Whitley Strieber’s Master of the Key & the Oedipal Project


“When we can’t follow in the father’s footsteps, when a trauma has erected a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign above reality’s door, we must regress to the mother’s bed, dip our pens into the psychic gene pool of the collective unconscious, and return to the surface to write our personal mythology. As the fatality of the traumatized soul, the Oedipus complex is less a complex to be resolved than a psychology to be affirmed.”
—Greg Mogenson, A Most Accursed Religion


The darkness at the end of Whitley’s tunnel would seem to have come knocking on his hotel room door, in the wee hours of June 6th, in Toronto, Canada, while he was on a book tour for Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens Amongst Us, the fifth in his “visitor series” (not counting Majestic, a novel about the Roswell crash). As Strieber presents his 1998 meeting with the Master of the Key (“a true encounter” is the subtitle of the book), it is very much the capstone of his otherworldly, transcendental or daimonic experiences up until that point. When I first read the book, in early 2001, I was so impressed that I made photocopies of it and handed it out to people. I have read it at least a dozen times over the years and it has had a profound impact on my thinking. Initially, I took the book for what it purported to be, the faithfully transcribed words of a perfectly realized being: God in human form (the Master even speaks in the first person of/as God).

Strieber certainly appears to believe his encounter was a literal, factual event in his life, which is how he has chosen to present it to the world. He becomes defensive at the mere suggestion he made it up, and grew quite histrionic over what he perceived as “sinister” interference with the text of the book when it was re-released in 2011. (I discussed this controversy in 2012, in “Through a Looking Glass Darkly (PDF).”) At the same time, his inability to be coherent about the event, and incidents surrounding it, begs the question of why an actual, flesh and blood encounter would be so shrouded in mystery, confusion, and obvious contradiction. (An obvious example: his memory of the Master of the Key’s height varies from 4 feet to 5 feet 8 inches.) Strieber is the proverbial unreliable narrator, whose constantly shifting story and voice throws the narrative into question. Whether this is deliberate or not, and whether the Master of the Key is a real being “out there,” a concatenation of Strieber’s mind, a literary device, or a strange psychoplasmic blend of all three, is something I suspect even Strieber may not know for sure.

Whatever degree of realness the Master of the Key possesses, he represents something quite specific to Strieber, namely, a wise, powerful, and benevolent father figure. The Master of the Key is precisely what every boy needs to safely emerge from the protective cocoon of the mother’s psyche and navigate the troubled waters of childhood and adolescence: a figure of supreme authority and impeccable goodness. A representative of God.

Norman O. Brown wrote, after Freud, that “Psychoanalysis must always take the position that the Child is Father to the Man.” The Master of the Key is Strieber’s idealized image of himself as the father—he even speculates it may be his future self. In light of Strieber’s fragmented personality—his strange blend of guru-like wisdom and childlike histrionics—the Master of the Key, and the artifact Strieber created to represent him (The Key), might be seen as an embodiment (in book-form) of the split in Strieber’s psyche, transformed into a literary device. The Key purports to be a transcript of a real-life conversation, and maybe it is. But it reads like a dialogue between Strieber’s regressed, child self and his progressed, father self: the guardian in its benevolent and angelic form. The Master even refers to Whitley as “child.”[1]

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley