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#22 – Way of the Peaceful Warrior

June 25, 2007

change your heart and look around you, change your heart, it will astound youThe full title of this book, which I refuse to use on grounds that it’s a ridiculous thing to claim, is Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives.  The genre listed on the back of this copy is “Personal Growth/Fiction.”  And by page 7, Dan Millman is already dropping lines like “Overall, the room felt warm, orderly, and secure.  How could I have known then that it was to be a place of unpredictable adventure, magic, terror, and romance?” in reference to a gas station.  Call me overly cynical, but all of these elements ensure that there’s no way I would have read this if it didn’t come recommended by a friend.  As it turns out, my instincts were right about the story here, but the story’s not the point of this book.

Dan Millman might be a world-class gymnast and best-selling self-help author, but he’s no writer of fiction.  His characters talk and behave completely implausibly, and there are passages in Way of the Peaceful Warrior which made me cringe when reading them.  Every numerous time Millman clumsily states that a character “laughed” at something, I wanted to put the book down.  When he steals that Calvin Coolidge “I bet I can get more than two words out of you” story and then TELLS IT WRONG I actually did have to put the book down for a while.  But as the book went on, I was able to see that Way of the Peaceful Warrior doesn’t have any illusions of being great literature.  This is strictly utilitarian writing; the story only exists as a framework for the author’s philosophy.  The last book I read like this was Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, an anthropological essay disguised as a book about a talking gorilla.  The biggest difference is, while I completely bought Quinn’s theories, I wasn’t convinced by Peaceful Warrior.  In this kind of situation, that ends up directly influencing how much I enjoy the book.

The titular Way of the Peaceful Warrior, not to drop any spoilers on you, is apparently some kind of Buddhist neo-Stoicism.  (Hey, check me out – I guess I did learn something from Prof. Gochnauer.)    Millman learns how to unite his mind and body, how to be aware of the present without being distracted by the past and future, and all that Buddhism stuff I’ve already discussed.  The training sequences Millman goes through are pretty interesting, and some of the tidbits of Peaceful Warrior advice his teacher gives him cut through the bullshit and actually seem enlightened.  It seems odd to say, but I think that in this case Way of the Peaceful Warrior would somehow have been much more entertaining as a straightforward essay than as an attempt at a novel.

By the way, I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but Dan?  If you’re pretending your book is a memoir written in the first person, you can’t have your narrator suddenly get magical irreversible Eternal Sunshine amnesia and say “The lights went out, and I immediately forgot I ever knew a woman named Joy.”  It makes it really hard to explain how he was able to write the preceding few chapters, when he was creepily obsessed with Joy.  Just a heads up.

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