1971 Interview With Philip K. Dick

From an interview arranged by Loren Cavit, Redwood High School, Larkspur, California [circa 1971].
Published in Russell Hill, Reflections of the Future; an Elective Course in Science Fiction and Fact: Laboratory Manual. (Ginn and Company, 1983: pp. 57-58.)

First Student: Can you explain what “Roog” is all about?

Philip K. Dick: All right. Put yourself in the world of a dog. Let’s say you’ve just brought the dog home. He’s never seen a garbage man; he’s never seen a garbage pail. You put him in the yard. What would happen?

First Student: He’d try to guard the garbage pail.

Dick: Right. Because he thinks that what you are doing every day when you take out the garbage is that you’re storing the garbage in a very strong container where nobody will get it. You take it out to this metal container, put the garbage in, and carefully put a lid on it. Even a lid that can hardly be opened. You go into the house. Everyday you do the same thing. After a few days, you’ve got a whole can full of this stuff. He can smell it. Every day it smells better. After a few days he begins to think, “How can I get some of that?” Then, when it’s just ripe, full, and ready to be eaten, these guys show up and take it. And the dog is freaked out. He says, “What is going on? This one is ready and it gets ripped off.” OK. Then, after a while he realizes why he’s there – that it’s his job to keep these guys from ripping off all this valuable stuff. And it’s no garbage to him. It’s a depository for the most precious possession that the people have – because to him its food, which is his most precious possession – the thing he would guard. It’s like his dish. If some other dog starts for his dish, he jumps that dog. So the dog, he thinks about jumping the garbage men. But he wouldn’t see them as men at all – he’d see them as creatures – vague creatures that come in the dawn, different from the people of the house.

So, what this is, is what I would think it might be like to a dog. It’s sort of the world a dog would create; an elaboration in his mind – if he can do that. So finally you have this, elaborated over a period of years, because in the story he’s been doing this for a long time. And, as it mentions, he’s getting worse all the time. He barks more. Then, the fantasy element is this: that eventually they’re going to get rid of the dog; he barks too much. What’s going to happen next? Well, from his standpoint, if he could think it out, that’s the end – not only will the creatures get the food from the garbage pail, they’ll get his family. Ultimately they’ll get the people.

Second Student: How about the part where the Roogs are up on the fence?

Dick: Now that’s why this is actually a fantasy more than just a viewpoint tale. Because that, of course, doesn’t really happen in real life. Garbagemen don’t jeer at the dogs. At least I don’t think so.

Second Student: They might. Maybe we don’t hear it.

Dick: (pointing to dog sleeping at his feet) Ask the dog. Maybe he knows something we don’t know. This is an elaboration of a fantasy area – a kind of psychological fantasy area. He says, “Hey! You there, man. You with the funny-looking fur. What’s your racket? What are you doing?” And you don’t know whatever really annoys the dog. In other words, it’s like the dog’s dreams of his own world. Not just the dog’s – his own dream of his own world – his own nightmare of his world. We can’t even feel his world, and we certainly can’t feel his nightmare of his world. And this is the nightmare of his world.

This is the first story that I wrote in 1951. I read it over this morning – I hadn’t read it for a long time – and I realized just how much into the dream of that world I went. For example, at the end when the Roogs look up toward the house at the people inside – it’s obvious – it’s obvious what’s going to happen. (Reading from the story) “Then slowly, silently, the Roogs looked up, up the side of the house, along the stucco, to the window with the brown shade pulled tightly down,” which, of course is the bedroom where the people sleep, and that’s when he really yelps. And, of course, the “ROOG!” is – he’s trying to tell them what’s there. It’s the same as a bark. To him it’s a word – it’s the name of what’s there. And that’s when it’s over for him. (Reading again) “He came toward the Roogs, dancing with fury…” And then, later on, the dog settles down, “His mouth still open and from the depths of him an unhappy terrible moan issued forth, a wail of misery and despair.” He knew he’d failed. He knew that eventually he’d be gone. Eventually they’d come for the people. It’s just a question of time. And the Roogs know it, too. They know it in his nightmare. He feels them knowing it. They say it. It’s really him saying it for them. (Reading again) “Don’t be impatient, one of the Roogs says, (the dog is thinking). Our truck is full enough as it is. Let’s leave something for next week.”

Third Student: What did you mean by the description of the Roogs – giving them wobbly heads and legs? What does this mean to the dog?

Dick: It’s the thing that would be most awful to him. Well, it’s the thing that would be the most awful to me. In other words, you write something like this – you forget who you are as a writer. The first thing is, you are that dog – you’re the freaked out dog. Then you’re hallucinating the stuff. So that to me, is the way I would do it if I were the dog. Of course, you really don’t know – maybe dogs don’t think any at all, right? So maybe there couldn’t be any of this. In a sense – in a literal, strict, rational sense, there isn’t any Roog, there isn’t any person with wobbly legs. But in a sort of psychological, dream-like, non-symbolic sense – this has nothing to do with symbolism or metaphysics – that would be how I would conceive the most horrible creature, the way its described. And if you did it, it might appear different. You might see it differently. Whatever would strike you. A painful, ominous sense, which you really don’t understand, that kept coming back, again and again, till finally you knew it was going to get you.

Fourth Student: How did you come about the name of the Roog?

Dick: I was just trying to think of something in letters that would approximate a dog’s bark, without giving it away as a dog’s bark. Like, I couldn’t really have it say “bow-wow.”

Fifth Student: I heard it as a German Shepherd. Because people say to me that a dog goes “woof,” but I can never hear the “f.” And it just sounded more like “roog” to me.

Dick: Yeah, that’s right. That, to me, is really as close as I could get, anyway. And I knew I wasn’t going to write the story until I could write down what a dog would say. I mean, do you know a dog who says, “bow-wow”? Who ever heard a dog say, “Hi, master. Bow-wow!” Or anything like that! “Meow, Cock-a doodle-doo,” or whatever they say. So “roog” is good enough – because when you read it, you’re not supposed to realize when the dog says “roog” in the story that that is the dog’s bark. It’s a word. And then you realize that it is a dog’s bark. It’s a dog word.

Thanks to Patrick Clark for making this and other long-lost PKD Interviews available.

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