The Teachings of Don Juan Critical Context - Essay

Carlos Castaneda

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Teachings of Don Juan provided the foundation for Castaneda’s further conversations and experiences with don Juan, related in the widely popular works that followed: A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971), Journey to Ixtlan (1972), Tales of Power (1974), The Second Ring of Power (1978), The Eagle’s Gift (1981), and The Fire from Within (1984). The most frequent criticism leveled against these works, particularly upon the appearance of the first, questions their basis in fact: How much of the study is true?

The Teachings of Don Juan has the momentum and suspense of fiction and a narrative power unmatched by other anthropological studies. Castaneda himself calls his book an anthropological field study, but the testimony of leading scholars is mixed. Detractors claim that the book is a fraud, the work of a novelist rather than a scientist, although one with a unique knowledge of the desert and Indian lore. For example, how could an observer, under the conditions experienced by Castaneda, write down everything don Juan says verbatim?

Other criticisms revolve around three themes. First, there is no proof that don Juan really did what he said he did—or that he even exists; there is no bibliography, no corroboration at all, beyond the book itself. Castaneda is the only one who has seen him, so the accuracy of the events described depends solely on his reliability as a witness. Because there is virtually no information about don Juan’s past (nothing is learned about his family), it...

(The entire section is 655 words.)