The years since its publication have dated the characters of Barefoot in the Head badly. Charteris himself is a curious blend of old philosophies: At one time, threads of the thought of the Russian mystic G. I. Gurdyieff and his popularizer P. D. Ouspensky run through his speech, and at another, he sounds more like the stereotypical flower child of the 1960’s. Another variety of unconventional behavior is suggested by Charteris’ fascination with the automobile and its motion as a means of liberation. The Beat Generation of the 1950’s and its leader Jack Kerouac are saluted in Aldiss’ wordplay: At one point during their journey through Belgium, Charteris’ crusaders are “kerouacking” rather than bivouacking. The hippies, the next decade’s successors to the beats, are a part of Charteris, too. From them comes the notion of the possibility of preaching a new gospel through rock music, an idea which, although taken seriously at the time, will strike many post-1960’s readers as an aberration. Charteris’ casual sex and constant consumption of drugs, his “tuning out” and “dropping out,” stand almost as an epitome of that strange time.
In the story, Angeline remains the reader’s very tenuous link to external reality and is, indeed, the one whom life’s realities keep disturbing. It is her husband who is killed by Charteris; it is her genuine love which Charteris rejects as part of a creed outworn; it is she who bears his child. Her motivations are clear and understandable, while those of Charteris remain mysterious as his desires are sloughed off like shed skins.
Minor characters often stand out in high relief simply because the reader can understand their needs and desires: Marta Koninkrijk, her mind crumbling before the drug fog while her house crumbles before the road-crews, is briefly rescued from a creeping catatonia by the appearance of Charteris. When she becomes one of his most fanatical followers, however, she appears no better off than she was before, and her death is soon forgotten.