Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Greatest Mystery in the World, by Og Mandino

This was, mercifully, the last of three Og Mandino self-help books that I was assigned to record for Malaysian Association for the Blind.

By the end of the book, I could see no connection whatever between the title and the contents. The only mystery in my mind is why anyone agreed to publish it.  My friend and fellow blogger, CovertOperations78, remarks that too many self-help authors are interested primarily in helping their own bank accounts, and this dismal exposure to three of his books convinces me that Og Mandino sits squarely in this category of financial self-service.

He published The Greatest Secret in the World in 1981, which was essentially a re-hash of The Greatest Salesman in the World (1968).  The same "wisdom from ancient scrolls" grew even longer in the tooth with the release of The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II, published in 1989.

The Greatest Mystery in the World came out in 1997, and if the title shows a certain lack of imagination (Mandino also penned the Greatest Salesman, Salesman II, Secret, Miracle, and  Success in the World), the content shows even less. Many self-help authors give credit to the sources that have inspired them, and that's fine. If you can share wisdom that you gleaned from an archaic source and show that it's still relevant today, more power to you. The Mandino shenanigans that left this reader not only unimpressed but fuming are his tendencies to hide behind mysterious, supernatural characters visible only to him and to dumb down their imparted, pre-digested "wisdom" to a trite soup.

In this volume, he meets Simon Potter, "a 'ragpicker' and salvager of human lives". Simon is an angelic figure who possesses enormous wisdom and a library of self-help books, the best of which "are touched by the hand of God."  He goes about, disappearing in one place and appearing suddenly in others, often near Og Mandino, amazingly enough, and uses his accumulated wisdom to pull people out of the mire.  Although he is a guru in his own right, Simon never publishes his learning -- he just passes his material to "Mr. Og".

Simon used the material he gained from his 'hands of God' books to construct his Ladder of Life.  If a reader follows the rungs -- reading the chapter pertaining to each rung daily for one week -- he will at the end ostensibly have reached a heavenly state on earth. Each chapter or rung consists of highly edited excerpts interspersed with Simon's own parenthetic observations, duly punctuated and initialled.

Here Simon Potter (via Og Mandino, of course) explains to the reader his daring modifications to what is a largely forgotten volume.
(James Allen wrote those wise words more than a hundred years ago, and his tiny book from which they were taken, As a Man Thinketh, has been hailed by countless generations as one of the most powerful and relevant guidelines to a good life ever delivered to the inhabitants of this earth. There is only one hurdle to Allen's invaluable advice for the truth-seeker of today and that is his constant reference to humanity in general as "man", a common custom of his time. I have labored long to convert the brilliant author's words to the first person without altering his meaning in any way so that as you read each solemn declaration for a better life they will apply to you whether you are male or female. No one has dared to tamper with these powerful words for more than a century... until now. S. P.)
I daresay that a modern woman can read the generic term 'man' and deduce that it applies equally to herself. Thank you, Simon and Og, for the consideration, but it's condescending and idiotic. Next, in light of the fact that the book was published in 1902, I hardly think "countless generations" have hailed it.  Further, if As a Man Thinketh was in fact "the most powerful and relevant guidelines to a good life ever delivered to the inhabitants of this earth", why has  it sunk into obscurity, while the much older advice of Benjamin Franklin and Socrates still resonates with us earthlings (of both genders)?  No one has dared tamper...?!  No one has wanted to tamper with Allen's original text, perhaps, and certainly no one needed to.

The final ladder rung and the last straw is Simon's simplification of Oscar Wilde's story, 'The Happy Prince'. This chapter did not leave me in an elevated or heavenly state, it left me steaming. Keep your rag-picking hands off Oscar Wilde! For heaven's sake, of all the authors who need no simplifying, editing or explication...

I'm not averse to self-help books. Og Mandino's popularity, however, is a mystery to me. Not the world's greatest, but still pretty puzzling.

1 comment:

  1. "Condescending and idiotic" sounds about just right! The enigmatic Simon Potter reminds me of "Socrates" in Dan Millman's hippie claptrap book, "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior", and the "Rich Dad" in Robert Kiyoshit's "Rich Bugger Poor Bugger". Both teacher-mentor-philosopher-prophets are eventually exposed as fictional. Mere figments of the authors' fertile imaginations to make up for their lack of factual knowledge and genuine life experiences. Looks like Simon Potter is one such tooth fairy, too.


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