Nick and the Glimmung by Philip K Dick


Philip K Dick never lived to see “Nick and the Glimmung” published; for this reviewer I can see why. It is an unpolished foray into the world of children’s literature and the prose struggles to rein in Dick’s natural tendency towards philosophy espousing some kind of transcendental exegesis.

Dick needed to write novels about adult themes, usually complicated, intelligent novels with a lurking socio-political commentary and a children’s novel doesn’t lend terribly well to that literary pursuit. As a result the novel is the muddled offspring of the greater book – ‘Galactic Pot-Healer’ – which lurches along on the curiously guileless shoulders of Nick Graham as he moves with a young boy’s sense of adventurous purpose to a new colony given his cat, Horace, has been discovered and will be removed.

“Since when has it become illegal to walk backwards into a kitchen?” “For cats, everything is illegal.”

This small episode prompts Nick’s family to move off to some utopian wilderness on Plowman’s planet where “a new law, the law of reality will protect Horace for years to come… Fruit, plucked by our own hands, will lie heavy in the woven baskets of our lives.”; coupled with “It’s a matter of principle. We feel there should room enough for the animals, no matter how crowded the planet gets.“

The adults in this novel are absent to the extent they must be in the consciousness of a child – which is cleverly done by Dick. Ever-present, yet transient, they flit in and out defined by what they do: father, mother, newspaperman, teacher, anti-pet man, water-driver. For Nick they are soundbites, compartmentalized, unable to enter the vast scope of his imagination, and largely unintelligible:

“They have what is called a high inertial quality, or rather an introversion of their psychic attitude.”
“What does that mean?” Nick asked.
His dad replied, “It means nothing at all. It was just a random thought that came to my mind.”

This void has to be filled with all kinds of creatures. New, alien, wonderful, scary. Direct two-dimensional expressions of a child’s fears and hopes. Wubs, trobes, nunks, spiddles, werj, klakes, Printers, the Nick-thing. These are all nightmarish creatures spun out of Alice’s Wonderland, yet ultimately all controllable by a boy when reality dares to intrude a bit too much. Inevitably, the book comes down to a “quest”, a “David and Goliath moment”, a “young boy saves the world” battle. Nick discovers only he has the nous to defeat the Glimmung, an ancient alien who has taken over the planet and seeks an endless war. There was “a scorched, dead star which had gone out, which no longer burned. There are very few stars as cold as it. The cold ate more and more of Glimmung and at last he left, bringing the cold with him.” It is up to Nick to save Plowman’s Planet and save it he does as he finds he is chosen to locate the Glimmung’s weakness in his prescient book – One Summer Day – duplicate it and finally banish the spectre of the Glimmung for all time.

The novel starts with Horace, the cat. A creature who is actually the author. He is writing a children’s novel. Like Horace, "he understood but did not comment; he was detached... he seemed to want to know something deeper, perhaps something philosophical. But, alas, no one would ever know"; I suspect this is because, Dick himself, didn’t really know what would come out when he started writing the novella and understood that to publish it would not truly reflect his own standards.

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