Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Though Stranger in a Strange Land is the publisher’s title for this novel (Heinlein called it The Heretic or The Man from Mars), it expresses some of the subtleties of the title character. The “Stranger” is Valentine Michael Smith, and the “Strange Land” is human culture, for though he is human, Smith was raised by Martians, the same inscrutable race described in Red Planet and Podkayne of Mars (1963).
Probably Heinlein’s most critically acclaimed book, it is usually most praised for messages that Heinlein did not intend. Depicting a society in the near future reveling in lax sexual mores and yearning for a new religion, Stranger in a Strange Land was misunderstood as celebrating those aspects of contemporary culture. Hence, the novel became a cult classic on college campuses through the 1960’s and 1970’s, read both in and out of class. Though easily refuted, the rumor that Stranger in a Strange Land influenced the mass-murderer Charles Manson still persists in science-fiction circles: It is even reported as “fact” in some reference works.
The appeal of the book is in the character of Smith himself: more Martian than man, he has psychic and physical powers beyond those of most humans, and he trains his friends to develop those powers. The artificial “family” that Smith attracts appealed to the communal nature of the 1960’s counterculture (and led to the...
(The entire section is 1044 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Stranger in a Strange Land Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Robert A. Heinlein was one of the most popular science-fiction writers of the twentieth century. His best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land, is a novel that uses the traditional satirical device of observing contemporary society through the eyes of an innocent outsider.
Valentine Michael “Mike” Smith, as an infant, was the sole survivor of an expedition to Mars. Raised by native Martians for twenty-five years, he is found by the next expedition and brought to an Earth about which he knows nothing. As the only Earthling left on Mars, he is, by the Earth laws of the time, the owner of the planet, so powerful business and political interests want to control him.
Nurse Jill Boardman smuggles him out of the hospital where he is held. She takes him to the secluded retreat of Jubal Harshaw—doctor, lawyer, writer, and cynic—who becomes Mike’s protector and mentor. Among other things, Jubal saves Mike from the burden of “owning” Mars by pointing out that since Mars is already inhabited by sentient beings, it cannot be owned by Earthlings (an anticolonial approach rare at that time).
The Martians had taught Mike their language, which represents reality far better than any Earth language. Understanding Martian thus enables one to function much better, even enabling abilities (such as telepathy) considered supernatural on Earth.
Mike discovers sex with several women, and then goes out will Jill to...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Valentine Michael Smith is conceived during a long space voyage from Earth to Mars and is born on Mars. His parents are members of the first Earth expedition to the red planet, but they are not married to each other. His mother, who is married to the expedition’s medical officer, dies during childbirth, and her husband murders Michael’s father with a scalpel and then kills himself soon afterward. The other members of the expedition also die shortly after landing, so Smith is raised by Martians. Culturally and psychologically, he becomes a Martian, much as the human Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894) becomes a wolf when he is raised by wolves.
The outbreak of World War III prevents another expedition to Mars from being mounted for twenty-five years. When a second expedition does arrive on the planet, its members find Smith fully grown and bring him back to Earth. There, he presents a dilemma to the authorities: Through his human parents, he has inherited vast wealth, but, without human cultural understanding, he is not competent to control it. Further, under a legal oddity known as the Larkin Decision, Smith can be construed in terrestrial law as the owner of the entire planet Mars. To Joseph Douglas, the secretary-general of Earth’s global government, the World Federation of States, Smith poses a potential threat. This potential causes Smith to be isolated—as a kind of prisoner—under various ruses. The first such ruse...
(The entire section is 959 words.)
Stranger in a Strange Land depicts a future world that is oriented as much toward social and religious concerns as it is toward technical ones. In the novel Heinlein is frank about what he considers the pretentious, artificial, and shameful elements of modern society. The various characters—both appealing and repugnant—represent a segment of society. The social institutions of the press, government, medicine, entertainment, religion, and the military all come under Heinlein's critical gaze. He uses the characters as examples of both the good and the bad aspects of each institution. Most are portrayed unfavorably, but a few emerge as responsible, honest examples of the best that humanity can produce.
The book presents such a variety of characters that most readers will find one representing their own point of view. The novel then challenges the reader's assumptions about religion, love, and the nature of God against the experiences of two beings, one essentially alien, the other essentially human.
Valentine Michael Smith—the man from Mars—provides the alien viewpoint, while Jubal Harshaw, an almost impossibly knowledgeable and independent human, provides the human view. Their radically opposite opinions challenge the reader's beliefs about sexuality, religion, and society. Through the interplay of these differing views, the reader learns the value of the old and the new, experience and innocence.
As an alien,...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
Chapters 1-4 Summary
Four married couples, tested for compatibility by computers, journey to Mars on the rocket ship Envoy as the first human colonists. As they park in orbit around the Martian moon Phobos, a message is sent to Earth that the crew will land the next day. This is the last message that is ever received.
It is twenty-five years before humans land once again on Mars. An unmanned probe earlier reveals that the Martian “canals” are engineering works, along with the ruins of cities. World War III breaks out before a manned mission can be sent. At last, a crew of all male spacemen arrives. They send back a message that the remains of the Envoy have been found, but there are no survivors. A second message reports that Mars is inhabited. A third message corrects the first one: One survivor of Envoy has been located.
Valentine Michael Smith is carefully carried back to Earth. Having lived all his life on Mars, his body cannot handle the gravity of Earth. Isolated in a medical facility, he is guarded by soldiers and kept from any contact with women, whom he has never seen. Smith is kept on a water bed where he is able to submit his body into a coma-like condition to process and understand, or “grok,” his experiences. A reporter disguised as an orderly tries to get him to sell exclusive rights to his story.
Gilliam Boardman, or Jill, is a nurse who hears of a male patient who is kept in seclusion without any contact from females. She manages to sneak in and speak to Smith. She is awed by the angelic appearance of his face. He struggles with the language, misunderstanding much of what she says. He does not understand what makes her a woman and wants her to take her clothes off. She is shocked and Smith realizes he has made an error. Jill offers him some water. Smith accepts it, seeing this as an intimate act known in his Martian culture as a water ritual; this will make Jill his water brother.
Jill manages to sneak out and is called by Ben Caxton, a reporter friend of hers. He takes her to his apartment and gets information out of her. He tells her that Smith is the son of his mother, Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith, but not of her husband, Dr. Ward Smith. He is the son of Captain Brant, the commander of the mission. Dr. Ward Smith delivered Valentine Michael by Cesarean section, but his wife died on the table. Dr. Smith then killed Captain Brant and then himself. Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith was the inventor of the Lyle...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Chapters 5-8 Summary
Jill cannot fathom the fact that Valentine Michael Smith is the sole owner of Mars. Ben Caxton gives her a recording device to attach to the wall outside of Smith’s room. She does so and manages to record a couple of days’ worth of conversations. She returns it to Ben, who silently lets her know that his apartment might be bugged. He hands her his newspaper article, which accuses the government of holding Smith as a political prisoner. He also gives her the transcript of the recorded conversations, which are between Smith and the Secretary General. When the Secretary General tried to get Smith to sign away his rights to Mars, Smith went into one of his coma-like withdrawals. Going for a taxi ride, Ben and Jill discuss the possible ways that the government might get Smith’s vast fortune.
Ben takes Jill to a secluded restaurant with a table that has not been bugged. As they are eating, a news broadcast comes on showing Smith in a wheelchair. He is interviewed, but Jill says that it is not the real Smith. Ben eventually agrees with her, stating that the man in the interview the day before could not have made such an about-face; he would have gone into one of his withdrawals again. Ben plans to get in to see the real Smith with the help of a lawyer friend, Jubal Harshaw.
Ben manages to get in to see Smith, accompanied by a lawyer named Frisby and a Fair Witness called Cavendish. The doctors are reluctant to let Ben in, but they finally allow him to see the patient. The Man from Mars seems to answer Ben’s questions honestly, but when Ben asks him where he has seen girls (in response to the interview question about his opinion of Earth females), Smith goes into withdrawal. Ben leaves the hospital, taking a cab. The cab is evidently a plant of the government, because it takes Ben to a secluded courtyard, and he finds himself losing consciousness.
Jill begins to panic when she receives no word from Ben. She decides to get Smith out of the hospital. When she checks his room, the doctor asks her to sit with the old woman now there while he leaves for a few minutes. She finds that it is Smith who is hiding in the sitting room, not transferred out as the report had said. She dresses him in a nurse’s uniform and sneaks him out. They go to Ben’s apartment, where Jill cleans Smith up and dresses him in his own clothes. Two policemen arrive and break in, intending to arrest Jill. When he sees his “water brother”...
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Chapters 9-11 Summary
Secretary General Douglas tells his wife, Agnes, of Smith’s disappearance. She urges that he discredit Berquist, one of the men who went to arrest Jill, because she thinks he has sold them out and to call out all the police to find Smith. Douglas tells her that this is impossible since they have already presented the false Smith to the world. Agnes calls her astrologer and asks for new horoscopes for herself, her husband, and Smith. Madame Vesant is troubled about making a chart for Smith since he was not born on Earth, but she manages to come up with something believable. She urges Agnes to stay calm and Smith will return soon, since it was necessary for him to “disappear” for a while. Agnes begins her campaign against Berquist.
Jubal Harshaw lives a life of luxury, attended by three beautiful but efficient secretaries and a collection of male flunkies. Jill arrives at his gate in a stolen van, supposedly carrying a corpse with her. Jubal orders her brought up. Also a medical doctor, Jubal disagrees with Jill’s assertion that Smith is not dead, but soon he detects a heartbeat. Jill manages to talk Smith out of his withdrawal, whispering into his unconscious state that she is his water brother. Smith and Jill are given rooms and allowed to sleep. When she awakens, Jill and Jubal discuss what to do next. Jubal decides that he will revive his own interest in medicine and observe Smith as a being who was raised in one alien environment as a baby and then thrust into another one as an adult. He learns that the government has announced that “Smith” will be moved to a place in the Andes.
On Mars, female nymphs mature into male adults. The Old Ones represent the highest order, the spirits of those who have died. Adults and Old Ones each have their own method of art. The primary art, for which the artists discorporated (died), is the depiction of the event of the destruction of the fifth planet, leaving nothing but a belt of asteroids.
On Earth, Smith is becoming more acclimated to this new environment. He learns to read (with total recall) in one day, even though he may not understand everything he reads. Physically, he is adding muscle by becoming accustomed to an increased gravity. Jill wants to leave and find Ben, but Jubal tells her that he already has detectives on the hunt. He is sure that Ben has been kidnapped, and they cannot increase the search lest his kidnappers panic and kill him. Jubal wants...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
Chapters 12-13 Summary
Ben intends to test out Jill’s report of Smith’s ability to make people, and perhaps things, disappear. He resents her attempts to force Smith into Earth customs, such as getting dressed, but he realizes that it is necessary in order for Smith to function on this planet.
Anne, one of Jubal’s secretaries, functions as a Fair Witness to the test. Jubal asks Smith to make a box disappear, but Smith says that he cannot, since it is not a “wrong thing.” Jubal then throws the box at Jill, and the box disappears. Anne reports that it did not simply disappear but shrank as if it were going a great distance somewhere. Jubal asks Smith to try it again with an ashtray, but Jill sees that Smith is upset at two of his water brothers in such a situation. Jubal then throws the ashtray over his head and tells Smith to stop it. Smith does, but it does not disappear, since Jubal did not tell him to make it go away. Jill asks about the two men who disappeared, assuring Smith that she is not angry with him. When Smith faces intense emotions, such as anger, he goes into his withdrawal, so Jill tells him not to. Smith can levitate objects, like the ash tray, but he is limited to how many he can hold up at one time. Distance is no handicap, nor is not being able to see what he is stopping. Jubal asks Smith if he can make a gun disappear without making the person holding it “discorporate.” Smith says he can, so Jubal tells him that he is always to protect Jill. Smith readily agrees.
Duke, one of Jubal’s flunkies, refuses to eat with Smith because of his Martian practice of eating the corpses of those who have died. Jubal explains that this is their highest form of honor, but he tells Duke to leave. Duke says that he wants to stay, but Jubal insists he has resigned. He will not allow anyone to stay who refuses to eat with one of his guests. Duke relents, reluctantly. Jubal explains that it is the Martians, rather than humans, who are the most civilized. He points out that most people-groups on Earth have practiced cannibalism at some time in their history. He references the Christian practice of Holy Communion as a symbolic cannibalism, just as the Martians practice it to commune with the ghosts of the dead, the Old Ones.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Chapters 14-15 Summary
Jubal tries to contact the Secretary General and asks to speak to Gilbert Berquist. He is given the run-around, which anticipates since Jill told him that Berquist is one of the men whom Smith made disappear. As he talks on the telephone, he sees that Smith is watching a broadcast of a service of the Fosterites, a religious group that has grown in power and influence. Jubal thinks about stopping Smith from watching it but decides to let him and talk to him later. The Fosterite preacher announces that a couple has been given the word that they may “go to heaven” in a few days; there will be a funeral afterward. Smith sees this as identical to the Martian concept of voluntarily discorporating.
Jubal asks Smith about the Martian concept of God, but Smith does not “grok.” The Creation is, has always been, and always will be. Finally, Smith decides that God is someone who groks, which means that Jubal is God, Jill is God, Anne is God, and so on. Jubal thinks that he might not know what it truly is to grok after all. He is interrupted by the warning that two air cars are entering the compound. He orders Smith to go to the bottom of the pool, since he can stay underwater for a long time. The air cars carry police with arrest warrants for Jill for kidnapping and for Smith for escaping custody. Jubal argues the illogical nature of this, since it is difficult to kidnap someone who escapes voluntarily.
At the bottom of the pool, Smith decides he must withdraw until Jill comes for him. In the meantime, he will meditate on the words he has learned from the dictionary. He is awakened by a sense that his water brothers are in trouble. He leaves his body at the bottom of the pool and his spirit rises to the surface. He sees the men with guns. Though the guns are not the same shape as the gun he had seen before, he senses that these weapons are still “wrong.” When the armed men approach his water brothers, he “twists” them so that they disappear. Other men rush forward and they too disappear. The car, which still holds its pilot, gives off a sense of "wrongness," so Smith makes that disappear as well. Another car approaches, which also disappears when Smith realizes its “wrongness.” He retreats to his body and comes back to consciousness when Jill swims to the bottom of the pool to retrieve him.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
Jubal recovers from the shock of seeing a group of men and two air cars disappear. He calls Thomas Mackenzie, who works for the New World Networks. Jubal had several news crews placed around his compound in case of some such attempt on his home, but the panic button he had pushed did not seem to work. Jubal asks Tom Mackenzie how he would get in contact with the Federation Secretary General Douglas if he needed to talk to him personally. Tom tells him that no one calls Douglas; Douglas calls them. Jubal cannot believe that a man that powerful is kept in total isolation. Tom explains that Douglas’s wife Agnes discourages him from having close friendships. This makes Tom think of a way that Jubal may get in contact with Douglas. He tells Jubal of Madame Vesant, Agnes’s astrologer. Jubal calls the number Tom gives him. He already knows Madame Vesant, having saved her husband’s life one time. He tells her what he wants, and she agrees to help him.
Jubal receives a call from Secretary General Douglas. He introduces himself as the attorney representing Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars. When Douglas replies that Smith is in Ecuador, Jubal brings Smith into view. He threatens to bring the matter to the High Court if Douglas does not cooperate. At that moment, another squad from the Special Services Squadron (S.S.) is breaking down Jubal’s door. When the soldiers enter, Douglas orders them to stand down, especially when he learns that they do not have a search warrant. Jubal insists on keeping the soldiers under civilian arrest at his home. Douglas and Jubal finally come to a deal. Jubal will bring Smith to the Palace to see Douglas. Jubal also insists that Ben Caxton must also be present. Douglas explodes, refusing to allow a member of an unfriendly press to the meeting, but Jubal says the meeting will not take place unless Ben is present. Douglas reluctantly agrees. Mackenzie calls and is ecstatic when Jubal allows him to interview Smith. Later, Douglas calls back to tell Jubal that Ben has been found in Mexico, held for being drunk and disorderly in public. He soon arrives at Jubal’s compound and receives medical attention to rid him of the drugs that kept him sedated while he was in Mexico. He has no idea how he got across the border.
Jubal’s secretaries have Smith kiss them. Dorcas faints and Anne is shaken. She explains that Smith gives all his attention to the kiss, which is something Earth men do not...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapters 18-19 Summary
Ben again asks Jill to marry him, but she puts him off, saying that she has responsibilities. Ben realizes that, as a nurse, she feels maternal toward her patients, but he struggles against jealousy of Smith. Jubal tells Ben that he has decided to fight for Smith’s rights after all. He fears that Smith will be killed, though he insists that assassination has never been America’s official policy. He is not interested Smith’s property rights, since Martians do not have a concept of property. They believe that, if anyone owns anything, it is the Old Ones. Smith cannot understand being the heir of the Lyle Drive and Lunar Enterprises because these belonged to someone who has since died, thus becoming an Old One. Ben asks Jubal what he thinks about these Old Ones. Jubal says he believes that it is only superstition, but he talks to Smith as if he does believe. Ben confesses that he has a suspicion that there is such a thing as immortality. Jubal explains what he now plans to do.
Jubal, Jill, Smith, and the others travel to the conference in a Greyhound air bus. Smith is overwhelmed by the size of the cities and hopes to come back in a century when they are empty. At the conference site, Jubal finds that his small, informal meeting has turned into a circus. There is a delay as the meeting is transferred to a larger room to accommodate all the officials and the press. Since this circus is organized contrary to his wishes, Jubal retaliates by turning it into an even bigger circus. He demands elaborate ceremonial trappings for the Martian delegation, taking half of the conference table, even though there are many more Earth members. Since the Secretary General will enter with an anthem, Smith should also have a Martian anthem played. And he demands a Martian flag. Dr. Mahmoud, who was on the rescue ship that brought Smith back to Earth, is overjoyed to see Smith. He learned Martian on the return trip and is more familiar with Martian customs than anyone. He is brought into Jubal’s group and made their water brother, which all take as seriously as does Smith. Senator Boone introduces himself to Jubal and says that Smith is invited to attend a Fosterite service the next Sunday. Jubal accepts for him but intends to also be present; he does not want Smith to be drawn into the religious group and thereby manipulated. At last, after the room has filled to capacity and is overflowing, the Secretary General enters.
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Chapters 20-21 Summary
As Douglas enters, the Federation anthem is played and all stand. After everyone is seated, Jubal is pleased to hear Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War” played. Everyone rises, except for Smith, who remains seated as is proper for a sovereign ruler. Smith gives greetings in Martian and immediately translates, using the term “Ancient Ones” instead of “Old Ones” at Jill’s suggestion. Jubal thinks this sounds even more intimidating.
On behalf of Smith, Jubal explains that he is old and might not be able to handle the business affairs of the Man from Mars effectively, so he requests Douglas to accept the role. If he does not want to, this position will go to Ben Caxton. Douglas is thrown off balance by this proposal, but he promises to give it some thought and answer promptly. Assemblyman Kung wants to know about the Larkin Decision, whereby Smith is given ownership and control of the planet Mars. Jubal explains that, as Mars is an inhabited planet, the Larkin Decision is null and void. The ownership of Mars belongs to the Martians, of which Valentine Michael Smith is merely a representative. When Kung wants to know why sovereign honors were given to Smith, Jubal explains that it was an honor performed for the Ancient Ones of Mars by a neighboring but equal planet, which it would be good if Kung remembered.
The group goes to their hotel suite accompanied by Dr. Mahmoud and two other men from the rescue ship Champion: Captain Van Tromp and Dr. Sven Nelson. As they eat, the men discuss the meaning of the word “grok.” Dr. Mahmoud says that the word literally means “to drink,” but it also means love, hate, and a whole wealth of meanings. Basically, it means to absorb something, to understand so completely that the observer becomes part of the observed.
Jubal receives a call from Madame Versant congratulating him on his performance. He invites her to come and be introduced to Smith some time. Dr. Nelson is amazed that Smith’s physical appearance has changed so much since he last saw him. It seems that Smith can “think” muscle development. Jubal explains his disinterest in Smith’s wealth, seeing it as a prison. Van Tromp tells Jubal that, when the time came to return to Earth, Smith did not want to leave Mars. The Martians ordered him to go, so van Tromp thinks that Smith is reconnoitering for his Martian masters. Jubal thinks this is ridiculous, considering the disability that Martians have on...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapters 22-23 Summary
After Secretary General Douglas guarantees Valentine Michael Smith his privacy, the press gradually backs off. However, Smith receives a massive amount of mail. One package contains a bomb, which explodes at the post office, but most include offers of some kind. A woman, Cynthia Duchess, volunteers to be the mother of his baby (by surrogate) and includes a naked picture of herself to advertise her abilities. Jubal orders Smith’s mail to be separated and organized, with only the personal letters from people he knew to be delivered to Smith.
Smith quickly learns the value of money after Douglas, who is manager of his finances, sends him a check book. Smith uses his money to buy gifts for his friends. He wants to by Jubal a Rodin sculpture, but the museum in France says it is not for sale. One person that Jubal has been shielding Smith from is Senator Boone, but at last, Boone can no longer be put off. Smith is finally allowed to accompany Boone to a Fosterite service.
On the way to the church service, Jubal warns Smith that the Fosterites are just after his money and the prestige of having the Man from Mars being part of their church. He tries to explain organized religion to him, but Smith does not “grok.” Jubal frets about the potential threat the Fosterites pose to Smith, but he realizes that there is nothing that he can really do to prevent Smith from getting involved in the religion.
Senator Boone greets them at the church. He tries to prevent Jill from entering with Jubal and Smith, but Jubal says that she is Smith’s nurse and must go with the Man from Mars since he is still not acclimated to Earth. Boone shows them a slot machine that awards a payout of tokens and an inspiration text instead of cash. Jubal wins the jackpot three times in a row and suspects that Smith had something to do with his great luck. Boone orders martinis to be brought. He shows them the body of Foster, the founder of the Fosterite church. Smith senses a wrongness about it. Boone introduces them to one of the young women in the church, who is a stripper. During the service, Smith is introduced to the congregation. He has trouble following the sermon, even though it is in English. One of the leaders, Bishop Digby, manages to get Smith alone. Jubal and Jill panic until Smith is returned and they can leave.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapters 24-25 Summary
On the way home from the Fosterite service, Jubal asks Smith what Bishop Digby said. Smith tells him he wants to think about it before he responds. Jubal can see that Smith is truly disturbed by what he experienced. He and Jill talk about religion in general, and how it would be seen from a Martian’s point of view. Jubal criticizes organized religion in general. He points out how many “righteous” men in the Old Testament did horrible things but were still considered righteous. The Koran as well has been used as validation for human discrimination. Dr. Mahmoud is concerned over their letting Smith be alone with Digby, but Jubal justifies the choice that Smith has to face life on Earth and decide how to deal with it.
Smith goes to his room and withdraws to meditate over his experience. He knows Jill does not like him to do this in public and during the day, but he feels that this is necessary in order to make sense of all of this. He wakes up at midnight feeling relieved. He decides to look for companionship and runs into Jill. He kisses her and she guides him into making love.
On Mars, the humans are building pressurized domes with the help of the Martians. They are figuring out a way to release oxygen trapped in the Martian sands to make the planet more habitable for humans in the future. On Earth, plants are becoming an obsession. The Fosterite church announces that Bishop Digby will be translated up to heaven and be made an archangel “equal-but-after” Foster. Digby is not happy about this, blaming the Man from Mars. When Digby disappears, Jubal also blames the Man from Mars, but for a different reason stemming from Smith’s unsettled mood when he came back from the Fosterite service.
Jubal notices that Smith now seems to be more self-confident, almost cocky. It seems that the Man from Mars has decided to join the human race, Jubal feels. From the beginning, Jubal had told Smith that he should go out and see the world once he felt able. One morning at breakfast, Smith announces that he is leaving. He tells Jubal that he must decide who will go with him. Jubal knows that the choice has already been made, so he tells Smith that Jill may go with him. Smith agrees, and he and Jill leave almost at once.
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Chapters 26-27 Summary
Mike Smith and Jill join a carnival company, presenting themselves as a magician and his assistant. Smith now can use his powers to make things disappear on objects without his having sensed their “wrongness.” Among the company is Patty Paiwonski, the tattooed lady who is also a Fosterite. Mike and Jill are eventually let go, however, because Mike does not have showmanship.
Mike and Jill leave Jubal’s and are hounded when people recognize them. Eventually, Mike manages to change his physical appearance slightly by giving himself a more mature look. He has matured, not only in appearance but in his understanding of Earth and his place in it. They work in a diner for a while, where Mike washes dishes in his own unique way. He discoveres libraries and immerses himself in books, thinking that Jubal had owned a copy of all the books that ever existed. Mike and Jill talk about returning to Jubal’s for a visit, which they do occasionally.
Patty comes to say good-bye to Mike and Jill. She wants to convert them to the Fosterite service. Her tattoos show the entire life of Foster, so Mike and Jill invite her to strip down to show them. Foster had come out of the Christian tradition, stating that Jesus’ words were Truth but had been twisted during the Middle Ages. He has turned the faith back to “primitive Christianity,” adding a free response to sex that had been inhibited during early American religious life. Within the Foster church was an inner circle, where the eternally saved were hand-picked by Foster himself. Patty shows Mike and Jill a tattoo of a kiss that Foster’s lips had personally touched. She offers to tattoo lips on Mike and Jill if they ever decide to join the church. Patty is accepted as a water brother by Mike and Jill, and she makes love to Mike as a natural expression of their new relationship. Jill tells Patty that she and Mike will have to remain just seekers without joining the church. Mike shows his true powers to Patty, making her clothes disappear and levitating her. She sees him as a holy man, the personification of the Archangel Michael. She spends all night talking to Mike, with Jill’s full approval. She leaves the next morning, upset that they will now be separated, but Jill promises her that they will keep in touch with her, adding that Mike is rich if she ever needs money.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Chapters 28-29 Summary
The spirits of Foster and Digby argue over the direction Mike Smith is taking. They watch as Patty tries to lead them into Fosterism. Foster is impressed with his protégé, Patty, though he notices that she is getting older. He is disturbed by her belief in the Man from Mars as the Archangel Michael in human form. He is not sure whether he is or not, but he chides Digby for being preoccupied with him, especially since Mike gave him the slip during his visit to Digby’s church during the latter’s lifetime. Foster sends Digby on a mission as a Guardian-in-Training.
As Patty leaves, Jill and Mike talk about the symbolism of tattoos. Mike announces that they are ready to leave, but Jill wishes that they could take Patty with them. Mike asks Jill to marry him, but Jill says that it would not change anything; moreover, it might shut out the other women in Mike’s life. She does ask him to call her pet names.
They go to Las Vegas, where Jill works as a show girl, and Mike plays the games. When he wins money at each of the casinos, he goes to work as a croupier and studies people, trying to “grok” why they like to gamble. Jill explains homosexuality to Mike, but he does not understand it. Jill tells him how to handle passes from men, knowing that with his androgynous beauty he would attract such. She thinks that Mike would feel a “wrongness” about homosexuals if he ever came across them. As a show girl, Jill enjoys being looked at by men and tries to understand this. Mike asks her if she would have sex with Duke as a water brother. She thinks about this, since Mike has sex with women whom he considers water brothers. Mike believes in free love among water brothers, and so has no jealousy. During a show, Mike gives her visions of how each man in the audience responds to her. They go to other shows together, and Jill sees women through Mike’s eyes.
Mike and Jill move to San Francisco, where Mike reads voraciously in the flat they have rented. He focuses on religious texts and tells Jill that on Mars there is no faith, only certainty. Mike wonders why there are no Old Ones on Earth, since they were the source of spiritual knowledge on Mars. They visit the zoo and notice the humanness of all the animals. Mike bursts into uncontrollable laughter, finally “grokking” people.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Summary
Jubal is troubled by the life Mike and Jill are living. While they frequently come home, they do not stay long. Mike joined the Union Theological Seminary but was attacked by theologians as well as atheists. He joined the army as “Private Mike” but lasted only three weeks. On his last day on the parade ground, Mike caused the commanding general and his staff to be buried hip deep in horse manure. Jubal regrets that Mike has acquired a sense of humor.
Their latest venture has caused Jubal the most concern. Mike has become “The Reverend Doctor Valentine M. Smith,” founder and pastor of the Church of all Worlds. Ben Caxton arrives, and Jubal shows him the home's latest additions, including a galley for his statuary. Ben thinks most of the sculptures are hideous, but he is impressed by the sculpture and the inherent symbolism of the Little Mermaid—not quite fish, not quite human.
Jubal tells Ben that Dorcas is marrying Mahmoud. The other two girls are pregnant. Duke the mechanic has left, leaving only Larry the gardener, but Jubal dismisses them as the prospective fathers. He says the girls are too smug, so the father must of course be Mike. Ben gives Jubal some details about Mike’s church, from where he has just come. Mike is primarily teaching the attendees the Martian language. Ben mentions that Patty, the tattooed lady, is there as well.
Ben is perplexed by Mike’s home, which he shares with twenty of his followers. He meets Patty, who is not wearing clothes. She invites him to shed his as well, but he resists. Soon, he feels comfortable enough to strip down to his underwear, but his inhibitions prevent his taking off more. He learns the setup of the house, which is a type of Martian communism. A bowl of money is by the door for anyone to take as they leave the house. Ben catches the end of a church service, a service in which Jill is the personification of Mother Eve, complete with a snake that belongs to Patty. Jill tells him of the peace and equality of Mike’s church. She and Dawn Ardent are the high priestesses. Mike changed their appearances so that they look remarkably similar. Ben becomes more comfortable with the setting and eventually makes love with Dawn as a ceremony of “grokking” another water brother.
(The entire section is 399 words.)
Chapters 32-33 Summary
Ben Caxton awakens to find himself sleeping alone. He wonders where Dawn went. When he calls out, she replies as the lights come up. They talk of their night together, and Dawn says that she was not upset when Ben called out Jill’s name instead of hers as they made love.
Ben is hungry and goes down to the kitchen to find something to eat. He finds that Duke is cooking. Duke explains that Mike can do amazing repairs with just his mind, so there is little work for a mechanic to do. Mostly, Duke is the fire warden and safety inspector, which allows him to do the inspections without letting outsiders in. Duke explains that Ben is going to have his Water-Sharing that night. Duke tells Ben that his life will now be different. No matter how many women he has slept with in the past, Ben will no longer go to bed with any woman who is not his water brother. Duke introduces him to Ruth, who joined Mike’s church along with her husband without hesitation. Jill comes to greet him, pleased that he slept with Dawn and released the jealousy he had of her. Mike senses that Ben is uneasy about everything that has happened. He says that they will not be able to have Ben’s Sharing-Water that evening. Jill objects, not wanting Ben to leave without it. She kisses him, with Mike hanging on to both of them. Suddenly, Mike’s clothes disappear, shocking Ben.
Ben runs off, confused and disgusted by the orgiastic atmosphere in Mike’s church. He goes back to Jubal, who listens to Ben rant against all that Mike is doing. Ben believes that he was hypnotized by Mike, as the Man from Mars is doing to all his followers. Jubal does not agree; he thinks the problem is simply a conflict of Ben’s own emotions and values. He tells him that sex has been the foundation for all of society, and prudery is a recent invention. Ben wonders how Jubal can even consider the truthfulness of what Mike is preaching, but Jubal does. He bets Ben one thousand dollars to return to Mike and see that the disappearance of his clothes was a miracle. Ben does not believe him but returns anyway. Twenty-four hours later, Ben wires Jubal two thousand dollars. Jubal wires Ben’s office, asking what he is doing. Ben replies that he is studying Martian—an indication that he is joining Mike’s inner circle.
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapters 34-35 Summary
There is public reaction against Mike Smith’s Church of All Worlds. Religious leaders are preaching against him as a cult leader and the Antichrist. Jubal has heard about this since he has broken his self-imposed exile from the news, though he has increasingly isolated himself, focusing on his household and the new babies that have arrived. He wonders if there is any significance in the names his “girls” have given their babies. Anne breaks the news to him that Mike has been arrested once again. Larry rushes in to tell him that Mike’s church has burned down. As they watch the news program, Ben calls to tell them that everyone is all right. Mike is still in prison, but everyone in the innermost circle escaped. It will be reported, however, that there were no survivors, since Mike used his powers to rescue his followers out of the blaze, so no one was seen leaving by any exit. Ben tells Jubal that, if he should decide to come, they will find him, but he will not say where they are staying. Jubal gets into a taxi and takes off.
Jubal, with much delay, arrives at the tropical hotel where Mike and his inner circle are staying. He finds that the girls have arrived already. The infamous nudity that Ben described does not seem to be practice here, Jubal notices. He is greeted by Patty, who shows him to his room. Ben comes to speak to him, describing Mike’s escape from prison. Mike had not just escaped from his own cell but had thrown up the prison doors in the whole prison, believing that incarceration was a “wrongness.”
Miriam and Mahmoud have also arrived. Mahmoud explains that he has joined the church without leaving Islam. He is helping to write a Martian dictionary. Ben reveals that all of Mike’s followers are gaining that powers that Mike has, such as teleportation. Madame Vesant has also joined Mike’s inner circle. Mahmoud explains that she has the true Sight, which she has used in even so meaningless a practice as astrology. Sam introduces Jubal to his wife Ruth, whose long black hair Jubal had been admiring. He talks about the changes that Mike’s teachings will bring about, when people can transport themselves anywhere, heal themselves, direct nature, and gain the empowerment that control will bring. When Jubal goes to bed, he finds that Dawn is in his room, offering herself to him. At first, Jubal resists, but he eventually gives in to the inevitable and they make love.
(The entire section is 429 words.)
Chapters 36-37 Summary
Jubal awakens the next morning, feeling more alive than he has in years. He encounters Jill waiting outside his door. She tells him that there was a Sharing-Water ceremony while he and Dawn were making love, so all of them were taking part. She explains that sex is more than just reproduction, but a joining of spirits. She tells Jubal that she is pregnant. Jubal meets Captain Van Tromp and his wife, who are also part of the inner circle. Madame Vesant wants to know the exact moment of Jubal’s birth so that she can do his horoscope, but he avoids her probing. Mike greets him ecstatically. They sit down to examine Mike’s progress. Mike tells him that he has finally realized that he is a spy for the Martian Old Ones. All his experiences on earth have been recorded and examined for future reference. Mike tells Jubal that he fears that the Old Ones are going to conquer earth in one of two ways: either by total destruction as they did the fifth planet or by making over humans in the image of Martians. Mike believes that humans will not survive this latter method. He fears that he has failed in his mission. He has managed to convince Jill that it is not wrong to discorporate (kill) those who have a wrongness about them. Cars begin to arrive outside of the hotel, but each one vanishes under Mike’s power. But here are still so many that he has not been able to reach. Jubal encourages him to persevere, that he should not give up as quickly as a human would, since Martians are able to wait for centuries before achieving their goal. Mike agrees and proclaims that waiting has ended.
Mike prepares to meet the crowds that are gathering outside of the hotel. The news crew is present, broadcasting the event. Dressed in white, Mike appears before them. He calls out his message of love, but the people hurl curses and accusations at him. Suddenly his clothes disappear and he appears as a golden god, complete with a halo around his head. Soon the words are replaced with bricks. Stone after stone hits Mike, but he still perseveres in his message. Shots ring out, and one arm is shot off, falling to the ground with the hand open as if in invitation to come forward. Bullets and stones continue to fly and Mike falls to the ground. As the crowd falls upon him, beating him to death, he says, “I love you,” and discorporates.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Chapters 38-39 Summary
Jubal is overwhelmed at the death of Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars. The other followers, however, seem unaffected. All are dry-eyed. Jill explained that Mike is not dead since no one can be killed, nor can he ever be away from them. Jubal wants to be alone, so he leaves the others as they go on with their daily business and returns to his room. He takes three pills that he has always carried since Secretary General Douglas had his stroke. He lies down and prepares to die. But he is awakened by Mike, who tells him that the Fullness is not yet. Mike takes Jubal into the bathroom and forces him to vomit out the pills. Jubal thanks him and Mike leaves, explaining that he has some things to attend to.
Jubal goes downstairs, where everyone is preparing for lunch. Duke is in the kitchen, stirring a small sauce pan. The inner circle is talking about the plans to leave the hotel. They are splitting up to carry on Mike’s message. Plans are made to preserve the area where Mike was stoned to death, burying him on the site and erecting a memorial. Jubal invites them to return to his compound, where they all look forward to swimming and being immersed in water. Duke continues to stir the broth, which is Mike. They partake of the broth, as they thank the “donor.” Jubal begins to understand. They discuss their financial situations. Mike has made them his heirs, so they are all at least millionaires. They will use the money to found new temples wherever they are going. Jubal begins a script of a movie about the life of the Man from Mars.
On the planet Mars, the Old Ones have reached a verdict about the fate of the third planet long ago. While it will be necessary to “weed out” the wrongness, they are in no hurry to do so. Since the humans are beginning to spread out across the solar system, it will be difficult to destroy the entire human race. Foster calls Digby and explains that he is going to be gone for several eons, working on a special assignment. He makes Digby the assistant to Mike, who is now known as the Archangel Michael. Digby and Mike greet each other with Mike’s greeting: Thou art God. Foster tells them to skip the formalities, agreeing that each one is God, but then so is everyone else. Mike looks around him, seeing all the changes that he wants to make.
(The entire section is 426 words.)