Orpheus with Clay Feet

Orpheus with Clay Feet

Orpheus with Clay Feet is a science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick originally published in 1964 in Escapade magazine. The story has a self referential time travel theme, and was published under the pen name "Jack Dowland".


The main character is Jesse Slade, a bored man living in 2040 who visits a time travel tourism agency for a vacation. The agency offers him a trip to the past where he can act as the muse for a famous artist of his choice. Slade chooses to inspire his favorite science fiction author of the 1960s, Jack Dowland, who is said to be universally acclaimed as the greatest of the three master science fiction authors of his time, the others being Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.

Slade travels to Purpleblossom, Nevada, in 1956, where he is to inspire the writing of Dowland's masterpiece, The Father on the Wall. On his arrival, he has difficulty communicating, and is so unable to impress Dowland that he desperately discloses his identity as a time traveller. Dowland is so irritated at this that he becomes cynical about science fiction altogether, and never becomes the master that he might have been.

Self reference

The story makes several references to itself and its author. Dowland's masterpiece, The Father on the Wall, has a title very similar to Dick's masterpiece, The Man in the High Castle. Jack Dowland, the fictional author featured in the story, was the pen name used by Dick when the story itself was published. In the story, Dowland takes Slade's tale about time travelling muses and publishes it as a science fiction short story called Orpheus with Clay Feet under the pen name "Philip K. Dick". After Slade's return to the future, Slade and the time travel agent read Dowland's published story. The agent (who calls it a "wretched story") decides what to do with Slade after he reads about his own actions in the published story, saying "that's how he resolved it in the end".

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