search for the identity and nature of God to a close. The novel follows Bishop Timothy Archer as he travels to Israel, ostensibly to examine ancient scrolls bearing the words of Christ. But more importantly, this leads him to examine the decisions he made during his life and how they may have contributed to the suicides of his mistress and son. This introspective book is one of Dick’s most philosophical and literary, delving into the mysteries of religion and of faith itself. As one of Dick’s final works, it also provides unique insight into the mind of a genius, whose work was still in the process of maturing at the time of his death.
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I'm going to have to chew over this one a bit more. Transmigration of Timothy Archer was brilliant in parts, very engaging, but there were also pieces that just didn't quite fit. I'm willing to give PKD a lot of credit for attempting, so late in his life, a 'mainstream novel'. Ultimately, however, I couldn't quite swallow the whole book (oh me of little faith). I'm not sure if it was a dissatisfaction with it not living up to my expectation(s), or having too much of the novel actually exist there AND me just wanting more. I think part of it was Dick set the reader up. He wanted to yank the reader left, and then yank the reader right, then trip the reader, so we can see what it is like to live in his head as he is trying to make sense of his own mortality and faith.
I love that each of his three Valis/God/Gnostic books: Valis, The Divine Invasion, Transmigration of Timothy Archer are so different. For me, the structural and style differences in these books allowed PKD creative room to explore his big religious themes: God, faith, salvation, love, fate, compassion, the search for identity, knowledge, etc, from as many sides and angles as possible.
Bishop Archer describes the book's central quandary when he says:
"My point," Tim said, "is that if the Logia predate Jesus by two hundred years, then the Gospels are suspect, we have no evidence that Jesus was God, very God, God incarnate, and therefore the basis of our religion is gone. Jesus simply becomes a teacher representing a particular Jewish sect that ate and drank some kind of – well, whatever it was, the anokhi, and it made them immortal."
PKD doubles down when Bishop Archer finds out that the anokhi is a psychedelic mushroom out of which the Zadokites made a broth and a bread. The Zadokites drank the broth (blood) and ate the bread (body). Thus, Dick essentially turned early Christianity into a secret mushroom cult. So, in this novel Jesus (and his apostles) becomes dope dealers and smugglers. Throw into this reincarnation, mysticism, drugs, a ton of 70s music, cars, Berkeley, etc., and you get the raw and messy PKD working hard to both mess with your head and sort it all out. I'm still trying to decide what he really wanted to do, and what he actually ended up doing to me.
This was Dick's last novel and contains zero science fiction.
PKD always wanted to be a literary novelist but had to write scifi for the $. Finally at the end of his life he had enough money via film rights sales of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner) to write what he wanted. Then he died shortly after seeing the rushes for Blade Runner. So he never got to experience being a famous Hollywood writer. Maybe just as well.
Anyway onward, Transmigration is told in the first person by Angel Archer, a very cynical woman done by the narrator (Joyce Bean) in a pitch-perfect voice.
The novel presents a medium cool portrait of the San Francisco scene in the 1970s with Bishop Pike (Timothy Archer) and Alan Watts (Edgar Barefoot) as major characters.
Two of my favorite lines come toward the end when the Watts character tells Angel she should not come to his lectures for his words of wisdom but for the sandwiches he offers for the students when the talk is over. "Someday perhaps you'll come for the sandwich. But I doubt that. I think you will always need the pretext of words." The other is when Angel promises to take care of Bill, her schizophrenic friend, when he gets out of a psychiatriic hospital. Angel tells him "I will see you as you were; I will not give up. You will remember the ground again."
"... remember the ground ..." somehow that seems like something we all need to do at this very weird present moment.