BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,


I need to confess a transgression here. I did something with this book that I almost never do, I went off and checked out a number of reviews in the middle of reading it. My intent was fairly honorable, as I was wanting to find some “historical” context for why this was as familiar to me as it was when I saw a copy at my new favorite used book store, OpenBooks, a month or so back, but what I read almost made me tempted to just not bother finishing it. Mea culpa. Obviously, having done this results in a totally different set of impressions than I would have had were I to have simply read through the book and set into doing my review, and then seeing what the rest of the world thought of it. Oops.

Anyway, Mutant Message Down Under is something of a “newage classic”, and the copy I picked up is from 1991, when the author, Marlo Morgan, was still both self-publishing it, and claiming it to be a true story (it was since picked up by a major publisher and reclassified as “fiction”). One of the reasons that I went to check the “lineage” of the book is that, back in the 80's and 90's, I did a lot of “metaphysical travel” and I have read a good number of books which others have generated from their experiences in strange settings around the world, and I was curious as to how this might have related to the rest of that genre.

This is the (admittedly, rather implausible) story of a 50-something woman suddenly finding herself in the company of a totally non-acculturated Aboriginal tribe on a many-month “walkabout” in the Australian outback. Now, as I've read many books along these lines, I'm used to a certain level of implausibility on the set-up, and outright “fictionalization” of events that, in some cases, I was actually witness to (making somewhat confusing reads for me of some friends' books!). However, the story here starts with a scenario requiring a huge level of “suspension of disbelief”, with the author being under the impression that she was being picked up at her hotel to go to an awards banquet in her honor (for a program she'd organized for urban Aboriginal youth), in heels, jewelry, etc., and is instead driven for hours in an open jeep into the desert where all of her clothing and belongings are summarily dumped in a fire, and she is “tested” variously, and then led out into the searing heat with no headgear, and a simple native dress … this with no total freak-out.

I don't really want to get into the specific points of unlikelihood here (there are plenty of sources to look that up, if you care to), but her story is that she had some “mystic connection” with this particular (unknown to anybody else) tribe, and that she managed to survive what would (from conditions she described) have likely killed most, White and Aboriginal, and that she was taken to their most sacred, secret (again, a place described with details that stretch credulity), locations where she (and only she) is given the Big Message to take back to the “Mutants” (that would be us). Again, had I not read so many pieces relating to this book, I wouldn't have incriminating details of her real biography to cross-reference against what's in the book, so I'm probably being more cynical here than I would have been were I just to have read this without that other data.

As is the case in many books of this kind, there are points that are fascinating, but aside from Ms. Morgan's say-so, there's precious little corroborating material for almost any teaching, method, practice, or activity she attributes to her tribal hosts. In fact, representatives of an Aboriginal association made the effort to travel to the U.S. To confront her about this and managed to get the book re-framed as “fiction” (no doubt deeply cutting into her business of marketing “teachings” of “The Mutant Message”). This is one of those books that one wishes were true in several parts … and it's been my experience that sometimes real “hidden secrets” do sometime manage to come through in even the most “fluff bunny” books, so maybe there might be a few grains of metaphysical truths scattered in here, but I'm afraid the evidence looks like this is popular more for its readers “wanting to believe” rather than there being anything substantial here to believe in.

This does seem to still be in print, in a later paperback edition, so it's "out there", but I can hardly advise "going retail" in this case. If your curiosity is piqued, however, hundreds of copies of the hardcover edition of the Harper version are in the new/used channels, with dozens of "very good" copies for 1¢ (plus the $3.99 shipping, of course), so that's probably your best bet!

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Tags: book review

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