You’ve probably heard the buzz about Amazon Prime’s popular TV series The Man in the High Castle. The series is set in a 1960s dystopia with the Axis as WWII victors. The U.S. is divided into three zones: The Greater Nazi Reich controls the East, the Japanese control the Pacific states, and a neutral zone lies in the middle of the country. Hitler is still in power. Swastikas are everywhere. Americans are second-class citizens.
The story follows Juliana and Frank Frink, who become members of the underground resistance. Along with others, their goal is to distribute a movie reel across the country that depicts the Allies as the war victors. Making this video available to the rest of the country will portray how improved their living conditions would be if the Axis had been defeated. They want to dismantle the Nazi regime and what it stands for, even if it means risking everything they have.
The Amazon series premiered in January 2015 and the second season began in December 2016. Due to its extreme popularity (it’s currently the most watched show on Amazon), it’s been renewed for a third season.
So how did Amazon craft this interesting, almost too-relevant plot? The series is based on a historical fiction novel written by Philip K. Dick in 1962. Dick received the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, but the novel disappeared from the public eye until just recently. The Man in the High Castle book sales have increased since the TV adaptation – it reached No. 38 on the NYT Best Seller List on November 24, 2015. Due to high demand, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a hardcover reprint of the title in October 2016.
How was this forgotten book able to soar to the Best Seller List 53 years after its first publication? It can’t merely be because lots of people watch the show – many people watch TV shows and movies based on books but never pick up the literature. There must be something deeper here.
Some people may see a correlation between Dick’s alternate fascist reality and the current state of the U.S. government, as well as across the world. In Dick’s novel, Jews, the disabled, Americans, and even the Japanese are discriminated against as part of the Reich’s institutional racism. And for the most part, these groups of people accept this degradation because they believe they have no choice. While this smooth transition into fascism may seem far more like fiction than reality, I think The Man in the High Castle has become so popularized because people can relate it to implications of discrimination and racism in today’s society.
A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this?
Yet Juliana and Frank, among other characters, shine a light through the dimness of Dick’s alternate world. They pretend to be a part of the Reich while smuggling illegal items (books in the novel, films in the TV series) across the country – crimes that are punishable by death. Even though their actions probably won’t change the course of history, Dick’s characters risk their lives in hopes of bettering society.
Ultimately, The Man in the High Castle shows that resilience combined with art forms such as film and literature is a way to creatively combat the unjustness in the world. Although we can’t rewrite history, the book’s rise to bestsellerdom and the show’s popularity gives its viewers inspiration and faith in the future of our own reality.