At the beginning of Philip K. Dick's novel, A Maze of Death, he provides a table of contents which, other than the chapter and page numbers, appears to have no connection to the actual content of the novel.

Does anyone know of any reasonable explanation of what he was trying to do with this?

  • 8
    Ah, trying to understand every detail of a novel by good ol' Phil Dick. Good luck with that! :D
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 14:26
  • 2
    There are some comments on this in philipkdickfans.com/literary-criticism/dissertations/… but I have to say I found the article even less comprehensible than the original book. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 8:10
  • @JohnRennie Yes, I actually saw that article before I posted this question, but I didn't find it useful at all.
    – LazerA
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 17:32
  • 1
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 19:52
  • 2
    What do you mean "appears to have no connection to the actual content of the novel"? You need a higher dose ;) Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 8:09

3 Answers 3


It's humorous. Maze of Death is, like most of PKD's work, full of black comedy. The fake table of contents is funny.

Aside that, and I'm afraid I'm going to state the obvious here: it's another layer of reality, foreshadowing the final plot twist. As PKD says:

in MAZE OF DEATH there are endless parallel realities arranged spatially.

That's the main theme of the novel, and notice how the entries in the fake table of contents form a fairly coherent single reality (which the bizarre dissertation linked by John Rennie in the comments calls a "pastoral drama"), and the story told is of a dark tone that kind of parallels the main narrative. It'd be a reasonable guess that the story of the table of contents is actually an earlier reality generated by the spaceship's computer. Or another layer of reality entirely.

The story told by the table of contents also has something to do with the actual narrative, at least links can be noticed, though the connections are pretty opaque indeed.

I do very much doubt there's any kind code or acrostic is involved. There really is no precedence in Dick's work for such things.

On an aside: the Hungarian translation of the book doesn't contain the table of contents. It was probably too much for the publisher :).

  • The complete lack of relevance to the story and the odd choice of words makes me think that it's a code.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:02
  • 2
    @Richard I'd wager the seemingly odd choice of words is a parody of novels that actually use these kind of chapter summaries. And, again, to my knowledge PKD never used such hidden messages (please correct me if I'm wrong). Also, Maze was written in a very short time, in a more drug-influenced period, which makes me doubt he'd have had the patience to carefully develop such a code. But I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong :)
    – SáT
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:15

The first thing to come to terms with is that the Mandela Effect has radiated out from this book.

To turn to the specific question, the Table of Contents is flagging that in the "real" world of the novel, the finale in the spaceship IS NOT REAL EITHER. The clue to this is the inconsistencies between the final explanations and exposition given and the failure of the logical links to actually be logical or correctly tie the final "real" versions of the characters with the earlier ones.

The key is that The Comforter appears at the end. The Comforter doesn't appear in the "real" world like that, and PKD knew this. The Comforter appears IN HELL.

And the concept of the Maze of Death is an alternate name for The Labyrinth, and all it implies about both consciousness and the illusion commonly called reality.


The fictional universe of the fictional universe of the fictional universe is what forms the Table of Contents. There is the role-playing game the spaceship crew share and its various campaigns or scenarios (Dick wrote this book at the exact time and in the exact place where Wesely-Arneson role-playing had spread from Minnesota to California via the Berkeley Science Fiction Writers "club" before the contamination and commercialization of it by Gygax et al). There is the fictional universe OF the spaceship and its crew. And there is the world implied and described by a Table of Contents divorced apparently from the content of the book - and yet part of its fabric. The further implication is that if three universes, why not four? Or ten? And is the world of the reader any more real? It feels real, but characters aren't aware when the game is saved and turned off for a period. Their time flow is uninterrupted because their senses don't expand past the defined reference frame of their simulation.

Since the book is not set in "the real world" its own reality is only one of several tiered "realities" none of which sustains itself, which is why the book ends as it has to with an intercession by a character that is fictional even within the book. An unsustainable reality is not "real" at all, as Dick obliquely referred to with his own definition of reality - reality is that which still exists when you stop believing in it. It is independent of belief. Believing is seeing is an attribute of false realities such as the one overlaying what Dick considered to be objective reality - the first century AD world of the early persecuted Christians.

Of more significance is that Dick predicted that Gandalf would pass in the opposite direction from a pure work of fiction through legend to myth, and be considered as a once-historical figure turned through elaboration into a fictionalized figure "used" by Tolkien. That is very deliberately included in A Maze Of Death and not only demonstrates Philip K. Dick's prescience or precognitive ability during his "pink light" / ZEBRA period but also his genius for expressing the incredible vistas he experienced.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.