Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered


Image : Pixabay


We recently signed up for Amazon Prime.

Amazon are not one of my favourite companies. Any global big business that has such a massive slice of a particular market – that has changed the way the world shops – is doing something right in monetary terms, whilst simultaneously doing something very wrong for every independant bookshop / high street retailer.

And that’s before we even approach the topic of authors’ pay, the way the company has tried to hold both publishers and authors to ransom in order to prioritise their own profits … 

A could go on, but it’s Sunday and I’m sure you have family to spend time with and dogs to walk, so I’ll shut up before I scare you away.

So why, might you ask, have I allowed this beacon of capitalism into my home? Well, you see, I live with an enormous film buff. Allow me to rephrase that. He’s not enormous – it’s the scale of his filmbuffery that’s huge. Where I squirrel away books, stealthily slipping them into the house under my coat, he does the same with DVDs. Our shelves are a mosaic of brightly coloured cardboard, paper and plastics.

Fulfilling his need for celluloid (no, I know – pixels then) used to be simple. We’d got to the cinema (we were the young couple who, early in our relationship viewed a late night double bill of The Exorcist and some schlocky horror I can’t remember – for a Valentine’s Day treat). And for home consumption there was Blockbuster.

Ah, Blockbuster. I still recall the dusty shelving, the slightly sticky carpets, the caged popcorn (two sacks for the price of one!), and their line in surly, dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed-at-11-am staff members was second to none.

What those guys couldn’t be bothered to tell you about film wasn’t worth not listening to.

Their stores may have had the air of neglected charity shops, but for a reasonable sum, you could rent any recently released DVD on the market.

Of course, Blockbuster has pretty much gone the way of Woolworths, ra-ra skirts and pedal pushers – extinct, never to be resurrected. Which has left the other half in a quandry when it comes to accessing filmage. We’ve tried Netflix, but he exhausted their range a while back, hence the move to Amazon Prime.

And on Amazon Prime we found The Man in the High Castle.

The quality of the dialogue isn’t the highest – you can almost hear the cogs grinding, it’s so clunky. And the acting … Well, there’s a lot of staring into space looking pensive and the main female character only has two expressions – shocked and blank. But it’s a high-concept, alternate history thriller, set in a 1960s America in which the Axis nations won the Second World War and the States were split between Germany and Japan – nuance is not what we’ve tuned in for.

The most surprising thing for me about The Man in the High Castle is that it’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I suppose I associate Dick with full on flying car, Mars settlement, implants in the brain sci-fi .

I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems everything that tripped from Dick’s typewriter or slipped from his pen has been adapated for the big screen: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, the rummaging through his canon for cinema fodder knows no bounds.

Which made me wonder which author holds the record for the most adaptations of their work on the big screen.

Well, I did a bit of googling and although there’s some debate on the subject, there are some names you’d expect to see – and some you really wouldn’t.

Shakespeare and Dickens are first and third – no great surprise there. Ian Fleming makes an appearance for the James Bond books, of course, along with Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stan Lee and Robert Louis Stephenson – genre books make great movies after all.

Surprises? Well, according to this list, Anton Chekov is in at number 2. Seriously? You don’t generally see versions of The Cherry Orchard rubbing shouders with the latest Avengers movie down the local multi-plex. Moliere is also there, with 208 writer credits according to IMDb – apparently.

So, what have we learnt from this list? 

That having a long career and writing a ton of successful genre fiction is one way to adaptation success. Being a dead literary giant helps. But sometimes just writing one really good yarn – say Don Quixote if your Cervantes (101 adaptations, mainly of this one text) – can be enough.

And the other thing I’ve learned? That not all Philip K Dick adaptations are equal.


Have you been watching The Man in the High Castle? What do you think? Do you agree with the Slate list? Who do you think is the most regularly adapted author?




33 thoughts on “Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered

    1. Me neither. Higher than Tolstoy, and I kow at least on or two adaptations of War and Peace. I do wonder if this list is entirely trustworthy – though it gave me a jumping off point for the conversation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I had to look up Chekov, and I have not seen one of those adaptations. That blew me away. With Stevenson, it’s interesting because I think he’s getting credit for all the possible ties ins with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Like you said, it’s the Don Quixote syndrome.

    I agree that Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, being genre writers, have been recycled like mad with mixed results.

    Being a fan of that genre though, I am okay with that. It’s better than over translating Danielle Steele. Yikes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Jonathan – though Stevenson had Treasure Island and Kidnapped as well. I’ve never heard of any other adaptations of Cervantes work. Another ‘most adapted’ list I read had Aristophanes, Sophocles and Euripides, so I’m not sure any of these lists are reliable!
      And yes – I’d rather have a Philip K Dick of a lesser quality than a Danielle Steele too!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Chekhov is probably on that list because there must have been a gazillion of adaptations of his plays during the Cold War, no? I’d have expected Austen, as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, you’re right about the Cold War and lets hope old Putin and his actions in Syria don’t drag us all into a fresh one.
        A fine point about Dumas and if you look at this alternative list, he’s there, with 256 adaptations. https://www.quora.com/What-author-writer-has-had-the-most-film-adaptations
        I think the lists I found were compiled by individuals, perhaps incomplete and using different perameters. Be good to see a more thorough one.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s a good point. Could be that many of these film adaptations were produced in the Soviet nations and never exported, so, of course, we in the West would never have heard of them. Maybe there’s a similar reason for an alternative list I saw which cited Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes high on their list – is there an underground Greek cinema industry of which I’m unaware? 🙂


  2. My friend has Amazon Prime, but I haven’t seen The Man in the High Castle. We switch back and forth between Netflix and Amazon so often, I was thinking it was on Netflix. Obviously I was wrong, haha, so no-I haven’t seen it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only 4 episodes in on the first series – it’s okay, but Brit actor Rufus Sewell is one of the only things keeping me watching. Even as an American Nazi, he’s very watchable 🙂


  3. This is a very interesting and informative post. I’ve read the comments and am shocked that nobody has noticed – or maybe they are too polite to point out – the shocking error in your text. You may not like the idea, but ra-ra skirts will return one day, bigger and stronger. They will probably disguise themselves under a less offensive name, such as death kilts, to woo people into a false sense of security, but with the right imagery by the big clothing companies, (photo’s of anerexic crack addicts trawling the streets for business, and perhaps a few nice shots of those frilly bits of nothing being ground into the pavement beneath dead bodies, their blood pouring from multiple gunshot wounds) in no time at all men, women and children will be clamouring to wear them.
    As for peddle pushers, they’re set to take the army into a more fashion-conscious future. Teamed with a nice twin set, the soldiers will look pretty as a picture – it will give them more self-esteem to be dressed in tidy clothes, rather than those awful, shapeless camo’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My humblest apologies – of course you’re right. The ra-ra skirt and the pedal pusher are on temporary leave only. How could such icons of fashion leave the world stage forever. I do hope the army pairs the pedal pushers with a nice pirate shirt – remember those? All the ruffles will look very fetching done in camouflage colours 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I did have a bit of a reputation back then – mainly for being chubby and having knock knees, but also for my pirate shirt, black velvet pedal pushers (with silver glittery bits!) and a length of lilac faux pearls that were so long they interferred with walking. Ah, yes, Buxton was the beating heart of fashion back then and I was clearly at its centre 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You come from Buxton? It was the centre of the Universe back then – it must have been so thrilling to be surrouded by the Buxton sound, Buxton fashion, BHO (Buxton Health Organisation, even the Buxton Opera – although that was a bit passe – and to be one of the movers and groovers! That’s soooo cool. I envy you…
        Can I have your autograph?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t seen “The Man in the High Castle,” but I will say that I’m a one-man crusade against Amazon. Jeff Bezos is the devil. He destroyed bookstores. Manhattan used to be dotted with bookstores but one by one they all closed because of him. I’ll be damned if I give him a dime of my money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t condemn you for that attitude! There’s a spark of guilt in me that flickers alive each time we boot up Amazon Prime. But then, I feel the same about Rupert Murdoch – his newspapers go out of their way to deride the BBC, to criticise and drag it down. He tries to destroy any kind of media he doesn’t own and his newspapers were systematically bugging the phones of celebrities and those of the family of a murdered teenage girl – I think he’s a despicable human being. Hence no Sky in our house. I suspect you have to have an edge of sociopath in your nature to be so hugely successful – to be so ruthless. How lovely that the world is run by such people. 😦


  5. This is odd, driving from the Frankfurt this morning stuck on the autobahn, I was thinking about my days working for a Blockbuster-type video store, and how odd, all that space allocated to video tapes, to buying like 20-30 copies of new releases to have enough in stock to rent out to members when the tapes first got released.
    Also just finished Fahrenheit 451 and my wife said Bradbury was able to see like as far as 1986, but we needed Philip K Dick to see further, which is funny.
    It’s cool your husband is a film buff; my wife is too but we don’t get around to films as much as she’d like probably. Watched that Kingsman movie in our hotel room last night and sorry, big fat thumbs down. But I’m getting stodgy about the violence + entertainment, and too true to life, not for entertainment’s sake, for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Poor old Blockbuster does sound outmoded now, doesn’t it? When you have thousands of files ready to download at your fingertips. My husband was working in a low rent version of Blockbuster when I met him – never imagined he’d go on to work in film and TV himself!
      What a very smart observation about Bradbury and Philip K Dick. I think she’s right, though I guess it took lorry loads of pharmaceuticals before Dick could see into that future – is that ‘cheating’ somehow?
      Haven’t seen Kingsman, but agree with you about becoming jaded to violence. I could watch all types of horror in my twenties and it didn’t bother me – now I have to have some justification behind the film makers showing it. I don’t revel in it. I think it’s something to do with becoming a parent and with seeing another couple of decades’ worth of real horror unfold in the world. My husband often bewails the sheer mountain of human suffering the past holds, though we’re always witnessing more, always clambering higher on top of the mound of bones, trying not to sink.

      Liked by 1 person

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