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In Search of Taylor Caldwell

PDF Smooth. It's nonsense, mind you. But smoothly rendered nonsense.

Taylor Caldwell was once a very popular author. She's mostly forgotten now, and seems to have been mostly forgotten even when this book came out, although she had been publishing up to that point. She wrote long, long books filled with betrayals and loves and mysticism, often rooted in specific historical eras.

Jess Stearn wrote a few novels, too, but is mostly known for his paranormal non-fiction. And that's where this book fits, mostly. He had earlier written a book about reincarnation that involved Caldwell. And had become a friend, helping her finis a couple of other books, including one on Atlantis that she had first drafted when she was 12—say what you will about her, but Caldwell was a natural-born story-teller, not unlike Stephen King, or at least the impression King gives of himself in his book On Writing. This book touches on her biography, but is mostly focused on her later years, when Stearn new her, and her paradoxical relationship with the paranormal.

Caldwell—not her real name—was born in England at the turn of the century, and moved to the United States when she was young. She married often—because she felt the need of a man in her life. She was a conservative, and frequently complains of the women's lib movement in this book, which starts in the 1960s and ends in the early 1980s, with flashbacks to earlier times. Stearn touches on her problems, especially with her daughter, but the book is mostly sympathetic: she comes off as irascible but lovable. The crazy (fun) aunt.

Mostly, though, the book is concerned with her mysticism. She believes in the Bible—knows it well, and sets her fiction in Biblical times often—but has a New Age-ish understanding of the book, seeing it as mystical, and offering general—not specific—guidance, as well as a brief for faith in general. She also seems to claim that she does no research on her historical novels, but nonetheless is so accurate as to amaze experts in the field. (The evidence for this claim is, um, lacking, shall we say, at least beyond assertion). Which of course makes her and Stearn think she is in touch with her past lives—the reincarnation angle really seems to date the book, bringing up images of the early '80s, Shirley MacLaine, and Ronald Reagan's astrologer.

At Stearn's urging, Caldwell endures hypnosis and past life regression—is anyone else hearing a Duran Duran soundtrack?—she details her earlier incarnations. Caldwell is never the star of her past lives, but a near observer—not Mary Magdalene, but Mary Magdalene's mother—which is how she is supposed to be so insightful in her books.

Of course, irascible as she is, Caldwell always refuses to fully endorse these hypnotic reports—all the better to make her more believable. She's interested and open to mysticism, but skeptical, too!

I brought up King, and there's something of a connection here beyond what I said. He seems to have had a mystical understanding of his own gifts, too—seeing story writing as a process of discovery, revealing something that pre-existed him. And so there's a sense in which what this book is about is the alien nature of the imagination.

That would have been worth exploring. Past lives—eh.

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