BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

CAUTION: new age spewage ahead ...

Not that I've read them all, but James Redfield's books are always very aggravating for me ... they are so weak in some areas, barely even crafted in others, and yet have small gems of actual metaphysical knowledge buried in them. I was shocked when I read his The Celestine Prophesy to find a quite detailed description of a high-level "Incan shamanic" exercise right there in the same section that made me wonder if the guy had ever even set foot in Peru. Something similar is going on in The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight.

Now, as regular readers know, I used to run a small metaphysical press, and Redfield is near legendary in that niche as a guy who built up his own little publishing empire on pretty much pure will and tireless promotion. He initially self-published The Celestine Prophesy and drove up and down the west coast selling copies, to whomever would buy them, from the trunk of his car. When you consider that only a tiny fraction of books ever sell even 10,000 copies (and that includes all the big publishers), it's amazing that he managed to sell 100,000 before "the big boys" noticed and picked up the book (which has now sold more than 20 million copies world-wide). His example is always given as to what an author can do if they're totally dedicated to their book.

Anyway, The Secret of Shambhala is the fourth book in that series, and sort of picks up mid-stream on the characters. This is a rare "novel" for me, as I've been avoiding fiction the past five or six years, and I'm wondering if the original book in the series was not presented as a novel when it came out. On one hand, this certainly lets the author off the hook for sounding like he's never been to the places he's writing about, but it also leaves one wondering about the writing, as there is nearly no "depth" to any of the characters (most appear to just be ways to advance the scene), and no "visual" aspect to much anything described (from his text, you'd think that Kathmandu and Lhasa looked like the more run-down areas of L.A.!). I've been to Kathmandu, and have seen many Tibetan temples, and you get no sense of the color, complexity, and fascination of these places here. And yet ...

The story here is that one of the protagonist's old associates suddenly needs him to be in Tibet, and that the protagonist, in a matter of days, is able (and willing) to turn around and fly to Kathmandu with little more than a couple of strange conversations. The plot involves him having to get to Shambhala (if you're not familiar with this, it's a legendary "hidden kingdom" in the mountains of Tibet) before the Chinese prevent him and his various contacts from finding their way there (really, the plot isn't much more involved than that, but it does include a lot of highly implausible activity). Along the way, the protagonist is tutored about "The Four Extensions" which deal with managing one's energy fields ... and these appear to be the whole purpose of the book. Two and half pages at the end of the book covers these four "energy workings", and I'm pretty sure the entire book is there just to "package them up" for mass consumption.

Again, I'm not the guy you want reviewing your fiction, as I don't have a lot of sympathy for it ... I don't read for "light entertainment" so it bothers me when there's almost nothing there, and there's very little "there" in this book, except for The Four Extensions. Even his big "plot twist" is telegraphed from the beginning of the book, and he wraps it up with a thick layer of treacly newage "things are changing for the good" blather (this came out in 1999 so a lot of the Kum-bay-yah "religious harmony" stuff sounds mighty non-visionary in a post 9/11 world). There is some interesting "technology" that the Shambhala folks have, which might or might not have a reality outside of the book, but, generally speaking, you can pretty much get everything of value here in those few pages which recap the Extensions.

Oddly, there was a section here about things that "call to you", and I must admit, I was "called" to pick this up at the OpenBooks sale a few weeks back, and again "called" to shift this up to the top of my to-be-read mountain, so maybe this is stuff about energy work that I needed to read (I was reminded of a series of exercises that I'd begun from another book while reading this, so it might have been a prod in that direction), but it also reminded me why I don't generally read any fiction. Your mileage may vary.

The hardcover edition that I have appears to be out of print, but it is still available in the paperback (no doubt in any store with a New Age section) ... there are copies of the hardcover, however, in the Amazon new/used channels for as little as 1¢ (plus shipping) in "very good" condition, so that might be your best bet if you felt like getting this.

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Tags: book review
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