Tuesday, March 22, 2016
The Skull: A Socio-Religious Myth for a Modern Audience
You're probably familiar with Philip K. Dick's work and you didn't even know it. His stories have been made into numerous films and television shows: Bladerunner, Total Recall, most recently Man in the High Castle and among my favorites Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly. In working on The Skull, I have dove head first into Dick's work. In both his adaptations for the screen and his short stories, his interests start to become clear. Most of his work has a similar premise: An advanced scientific technological dystopian or utopian future that follows one philosophical idea with a focus on a central male hero who discovers the corruption in the world and must navigate through the moral ambiguity.
His stories, like a myth, pulse with a clear concern about the direction of the society we live in. (And if you look at politics in America, rightly so!) It functions as myth does, to put us in line with nature or as Joseph Campbell says, myth is a "...metaphor transparent to transcendence. The concern Dick repeatedly longs to transcend is corruption of totality. For Dick, within any totalitarian society, even one that appears good from the outside, there is bound to be corruption. His heroes are forced to challenge these societal norms and make a moral decision in the face of corruption and often in the balance hangs the fate of humankind. His stories ask complicated existential and philosophical questions about destiny, morality, and the roles of human beings in society. Such big questions plunked into the excitement of the science fiction genre with plenty of flying cars, time machines, technologically advanced weapons, memory implants, psychics, self evolving robots, and the colonization of Mars!
Dick sold his first science fiction story in 1951 and the sole source for this production was published in a little pulp magazine called If World of Science Fiction in September 1951. From the midst of the McArthy era Dick imagines a utopian society ruled by The First Church, a religion who preaches peace and poverty, but there is an underground council who believe in scientific progress and are willing to risk lives and start wars to get it. Conger, a hunter and criminal from Mars is sent back in time to kill the Founder of this religion to direct the world to progress with only one clue to complete his mission: The Skull!
A small story in the grand scheme of his work, but one that still resonates with a modern audience today.