Castaneda, Margaret Runyan. A Magical Journey With Carlos Castaneda. Millenia Press (1977).

Book Review by Sandy McIntosh

Margaret Runyan Castanedaís A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda is a valuable resource, but it is also a difficult book, for several reasons. It seems to have been cobbled together out of notes written at diverse times. These notes alternately seem to deny or to affirm the validity of don Juan and the rest of Castanedaís enterprise, which makes for a disconcertingly unstable point of view. As an ex-marriage partner, and, we learn, one who was repeatedly scorned by Carlos, itís reasonable to expect that Margaret may have a few axes to grind. However, since she never declares where she stands, we arenít quite certain how to take her story. Even so, several elements of it paint a picture of Castaneda that we will probably not see anywhere else. According to Margaret, Castaneda made a practice of fabricating his personal history long before "meeting" don Juan and declaring "the Warriorís Way," which, in essence, turns out to be an amalgam of compelling ideas from various sources and dubious personal habits that he sought to disguise as virtues. The character of these, according to one commentator (Calixto), is deceptive, selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic, power-hungry, distant, cold, incommunicado, arrogant, "ruthless," and self-deluded. Margaretís Carlos of the 1950ís and early ?0ís is an impecunious but ambitious young immigrant with strong artistic leanings, sensitive about his diminutive physical stature, but sure in his ability to charm and manipulate women with grandiose lies about his supposed heroic past and mysterious, intriguing present.

Castaneda the talented manipulator is revealed in one of Margaretís stories of the pre-"don Juan" Carlos. According to Margaret, when Carlos was a student at Los Angeles Community College he once told her that a pretty, blond-haired girl in one of his classes had taken a shine to him and persisted in following him around. Carlos stated that the girl had told him she wanted to give him a Christmas gift. This news bothered Margaret, of course, because she could never be sure of Carlos?wandering affections. Later, while both were driving through LA in Carlos?1954 Chevy, he suddenly turned and pointed vaguely toward the sidewalk.

"`There,?he stabbed his finger in the air. ĎThatís the girl I told you about! Thatís the girl who tried to give me the gift.?/p>

`Where? Where is she??I whirled around in the seat. There were dozens of people downtown, dozens of young blond bubs. `I donít see her, which one??/p>

Carlos was silent. Finally, Margaret demanded to know the girls?name. Carlos thought quickly and replied that her name was "Sue Childress." Later, however, he confessed that he had made the girl up. He had given her his motherís first name, Sue, and Margaretís motherís surname, Childress.

But Margaret was not sure that even now he was telling the truth. From the resources she had available to her as a telephone company employee, Margaret searched out every Childress in the area, finally finding a listing for a Childress named Sue. She decided to call this Sue Childress and determine whether or not she was the person Carlos had told her about. This Sue Childress denied knowing anyone of Castanedaís description, but she nevertheless, agreed to meet Margaret and Carlos at a restaurant.

When Margaret told Carlos what she had done, Carlos was amused. "`Oh, you know, thereís no Sue Childress,?he said. `You know I just made the name up.?He stared at me with those black gleeful Carlos eyes? `It was a hoax, surely you can understand that.?quot;

But Margaret resolutely held onto her discovery, but Carlos was no longer listening. She describes his sudden absorption:

"He was standing in the center of the room with his arms and legs very stiff, the way heíd get when he was very excited. He rolled his eyes closed and for one instant, he understood. I had created Sue Childress, or more accurately, I had arranged events so radically as to allow her to be brought into our life. And I had done the whole thing with that damned persistence of mine, that steel-spined determination to will things into being. ÖHe dreams up a character, tells me, and I in turn hand to him back a real human being. Of course, this was Carlos?own strange logic operating there and I didnít understand it."

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Carlos then sits down on the couch, picks up his drawing pad and begins sketching a portrait of Sue Childress.

"`Sheís not too short, about 5?". Sheís blond, but has these dark eyes and this lovely face, see??He turned his sketch toward me, showing his black and while conception of what sheíd look like."

When Margaret meets the real Sue Childress in a dimly lit restaurant she seems to look exactly as Carlos had depicted her.

While Margaret credits herself with this miracle ("that steel-spined determination to will things into being") it is probably not at the wonder of his wifeís power, but at the presumption of his own that froze Castaneda in a wild surmise.

As time passed, it became evident to Margaret that Carlos was relying more and more on his power to pretend--to intend--things into being. In fact, what might be described as proactive wishful thinking seemed to have become his modus vivende. Some years later, after Margaret and Carlos had been separated for a long time, he invited her to New York City, where he was working with his editor, Michael Korda, on a new manuscript. Margaret assumed that the purpose behind his invitation was the same as hers: to try for a final reconciliation of their relationship. But whatever was in Castanedaís mind, it apparently wasnít reconciliation. Throughout the weekend he alternately ignored and bullied Margaret. Although he gave her a large check to give to Margaretís son, C.J., his behavior was so bad that Margaret ended up derisively calling him ĎNapolean?as they were leaving the hotel. Some months later, after Carlos had been served with divorce papers, he called Margaret to ask why she had had him served. She reminded him of his outrageous behavior towards her that weekend in New York. Carlos was silent for a while, then calmly stated that it had not been he who had behaved so badly in New York. He himself had not even been in New York that weekend. He was a sorcerer now, he explained, and inexplicable things happened to sorcerers. In this case, the nasty Carlos must have been his double.

There is a pathetic sadness underlying Margaretís story that probably has its origin in Castanedaís grandiose promises of affection, and his habitual refusal to keep themócoupled with Margaretís steadfast belief in the mystical significance of her life with him. Her story ends with a meeting with Carlos in a restaurant parking lot. By now, Carlos is encircled by his female guardians, who keep Margaret at bay. At last she is able to approach him. She hands him her copy of his newly published The Art of Dreaming and asks him for his autograph. He kisses her on the cheek but refuses to sign the book. "Oh, my hands are too tired," he tells her. And thatís the last time she sees him.

Copyright ?/font> 1999, Sandy McIntosh