The Transmigration of Timothy Archer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is a 1982 novel by Philip K. Dick. As his final work, the book was published shortly after his death in March 1982 following a series of strokes, although it was written the previous year. The book was originally titled Bishop Timothy Archer.

The novel was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982.


Plot introduction

Set in the late 1960s and 1970s, the story describes the efforts of Episcopal Bishop Timothy Archer, who must cope with the theological and philosophical implications of the newly discovered Gnostic Zadokite scroll fragments. The character of Bishop Archer is loosely based on the controversial, iconoclastic Episcopal Bishop James Pike, who in 1969 died of exposure while exploring the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea in the West Bank.

As the novel opens, it is 1980. On the day that John Lennon is shot and killed, Angel Archer visits the houseboat of Edgar Barefoot, a guru, and reflects on the lives of her deceased relatives. During the sixties, she was married to Jeff Archer, son of the Episcopal Bishop of California Timothy Archer. She introduced Kirsten Lundborg, a friend, to her father-in law, and the two began an affair. Kirsten has a son, Bill, from a previous relationship, who has schizophrenia, although he is knowledgeable as an automobile mechanic. Tim is already being investigated for his gnostic, allegedly heretical views about the Zadokite scrolls, which reproduce some of Jesus Christ's statements about the world, but have been dated to the second century before the birth of Christ.

Jeff commits suicide due to his romantic obsession with Kirsten. However, after poltergeist activity, he manifests to Tim and Kirsten at a seance, also attended by Angel. Angel is skeptical about the efficacy of astrology, and believes that the unfolding existential situation of Tim and Kirsten is akin to Friedrich Schiller's German Romanticism era masterpiece, the Wallenstein trilogy (insofar as their credulity reflects the loss of rational belief in contemporary consensual reality).

The three are told that Kirsten and Tim will die. As predicted, Kirsten loses her remission from cancer, and also commits suicide after a barbiturate overdose. Tim travels to Israel to investigate whether or not a psychotropic mushroom was associated with the resurrection, but his car stalls, he becomes disoriented, falls from a cliff, and dies in the desert.

On the houseboat, Angel is reunited with Bill, Kirsten's son who has schizophrenia. He claims to have Tim's reincarnated spirit within him, but is soon reinsitutionalised. Angel agrees to care for Bill, in return for a rare record that Edgar offers her.

Transmigration is one of Dick's most overtly philosophical and intellectual works. While Dick's novels usually employ multiple narrators or an omniscient perspective, this story is told in the first person by a single narrator: Angel Archer, Bishop Archer's daughter-in-law. Dick's work was often criticized for its flat, stereotypical female characters, so Angel may represent his effort to prove he could create a rich and believable feminine voice.Template:Citation needed


  • Angel Archer: Narrator, manager of a Berkeley record store, widow of Jeff Archer.
  • Timothy Archer: Bishop of California; father of the late Jeff Archer and father-in-law of Angel. Dies in Israel, searching for psychotropic mushroom connected with Zadokite sect. Based on James Albert Pike, Dick's personal friend, who was an American Episcopalian bishop.
  • Kirsten Lundborg: Timothy Archer's secretary and lover. Dies from barbiturate overdose after loss of remission from cancer.
  • Bill Lundborg: Kirsten's son who has schizophrenia, and who is obsessed with cars.
  • Edgar Barefoot: Houseboat guru, radio personality, lecturer. Based on Alan Watts.
  • Jeff Archer: Son of Timothy Archer, and deceased husband of Angel. A professional student who was romantically obsessed with Kirsten.

Other works

Transmigration is thematically related to Dick's unfinished VALIS trilogy of novels:

The novel has been included in several omnibus editions of the trilogy as a stand-in for the unwritten final volume. Transmigration was not intended by Dick to be part of the trilogy; however, the book fits comfortably with the two finished volumes and Dick himself called the three novels a trilogy, saying "the three do form a trilogy constellating around a basic theme." [1]


  • Frasca, Gabriele, “Come rimanere rimasti: La trasmigrazione di Timothy Archer”, Trasmigrazioni: I mondi di Philip K. Dick, eds. De Angelis and Rossi, Firenze, Le Monnier, 2006, pp. 237–60.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Transmigration of Timothy Archer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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