‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart

Book 14 of 45 Days of Book Stories

STATS OF THE BOOK

Title: ‘The Dice Man’
Author: Luke Rhinehart (nom de plume of English Professor George Cockroft)
Date of Publishing: 1971
Publisher: William Morrow (US) Talmy Franklin (UK)
When the book was first published all assumed that this taboo, genre-pushing book was, in fact, a scandalous true-life account of the Author – Luke Rhinehart. Who like the lead character, shared the same profession – that of a psychiatrist and had the same name. Even now when I revisit it, I have to remind myself, this is fiction. Please note that all the quotes and page numbers mentioned in this article refer to the 1977 edition, published by Panther (UK). The book in its almost 50 years of being published has gained and maintained a cult following. Are you ready to roll the dice?

Why This Book ?

The copy of The Dice Man that sits on my bookshelf in my office is a reminder to me of all that is mundane can be transformed. Our character and our experience can swing from – the comedic to the horrific, just by the right combination of chance and free will. As a Healer, Psychologist, Therapist and Artist, this intrigues me for I see glimpses of it in my daily life – where our choices that are taken, sometimes seem to be tied to “permissions” given. Either by society, our families, communities, and groups that we identify with. The human condition seems to be striving for acceptance and validation. Rhinehart’s The Dice Man provides a new set of rules, a new set of options, that give free rein to our imagination, where the possibilities are limitless.

THE ROLING OF THE DICE

My first introduction to the rolling of the die, came from the telling of the Hindu Epic – The Mahabharata. A game of Chausar (chaupad – simillar to Pachisi) is underway between the Kauravas and the Pandavas (warrior cousins) and soon this friendly game turns into a gamble of their lands, armies, and finally their (the Pandavas) wife – Draupadi. The Kauravas win (by chance or by cheating – is debated) and there begins a new history for the family, a new timeline, of war, loss, hatred, vengeance and manipulations – that till today filter into the Hindu diaspora.

I highlight this memory as it seems extremely relevant to this book. Just like the Pandavas and Kauravas decided an outcome based on the number the dice gave them (as in Chausar there are two 4-sided dice), Rhinehart’s character decides on 6 outcomes for the rolling of the six-sided die. These outcomes or options of action/in-action can be changed before each roll of the die. In both stories, there are real-world consequences, and there is followthrough – binding the individual(s) free-will to a set course, navigated by the rolling of the dice – whether we like it or not.

A great example of how the dice came to control, manipulate and dictate Luke Rhinehart’s actions, thoughts and emotions can be seen in the following excerpt from The Dice Man,

Now the dice treated everything and everyone as objects and forced me to do the same. The emotions I was to feel for all things were determined by the dice and not by the intrinsic relationship between me and the person or thing…..][…The dice sometimes refused to cooperate. They commanded me to show her concern and generosity. They bought her the first piece of jewellery I’d given her in six years. She accused me of infidelity. Reassured, she was pleased. The dice sent us to three dramas on three consecutive night….We swore we’d see a play a week all year. The dice said otherwise.

Luke Rhinehart, The Dice Man, Pg 93

The next logical question by you, if you haven’t read the book, is – How does this exactly work?

THE WORKINGS OF THE DICE MAN

The book gives us many worlds in one, not in the manner of a great epic or fantasy novel, but in the mundane day-to-day experience of personal and professional mythologies. As stated earlier, Luke Rhinehart is the name English Professor George Cockcroft writes under. The first mythology we buy into as reader is that Luke Rhinehart is real. We convince ourselves that this book is at the very least – a semi-autobiographical account of the man’s experience and choices as a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. As the reader progresses we are intrigues and totally invested in teh myth, the game of the Dice Man. He tells us – choose/write ideally 6 or more options for any event, object, person or place you wish to engage with. Assign these options to specific numbers, it can be one-is-to-one, or then multiple options to one number. If your options are fewer than six, do not fear The Dice Man has a solution – assign one option to 2 or more numbers. Voilá! You have your very own, curated “dice-therapy”.

THE DICE – AS GOD & THERAPIST

Who introduces Luke to the law of the dice? What are the consequences of living by the “choices of the die”? And, can this mechanism be useful for those of us who are in need of psychological assistance, where our innate desire and our mental faculties short-circuit? Could the “Die” be a saviour? These questions are similar to the ones’ Luke is plagued with. What he calls his “minor” parts are often over-riding his “major” parts, and the dice then becomes an objective mediator – a dictator and activator of the action, reaction and consequence circuit. Luke’s story is one that many will find distasteful, and for some, they will identify with not only his desires but those of his patients, friends, colleagues and family. Perhaps in both cases, the reader is equally disturbed, for they both result in a rejection, the first rejects Luke and others, in the second case the reader must reject themselves. A complex book with complex aspects of human life revealed, not all palatable. Whatever our reaction to the book, we cannot deny our understanding of Luke’s calling to the Die – as many of us have a calling to a God!

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK

The book’s beginning, end and in-between are filled with taboo actions, thoughts and ideas. I would recommend that an individual no younger than 16 should read this book. There is violence presented in very nonchalant and non-consequences bearing realities, that are untrue of the real world. The pages are filled with perverse desires and sex, and hence is not for everyone. So why did it make it to my 45 Days of Book Stories for D’s Art Takes? For one main reason, and that is the book is in fact addressing dogma, religion and the human need to give over responsibility for our actions to others, or then a “higher-force”. It brings into question how easily we say – “it was God’s Will” – to justify the atrocities around us. As we see Luke and his patients, even his children, employ this game of dice – as therapy or then a lifestlye – we see their actions going from the harmless to the harmful. And we pause, we judge, we want to look away. One of the post poignant moments ( thought not the most shocking) comes towards the end of the book – where this blind ritualistic behaviour and its detriment to self and society can be seen. See if you too feel the resonance of God, Church and abdication of personal responsibility in this,

The dice in position before him, he knelt silently for two minutes and prayed. He then picked up the two dice and began shaking then gaily in the bowl of his hands.

Tremble in my hands, O Die,
As I shake in yours.

And Holding the dice above his head he intoned aloud:

‘Great bleak Blocks of God, descend, quiver, create.
Into your hands I commit my soul.’

The dice fell: a one and a two – three. He was to leave his wife and children forever.

Luke Rhinehart, The Dice Man, Pg 295

Do not be surprised if you find entire passages quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita or from the so-called “The Book of the Die” in Rhinehart’s The Dice Man. There is a definite 70s air of psychedelic drugs, questioning all Western Religion, and looking to the East, specifically India for ‘true-spirituality’. Does Luke find it, do we, is a quest we are all on!


Are you feeling like taking up “dice-therapy” or at least play with this idea of Living by the Die?! You aren’t the only one, sharing something here that is fascinating to watch, and that is Shaun Fenton and Russel Harris’s 2011, “The Diceman” series.

What is it? It’s a unique adventure travelogue series following the presenter from Iceland to Hawaii, “embarking on a totally random journey – where every decision, about where to go and what to do, is decided by the roll of a dice. Each episode begins with a list of six options, chosen by either themselves or the public. These could be modes of transport, places to visit, things to do, challenges or other objectives. With just a small amount of money and necessities, it’s all up to the dice.” 

Prior to its 2011 avatar, in 2010 and then later in 2013 – “The Dice Man” was uploaded to Youtube and has since then accrued a devoted following.

Here is an astonishing fact I’d like to leave you with – Rhinehart’s The Dice Man has sold over a whopping 2 million copies in multiple languages and is still in print!