29 September 2012

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

In renowned science fiction novelist Philip K Dick's 1962 classic The Man in the High Castle, America is a divided land. Not only did the Allies lose World War 2, but the Axis powers invaded America and occupied its coastal states: the Germans taking the eastern seaboard and the Japanese the Pacific coast. In between lies the Rocky Mountain States, whose tenuous independence is supported only by its role as a buffer state between the two wary Axis empires. Life is grim for many, particularly in the eastern states where Nazi racial laws hold sway. One man in the RMS has a different view of how history might have turned out, and his counterfactual novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, appears throughout Dick's novel, as various characters seek out its mysterious author Hawthorn Abendsen, the titular Man in the High Castle. Here some characters discuss the novel within a novel, and how their dystopian world may have turned out if President Franklin D Roosevelt had not been assassinated in 1933.

'Abendsen's theory is that Roosevelt would have been a terribly strong President. As strong as Lincoln. He showed it in the year he was President, all those measures he introduced. The book is a fiction. I mean, it's in novel form. Roosevelt isn't assassinated in Miami; he goes on and is re-elected in 1936, so he's President until 1940, until during the war. Don't you see? He's still President when Germany attacks England and France and Poland. And he sees all that. He makes America strong. Garner was a really awful President. A lot of what happened was his fault. And then in 1940, instead of Bricker, a Democrat would have been elected -'
'According to this Abelson,' Wyndham-Mason broke in. He glanced at the girl beside him. God, they read a book, he thought, and they spout on forever.
'His theory is that instead of an Isolationist like Bricker, in 1940 after Roosevelt, Rexford Tugwell would have been President.' Her smooth face, reflecting the traffic lights, glowed with animation; her eyes had become large and she gestured as she talked. 'And he would have been very active in continuing the Roosevelt anti-Nazi policies. So Germany would have been afraid to come to Japan's help in 1941. They would not have honoured their treaty. Do you see?'
Turning towards him on the seat, grabbing his shoulder with intensity, she said, 'And so Germany and Japan would have lost the war!'
He laughed.
Staring at him, seeking something in his face - he could not tell what, and anyhow he had to watch the other cars - she said, 'It's not funny. It really would have been like that, the U.S. would have been able to lick the Japanese. And -'
'How?' he broke in.
'He has it all laid out.' For a moment she was silent. 'It's in fiction form,' she said. 'Naturally, it's got a lot of fictional parts; I mean, it's got to be entertaining or people wouldn't read it. It has a human-interest theme; there's these two young people, the boy is in the American Army. The girl - well, anyhow, President Tugwell is really smart. He understands what the Japs are going to do.' Anxiously, she said, 'It's all right to talk about this; the Japs have let it be circulated in the Pacific. I read that a lot of them are reading it. It's popular in the Home Islands. It's stirred up a lot of talk.'
Wyndham-Matson said, 'Listen. What does he say about Pearl Harbor?'
'President Tugwell is so smart that he has all the ships out to sea. So the U.S. fleet isn't destroyed.'
'I see.'
'So, there really isn't any Pearl Harbor. They attack, but all they get is some little boats.'
'It's called "The Grasshopper something?"'
'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. That's a quote from the Bible.'

While Dick's novels have become a huge treasure-trove of potential scripts for screenwriters in the wake of the iconic success of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in 1982, The Man in the High Castle has yet to be made into a film. Some of the novel's frank exposition of the Nazi and Japanese racial theories that are enforced in occupied America would likely be highly controversial. Yet Robert Harris' similar counterfactual novel Fatherland, a detective story set in a victorious Third Reich, was made into a 1994 TV movie featuring Rutger Hauer, which shows it can be done. Ridley Scott announced in 2010 that he is producing a four-part adaptation of The Man in the High Castle for the BBC - hopefully that will be completed and come to screens soon, because this is one of Philip K Dick's most memorable and successful works.
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