The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda


“For fans of the literary con, it’s been a great few years. Currently, we have Richard Gere starring as Clifford Irving in ‘The Hoax,’ a film about the ’70s novelist who penned a faux autobiography of Howard Hughes. … Much has been written about the slippery boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, the publishing industry’s responsibility for distinguishing between the two, and the potential damage to readers. There’s been, however, hardly a mention of the 20th century’s most successful literary trickster: Carlos Castaneda. If this name draws a blank for readers under 30, all they have to do is ask their parents. Deemed by Time magazine the ‘Godfather of the New Age,’ Castaneda was the literary embodiment of the Woodstock era. His 12 books, supposedly based on meetings with a mysterious Indian shaman, don Juan, made the author, a graduate student in anthropology, a worldwide celebrity. Admirers included John Lennon, William Burroughs, Federico Fellini and Jim Morrison. … During his lifetime, his books sold at least 10 million copies. Castaneda was viewed by many as a compelling writer, and his early books received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Time called them ‘beautifully lucid’ and remarked on a ‘narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies.’ They were widely accepted as factual, and this contributed to their success. Richard Jennings, an attorney who became closely involved with Castaneda in the ’90s, was studying at Stanford in the early ’70s when he read the first two don Juan books. … The books’ status as serious anthropology went almost unchallenged for five years. Skepticism increased in 1972 after Joyce Carol Oates, in a letter to the New York Times, expressed bewilderment that a reviewer had accepted Castaneda’s books as nonfiction. The next year, Time published a cover story revealing that Castaneda had lied extensively about his past. …”
Salon
Carlos Castaneda: The Mysterious Life of a Guru in 1970s California
NY Times: Opinion | To Carlos Castaneda, Wherever You Are (June 1998), NY Times: The Shaman May Have Been Fake, but, Hey, the Drugs Were Real (June 2004)

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