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THE COSMIC PUPPETS by Dave Hyde
1. We Scour The Minutae So You Don't Have To.
We are fortunate to have in our otherwise rather skimpy collection of Phildickiana a copy of the December 1956 Satellite, the magazine with the short story that ended up as THE COSMIC PUPPETS. So, for lack of a brighter idea I thought I'd do a comparison between the magazine story and the published novel.
But first a look at the story's publishing history, which is an interesting one.
A GLASS OF DARKNESS was written probably in early 1953, inspired by Dick's love for the magazine Unknown. In 1981 he told interviewer Gregg Rickman that "one day he decided to try and write an Unknown-style fantasy, 'a fantasy novel for a publication which I loved, which no longer existed.'"
Unknown hadn't existed since 1943.
The title for the story was taken from 1 Corinthians 13, the paragraph that goes:
"For now we see through a
glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as
also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity."
Which is a part of a lecture on
the supreme virtue of charity.
The manuscript was received at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency on August 19, 1953. This, as Paul Williams noted, means that the story was probably written before SOLAR LOTTERY, the manuscript of which was received at SMLA on March 23, 1954. It was, therefore, when expanded into THE COSMIC PUPPETS, the first science fiction or fantasy novel that Dick wrote.
After reception at SMLA the story presumably went the rounds. Dick by this time was a prolific appearer in the science fiction magazines having, in 1953, according to the Paul Williams chronology, thirty published stories! His peak year.
So, A GLASS OF DARKNESS should've popped up in late 1953 or early 1954 in one or other of these magazines. That it didn't Rickman attributes to the fact that it was a 'fantasy' and though the science fiction market was booming at the time there was little room for fantasy, a distinction that at this later date is none too clear.
However, it finally landed in the second issue of Satellite Science Fiction (1956-1959) in December of 1956.
The story, at 92 pages, filled the bulk of the magazine, pushing much shorter efforts by Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Bryning, Michael Shaara, Dal Stevens, Algys Budrys and Gordon R. Dickson into the last thirty pages. The magazine cover, illustrating Dick's story, was painted by Kelly Freas and the internal art was by Arnold Arlow. Dick was paid $400.
This initial appearance of A GLASS OF DARKNESS apparantly stirred little critical comment, none that I can find anyway. It did though, in March of 1957, spur Donald Wollheim to write to PKD wondering why Scott Meredith had not submitted the story to Ace Books.
On being informed of this the SMLA immediately sold the story to Ace for an advance, presumably, of $1000. Few flies on Scott.
And just in the nick of time, too, as Ballantine Press, in the person of tony Boucher, also showed interest. In a letter dated June 5, 1957, Boucher stated that if he'd've liked A GLASS OF DARKNESS he'd've paid "exactly twice Satellite's $400."
But... too late for Ballantine. A GLASS OF DARKNESS, newly retitled THE COSMIC PUPPETS by Ace, was published in late 1957 as one half of an Ace Double backed with Sargasso Of Space by Andrew North (Andre Norton).
Dick -- again presumably -- expanded A GLASS OF DARKNESS into what would become THE COSMIC PUPPETS in between the time he got Wollheim's letter (early April 1957) and the time the SMLA has noted down for the reception of the manuscript on May 1, 1957. In other words, Dick rewrote the story in a month -- I'd guess in one sitting.
And there the story lies for the next 22 years. Until January 1979 when Russ Galen at Berkley Books purchased THE COSMIC PUPPETS together with DR. FUTURITY and THE UNTELEPORTED MAN as part of a package deal that paid Dick $14,000 (though whether Dick got $14,000 for each of these novels or for the lot is unclear; I suspect though, given the low pay for science fiction writing, that this was a lump sum for the lot). The novel was reissued by Berkley in October 1983 as a paperback after they had canned plans to issue an illustrated version.
Asked by Rickman why it had fallen out of print for twenty two years, Wollheim of Ace said "I don't even recall the story. it was not reprinted because I forgot it."
So, a big tip of the hat to the folks at Berkley Books for making this Philip Dick story available to us. Now, of course, the novel is known worldwide with editions in Italy and Germany. There may be others. And filmmaker J.B.Reynolds has written a screenplay.
2. Through A Magnifying Glass Idly.
Now it's time to turn to the comparison of A GLASS OF DARKNESS with THE COSMIC PUPPETS, as promised above.
From a page by page comparison of the early half of the two stories it is certain that PKD totally rewrote the story: there are few paragraphs where something has not been changed. Usually these changes are not significant, just a rewording of a sentence, the disqualificationof an adjective, a more economic word choice. In the early part of the story I have looked at these changes to see if there has been an effort by Dick to alter the nature of his characters -- make, say, Dr. Meade a softer personality, Peter Trilling more mysterious. Or to make other meaningful changes that would somehow slant the story in the revised directions that Dick would want it to go. Again, nothing you could really put your finger on.
Basically, the typical update in the early part of the story is as follows:
A GLASS OF DARKNESS (p14): "His tousled, sandy hair hung in a ragged fringe around his wide forehead.."
THE COSMIC PUPPETS (p2 Berkley): "His tousled, sandy-coloured hair hung down around his wide forehead..."
A GLASS OF DARKNESS: "Noaks regarded it with awe; then drew back unhappily, one hand on his airplane. Then he lifted it and, hesitantly, tossed it through the air. It fell heavily to the grass, knocking one of its wings loose in the process..."
THE COSMIC PUPPETS (p2): "Noaks saw it with awe; he drew back unhappily, one hand on his airplane. Then he lifted it up and soared it plaintively..."
it does seem though that with changes such as these the updated version would not be an expansion but a contraction or, at least, stay the same.
Well, guess what: an average word count for the Berkley COSMIC PUPPETS comes out at 44,032 while A GLASS OF DARKNESS comes in at 44,772. A difference of a mere 740 words but nevertheless a definite contraction. (Which might make it rather awkward for future bibliographers : A GLASS OF DARKNESS, 1953, published 1956, short story. Contracted to THE COSMIC PUPPETS, published 1957, novel...)
Whatever. What we've actually got here with the Berkley COSMIC PUPPETS is a tremendous puff job. A masterpiece of the publisher's art: 44,000 words physically blown up to fill 186 pages! Thus fulfilling in the consumer's eye the minimum size requirements for a paperback novel, I guess...
But, to return, there are a couple of minor changes, cuts merely, that could be interpreted as slightly altering the readers' perception of the characters: In the early scene where Mary is playing with the clay, the original has (on page 14):
reluctantly to her feet. "Can't I stay?" She asked eagerly.
Doctor Meade put an affectionate arm around his daughter. "Get going, you little Wanderer,: he said with mock-sternness. "Into the car with you."
and later in the same scene:
"Then, more sharply, "Mary, I told you to get in the car."
THE COSMIC PUPPETS is different (page 2-3):
got reluctantly to her feet. "Can't i stay?"
Doctor Meade put his arm around his daughter affectionately. "Get going, you little Wanderer. Into the car."
"Mary, I told you to get in the car."
So the overt sterness and sharpness are removed from the character of Dr. Meade. But to what purpose?
Or consider these alterations:
A GLASS OF DARKNESS (p18): "What do you want?" he demanded. "What's the idea of coming in here without knocking?" For some reason, Barton felt oddly on the defensive.
THE COSMIC PUPPETS (p25): "What do you want?" he demanded. What's the idea of coming in here?"
And earlier in the same scene:
A GLASS OF DARKNESS (p18): A boy stood there, small and thin, regarding him with immense questing brown eyes.
THE COSMIC PUPPETS (p25): A boy stood there, small and thin, with immense brown eyes.
The 'questing' is gone and so is Barton's literal defensiveness, though it remains implied. And throughout this whole scene where Barton meets Peter the intensity of their duel is lessened, becomes more subtle in THE COSMIC PUPPETS. Now this could be just a matter of style. I can imagine Dick as he reads his original manuscript -- or perhaps a copy of the self-same Satellite that is now crumbling into dust on my desk -- thinking as many writers do when they read over their own work that, boy! this is pretty obvious, maybe I should tone it down... and there goes another adjective.
The overall effect, though slight, of these changes is to reduce the dramatic tension between the characters as they interact. It is early in the story; although Barton has just discovered that he's dead, he's still relating fairly normally to the other characters. Peter Trilling, is for him, just a little boy bugging him when he's tired. Why should he be defensive?
Well, perhaps I'm grabbing at straws but later as Dick gets into the rewrite his changes do become more significant. But, before that, there is one error that must be pointed out. And one interesting cut.
On page 19 of the short story is written:
A boy living in Southwestern Virginia.
On page 26 of the novel:
A boy living in Southeastern Virginia.
The likely correct one is Southeastern Virginia as Richmond is mentioned a few times in the story.
As for the cut, this ocurs on page 26 of the short story:
He puffed angrily on his cigar, a man who hated illness and its causes as other men hate Germans, or Negroes, or Japanese, or just foreigners.
It is replaced in the novel with:
He puffed on his cigar angrily. "I remember that..."
After three years the memory of the War must have faded some more in Philip Dick's mind.
The next change of interest occurs on page 104 of the novel. Dick added the paragraph about the Wanderer emerging in the wall, as remembered by Mary. He probably added it as he went along, not noticing that he'd accomplished the same effect a few sentences later in the original. Which meant, rather than go back and redo it again, he had to write this later part out. Which he did.
It's hard to remember that back in the old days of the 'Fifties word-processors were unheard of and electric typewriters very expensive. Dick, though a master typist, probably had to crank his early work out on one of those old manual typewriters, like a 'Royal' or 'Olivetti.' If you made a mistake you either 'x'-ed it out or used a prehistoric version of 'White-Out.'
This technical angle probably also accounts for what is, really, the second major change between the short story and the novel: nearly all of the italicized words have been changed to normal type. It's quicker that way. The convention was that italicized words should be indicated by underlining them, which meant backing the platen back the necessary number of spaces and banging with the right forefinger on the 'underline' key. A laborious process, thankfully now part of history. One can imagine Dick not wanting to go through that chore on a quick rewrite.
But as Dick gets into the heart of the story the rewrite becomes more of a write, the changes more involved with the action. His story is exciting him again. The whole scene of the re-creation of the Park is considerably rewritten. Dick adds a paragraph beginning, "What next? She examined herself..." on page 110. Which adds a little detail to our knowledge of how a golem works and of Mary's personality.
A few pages later on page 115 we encounter the problem of the cannonballs. How many canonballs should there be beside the old cannon in Will and Ted's re-creation? Five or fourteen? In the short story there are 14 but in the novel there are 5. Hmmm. Well, how many would there be in a pile of cannonballs? A pile of 5 would be a base of 4 and one on top in the middle. A pile of 14 would be four and one in the middle on a base of 9. This last making a more impressive pile three cannonballs high. So, perhaps Dick thought that as this was a small town they would only have a small pile.
I think in this section -- because immediately following the bit with the cannonballs is the bit with the flagpole -- Dick was shoring up the stability of his characters' re-creation of the park, solidifying it in the readers' mind.
Loose ends are tied up. Close to the cannon with its balls is the flagpole. In the short story the question of its whereabouts is discussed and then dropped. The flagpole is left hanging. Dick must've noticed this for on the rewrite he finally locates it through a brief argument between Barton and Will Christopher. Then the two worry about the flag itself. is it the Stars and Bars of the South of the Stars and Stripes of the North? This the two drunks resolve by noticing that it's dark and therefore the flag must be inside. (All these details about cannonballs and flags are important to the story as these two characters attempt to recreate the park down to its minutest detail).
And that's the most rewriting so far. Later on PKD will rewrite the climactic battle scene. But before that he delayed the identification of Ormazd with the cosmic figure in the sky until later in the novel. On a handful of occasions where 'Ormazd' is instanced in the short story it is replaced by 'He' in the novel untilthe identification is made by Dr. Meade in the scene where the cosmic battle is discussed (p132 Berkley).
As for the final textual changes of significance, these occur in the story's climax and serve to deliver a heightened drama to the scene.
First, the description of Ahriman's filthy, decaying condition is added to the novel:
It fed constantly. It was bloating itself on the things it caught. Its tentacles swept up Wanderers, golems, rats, and snakes indiscriminately. He could see a rubbish heap of cadavers littered through its jelly, in all stages of decomposition. It swept up and absorbed everything, all life, whatever it touched. It turned life into a barren path of filth and ruin and death.
Certainly a dramatic description. And one that is hsortly followed by the added material of Barton rolling down the slope fighting off the spiders. Just a slight touch here.
Then, to move this essay towards its conclusion, in the scene where Dr. Meade flees in panic in his station wagon (p165 Berkley) Dick has changed the nature of Meade's coming to a halt from merely stopping in front of the boulder that Barton rolled toward him to actually crashing into said boulder. And he adds a short scene of Ahriman getting larger in all his disgusting proportions. This is quickly followed by the rearranging and rewriting of the scene where Barton explodes into the universe. But to no different effect other than, perhaps, more heightened tension.
It's difficult for me to see these changes as essentially effectual: when a scene is already so well-written that it's at its dramatic peak any rewriting only keeps it there. Perhaps it becomes more rounded with the additional material. The added description of Ahriman serves to set the scale, define the background against which Dr. Meade and Ted Barton have their taut discussion. And the effect of the added changes to the Ted exploding scene is to draw it out, make time pass more slowly, fill in a little more information. I guess you can't gild a lilly, but you can give it better lighting.
Now to the end. The most significant alterations of all! This is the scene where Mary (Armaiti) fades away. Here are the relevant passages:
A GLASS OF DARKNESS (p92): That
was the last he saw of her -- already, she was going. Once, he heard her laugh, rich and
mellow. it lingered, but she was dissolving rapidly. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and for
a moment turned away.
When he looked again, she was gone.
THE COSMIC PUPPETS (p178): That
was the last he saw of her. Already, she was going. once, he heard her laugh, rich and
mellow. It lingered, but she was dissolving rapidly. Melding with the ground, the trees,
the sparkling bushes and vines. She flowed quickly to them, a liquid river of pure life,
absorbing herself into the moist soil. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, and for a moment
When he looked again she was gone.
The manner of her going away is here completely described. No longer does she just dissolve. She now dissolves into the ground, the trees, the bushes and vines, the soil itself. But the significance of this to my understanding of the novel is such that I will have to defer its explication to the third section of this essay, ahem...
And that's it for the textual changes. The only other change of note is in the positioning of the early chapters. originally the short story begins with Ted Barton and his wife driving through Virginia and continues up to Ted's discovery that his lucky compass has been changed into a piece of dry bread. Followed by the scene of the children playing with the clay in its entirety.
In the novel this is rearranged. First comes one half of the children playing scene, then the material on Barton and his wife, and then the remainder of the children's scene. After this initial repositioning the chapters, despite different breaks, follow each other in tandem.
I think Dick, in A GLASS OF DARKNESS, intended the story to sort of slowly drift into weirdness by starting off with this normal couple driving on vacation and follow it with the goleming of the clay by Peter Trilling. But, split in two, the impact of the clay scene is lost until it is completed. In other words, I can't see that this repositioning had much of an effect. of course, it introduces the children to the reader first and s/he must keep them in mind. Perhaps on rewriting Dick thought the story needed a teaser.
But, then again, in word-processor retrospect, the prime position of the scene where Mary, watched by Peter, fashions her golems makes me think of the idea that a short story should in its beginning encapsulate the essence of its theme. And taken together the two linked though seperate goleming scenes do do this. Mary, who is later identified as the good godess Armaiti, daughter of Ormazd, first picks up the clay and creates a tiny cow. The watchful Peter, later to be revealed as the evil god Ahriman, then picks up the clay and molds a man. The echoes of this in light of Dick's later religious speculation are what this story is all about. The idea that mankind was created by an evil intelligence that, looking ahead, will occupy Dick in many of his later books, finds its first consideration here.
And that's it! THE COSMIC PUPPETS is another draft of the story with Dick filling in the gaps, correcting errors, adding color and tension, rounding of the rough edges of a work that, until the appearance of this Satellite, had likely sat unread for a few years. We can imagine him, as I've done, planning on a mere retype of the story and making small changes as he goes along and then getting caught up in the story and intervening occasionally to make it better, most notably in the scenes of high drama.
Still, such changes as there are do make a difference. The question in A GLASS OF DARKNESS is who, exactly, is Ted Barton? But at the end of the short story this is none too clear. At the end of THE COSMIC PUPPETS it is more so. And to that we'll turn our attention next.
3.The Cosmic Puppets
For the purposes of writing an essay for this FDO, picking up THE COSMIC PUPPETS is like opening a can of worms. Seemingly innocuous at first glance this novel when seen backwards from the knowledge of Philip K. Dick's brilliant literary career takes on, well, the aspect of a can of worms! You pry the thing open and there's all these wiggling ideas that you just know will, in time, through many coils, lead you straight to VALIS -- the Phildickian sword hanging over the head of all latter-day reviewers...
But let's ignore VALIS for a while and poke at these wiggles, note at least one of the familiar ideas that Dick employs in THE COSMIC PUPPETS for the first time at 'novel' length.
The golems made by Mary Meade and Peter Trilling at the start of the book prefigure, of course, the androids and simulacra of Dick's later novels. Simple clay figures in composition they are imbued with a fierce aliveness; they don't want to die. For me the early scene where Peter makes two golems, sets them down and they flee in opposite directions, is the most memorable in the book. I'll quote it i part here (p21 Berkley):
Peter ordered sharply. He snatched up the first one, jumped quickly to his feet and
hurried after the other one. it ran desperately -- straight toward Doctor Meade's station
As the station wagon started up, the tiny clay figure made a frantic leap. Its tiny arms groped wildly as it tried to find purchase on the smooth metal fender. Unconcerned, the station wagon moved out into traffic, and the tiny figure was left behind, still waving its arms futilely, trying to climb and catch hold of a surface already gone.
Peter caught up with it. his foot came down and the clay man was squashed into a shapeless blob of moist clay.
Walter and Dave and Noaks came slowly over; they approached in a wide, cautious circle. "You got him?" Noaks demanded hoarsely.
"Sure," Peter said. he was already scraping the clay off his shoe, his small face calm and smooth. "Of course I got him. he belonged to me, didn't he?"
Whew! Talk about your deus in the act of absconding! This image in the profane knowledge of hindsight sums up all the humanity that Dick ever put into any of his stories. These clay figures are alive -- and imediately know they're in trouble!
But let's look at what's happening here in light of our knowledge of PKD's later religious speculation, though realising, naturally, that if we were to have read A GLASS OF DARKNESS back in 1956, we'd have had only the evidence of some short stories to clue us in to what's going on.
After reading many of his novels, we know, if only dimly on my part at least, that Dick was concerned with the meaning of created life. The relationship between a thing and its creator, its god. For Dick the conventional idea that the Creator is good and its creation divine was not enough, the fact of evil must be explained.
In THE COSMIC PUPPETS he first gives us the idea, later much worried on, that we are the product of an evil god, a demiurge. Let's look closely at the goleming scene at the start of the book.
We have a group of children playing with clay. One, Mary, is far ahead of the rest and rapidly fashions a clay goat, a horse, a cow, all animals and all inert. She is watched by Peter who, once she leave says, "I'll play" and picks up Mary's discarded cow. Affronted by his action one of the other children asks him, "Who said you could play?" Peter responds, "It's my yard." He then molds a tiny figure. "What is it?" Walter demanded. "It's a man," said Peter.
This can be taken as an analogy of the Creation when God first created mankind. In THE COSMIC PUPPETS, though, we have children doing the creating -- the offspring of something else. And, although it is Mary who molds the first inanimate objects, it is Peter who brings them to life and imbues them with a spurious free will. Significantly, this act of creation occurs in his own back yard.
We find out later that Peter is evil personified and is actually fighting it out at various levels with Mary, who personifies good.
So what we have then with mary and Peter as the demiurges is a creative originator -- Mary -- who fashions only inanimate matter, watched by Peter who copies her, takes her idea and brings it to life. But this creation is always in Peter's control: it's his yard, he made them, so therefore he can do as he wills with his own products.
I'm not sure how this notion of creation would be defined, but the idea that life is created in the realm of an evil demiurge -- as indeed the fake town of Millgate was created -- is an unsettling one and one Dick sorted out in several ways. In VALIS and THE DIVINE INVASION and other novels he works this out happily by having a saviour god break into this warped creation and bail out his characters -- maybe. But in yet other novels, notably A MAZE OF DEATH and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH, the future of the characters is more ambiguous.
Structurally the novel is an analogy in three parts. On the upper level we have the antique deities locked in their cosmic struggle. In the middle there's al the Wanderers and humans trying to figure out what's going on. On the bottom there's the insects, golems and vermin, minnions of the two human analogs of the gods: Peter Trilling and mary meade. And to bring this analogy to life Dick introduces the dynamics of intelligent creation, as mentioned above.
As for the plot, it hinges on the mystery of who Ted Barton i and what exactly are those frozen deities doing in the sky.
All is resolved, satisfactorily anough, by identification: Dr. meade is the god Ormazd who is asleep, unconscious of his true nature. Peter Trilling is the god Ahriman, Ormazd's evil opposite, malignantly aware but limited to the consciousness of a small boy. Mary meade is Armaiti, Ormazd's daughter, also aware but limited by being alone. The children, really, face identical problems -- each other. The dualist standoff. The Wanderers turn out to be the old ihabitants of the occluded town. Ted Barton, well, Ted Barton is ... Ted Barton. There's nothing changed about him. He is no other. he stays the same.
But why? Everything is changed around him. Even the nature of the cosmic struggle. Why isn't Ted Barton changed? Who is Ted Barton?
There's at least two possibilities. The first is that he is exactly what he is, an ordinary man who remains so. In this case he has significantly lost his identity. he's been stripped of his societal ties and can only truly say of himself that he exists. He is alone. His wife he has lost along with his past. He is any man, every man, and like most of the rest of us he doesn't know what's going on. The common condition; Dick's standard protagonist. Yet it's interesting to note that of all the characters in the book he's the only one that isn't someone else. I find this interesting because it makes me think of the other Dick protagonists in the later novels. Are they all one character? Is Ted Barton Nemo, the man who is noone and everyone?
For the second possibility we must now return to the latter part of the second part of this awkward tripart essay. To where I said that by the end of THE COSMIC PUPPETS the matter of Ted Barton's identity would be clearer. The reason for this being the added material on Armaiti's dissolution where she melds into the fields, the trees, the earth.
From this material we learn more about Armaiti and by default more about Barton. For she can now be identified with the religious archetype best represented by the Egyptian sky godess 'Nuit' whose arching body is the vault of the sky bent over her brother 'Geb,' the earth. The two are locked in an intimate embrace. She represents the infinite sphere, the thing to be experienced, while he is the winged heart, the experiencing point. Thus Barton's realisation and regret at the end of the novel that Armaiti, with whom he's falling in love, is unattainable. Yet he can never forget her, reminders are everywhere. In a sense, due to his innocence, Barton is like a god himself, the counterpart of Armaiti.
As to which of these possibilities I prefer, well, I'm not sure. I appreciate a balanced structure so the second choice is attractive but, then again, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the first possibility... It all depends where you want to take it. I'm not sure a choice even applies. I feel I do PKD slight service analyzing his novels in this fashion. Egyptian gods, arcane references, VALIS But, still, he's the one who dragged in Zoroastrianism!
So, one wiggle of this many-wormed monster stomped down squirming and too many more to go. It only remains to refer to Barb Morning Child's essay which follows to note that THE COSMIC PUPPETS can be approached in a more fruitful light: that of philosophical proving ground.
This essay first appeared in FOR DICKHEADS ONLY #3 (1992) To Barb's essay on THE COSMIC PUPPETS