The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Critical Essays

Philip K. Dick


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, written in Philip K. Dick’s brilliant middle-period style (1962-1969), came at a time in science-fiction history when drug novels proliferated. Other works of this type include William Burroughs’ Nova Express (1964), Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia (1975; earlier published in parts), and Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965).

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch sprang from a particularly prolific time in Dick’s writing career. This novel was one of twelve written between 1962 and 1965, most notably The Man in the High Castle (1962), Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964), Martian Time-Slip (1964), and Dr. Bloodmoney (1965). Dick followed this streak with six more novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and the haunting Ubik (1969).

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is a profound yet accessible work, and it is one of Dick’s finest. The novel contains elements of religious philosophy and existentialism, and Dick would later put a Gnostic Christian interpretation on it—with Eldritch in the role of the demiurge, the “deluded creator god.” By the time the novel ends—and it ends rather abruptly, seemingly without resolving the story—readers are not certain at what point they entered Eldritch’s reality. Indeed, the first line of the novel—“His head unnaturally aching,...

(The entire section is 595 words.)