Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
Enthralling book, but only until you realize it was all fantasy
on 13 May 2014
That might not come from reading this book alone, as it is the most believable of the series. When I was a student, I like many others I know who will confess to having read a Castaneda book or two when pressed, went through a couple of years of Castanedism, reading the 8 classics 2 - 3 times each, and even the later four, quite different books a couple of times. Being someone who likes to give the benefit of the doubt until conclusive evidence proves otherwise, I must admit to only getting suspicious by Journey To Ixtlan, the third book. The second book, A Separate Reality, picks up on the supernormal happenings, but these are still within the realms of possibility when one considers Spiritualist literature. By Tales of Power, when at the end Carlos throws himself off a cliff and only survives by becoming pure perception, bouncing elastically back and forth 17 times between the two inherent realms of all creation, the tonal and the nagual, the game was up. In Carlos' terms, my assemblage point had just experienced a considerable shift into the realms of disbelief. The cocoon had burst. I read the remaining books still interested, but with the growing realization that I'd been had. Bizarre ideas not found in any other spiritual traditions, such as the necessity for people on the path of knowledge to kill their children to reclaim the power they'd lost to them, plus fill in the holes in their cocoons the children had caused, made me wary. This was surely not a philosophy the whole world should turn to, or else we'd be living in a fearful, lonely world with every man for himself.
However, this would be fine if the books weren't made out to be non-fiction. While I have seen these books placed with science fiction books in many libraries, in most bookshops they're still sold with real, non-fiction 'Mind, Body, Spirit' books. The reason I give this book such a low rating is that an intensive study of his works, the books by his various colleagues, plus Richard De Mille's intelligent criticisms, can only lead to the conclusion that Castaneda, the writer, used Don Juan and Carlos, two fantasy characters, to verbalize his own beliefs, which were culled from his own spiritual and academic experience. That there are not some useful nuggets of wisdom, or advice in these books I do not deny. That is their very attraction, plus the belief that it all really happened, and is a new spiritual revelation. But as these are mixed up with increasingly bizarre assertions and beliefs (by the Art of Dreaming it seems all pretence at non-fiction had been given up), it is doubtful whether a lifetime devoted to these practices (as opposed to say, real shamanic practices) would lead to spiritual improvement. If you must have a Castaneda book in your library, rather get The Wheel of Time, a selection of the spiritual highlights of the first eight books, but consider it rather 'The best of the personal philosophy of Carlos Castaneda' than anything to do with Don Juan or Shamanism. This understanding may not have the romantic mix of wild Mexican deserts, ancient wisdom, wise old men and naive westerners which captures the hearts of so many, but it is a lot closer to the truth.
The anonymous ghost-writer at Simon and Schuster who corrected Peruvian immigrant Castaneda's English for at least all of his earlier works (a sample of his writing from 1969 reveals it was still far from perfect, not like what is in books), giving the books their special character, certainly deserves more credit than he or she gets. But they are not written well enough to succeed as fiction, hence their continued classification as non-fiction, besides the intense academic embarrassment it would cause copyright holders UCLA to have to admit such a dramatic change in classification, from fact to fantasy, after having previously given the author a doctorate for his work! I give this book one star on the basis that any book claiming to represent the truth which is later found to be fraudulent deserves no stars by definition, so I must give the minimum rating allowed. The day this book is reclassified as Fiction, I will up my rating to 3 stars though, as it is a quite entertaining and authentic piece of fiction-posing-as-non-fiction.
At this point many a true believer will try play the only card they have left - the allegory or metaphor card, with the implication that the critic is not deep enough to have gathered that by now. However, there is a vital difference between a Castaneda book and an allegory - the latter always make it perfectly clear at the start that what follows is not to be taken as fact. A misunderstanding would mean losing the effect of the allegory. The Castaneda books, on the contrary, always start out with the reassurance that what follows is definitely fact. As UCLA Library stack request records prove that Castaneda was sitting in the library on the exact dates when he was supposed to be hanging out with Don Juan, it is thus fair to say that these books are neither factual nor allegorical.
If you have bought the book already, I might as well warn you not to waste any time on the Structural Analysis at the end. That was only placed there to make a point for Castaneda. Coming after the gripping narrative of the Teachings, the impossibly dry and intentionally unreadable analysis in academic jargon is merely meant to score points for Castaneda's one-time anthropological field of phenomenology, which is basically scientific reporting of the first-hand, direct experience type. Hopefully no true believers have fallen for Castaneda's joke and wasted time actually wading through it - I doubt it'll have done you more spiritual good than throwing yourself off a cliff.