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Marlo Morgan: Lies Don’t Count as “Fiction”

July 17, 2011

I’m a little surprised to see that one of the most popular searches that bring people to this blog is “Marlo Morgan hoax” (and occasionally a rather hopeful sounding “Marlo Morgan true”). I am pleased about this, because there is surprisingly little on the internet about what is one of the more curious cases of fraud in the history of publishing. The fraud was unmasked before her book Mutant Message Down Under was even published, yet was snapped up by Rupert Murdoch’s Harper Collins and relabeled “fiction” to avoid prosecution.

(See my earlier article for more details, and this article by Cath Ellis, for a more detailed account of the whole story.)

One of the most common responses from fans when they discover that the story is a hoax is try and fudge the importance of its authenticity. They try to argue that it is “still inspiring even if it is a work of fiction”, or that somehow it could be true in some mystical sense. For example, this reviewer claims:

If the reader approaches the book as non-fiction, then he or she is challenged to believe that certain events could have actually occurred, even though they might seem implausible at first, and in the process challenges the reader’s worldview to expand to consider possibilities beyond the ordinary.  If read as a work of fiction, the tale becomes a mythical metaphor…

This kind of apologetics ignores not only the atrociously inaccurate and deeply racist portrayal of Aboriginal culture in the book, but also sidesteps the fact that Morgan has repeatedly and explicitly claimed her story is literally true, and her status as messenger to the world for the last “true” Aborigines is authentic.

Just to put this on the record, I am linking to and transcribing (below) the entire text of an interview in which Morgan makes these claims. Her stupid book has been on numerous university courses, including ecology and anthropology, not to mention being extensively and uncritically used in primary and high schools. She has toured the world giving lectures as an expert on “Aboriginal Culture”, a subject of which she is entirely ignorant. Her last appearance I am aware of was in 2004.

Her book has been translated into 26 languages. (Ironically, the book seems to actually gain something in translation. The original self published book was the worst piece of prose writing I have ever read.)

It is unusual for liars to be as blatant and brazen as Morgan has been, and the interview below is a demonstration of her skills in this regard. (She seems to come a bit unstuck in a different interview, where the interviewer doubts her and questions her unexpectedly on a few details. She is floored, for example when asked for details about exactly what kind of health work she was doing in Australia.) 

This, along with first hand accounts of her behavior and the general way this fraud has unfolded, make me suspect Morgan is suffering from a clinically identifiable form of psychosis, possibly bi-polar disorder. I offer this speculation merely as an attempt to comprehend how Morgan seems to have convinced herself of her story.

Here is a link to the audio of the radio interview. The transcript is below the fold.

Interviewer: My guest today is Marlo Morgan, who has written a most interesting book with a very strange title, Mutant Message Down Under. It is a book, an adventure book which is billed as a fiction book, but which really is a non-fiction book. It’s the story of her adventure in Australia with a group of Aboriginal people. Welcome to the program.

Marlo Morgan: Thank you.

Now this book, we must say, first of all, you published yourself, and was an unbelievable success, and now it has been published by Harper Collins. In fact, tell us about how you published this book in the first place, and how it was received in the underground, as it were.

Marlo Morgan: Well I’m not a writer, so I wrote this book in the first place because I would go some place and talk about the people, but you can only talk for thirty minutes or so, and then people would say to me, well there must be more that happened, and there must be more about these people. You have to write it down. And pretty soon the people who wanted me to talk were far distances away, where I would have to take an airplane to go there, so I said the only way I can come and talk to you is that I have these pieces of paper that I have written about them, stapled together, and I will come to your city if after my talk, people want to buy these pieces of paper, then I can buy an airline ticket. So that’s really how the whole thing started. It was never written to be sold or anything else like that.

So you sold 375 000 copies of your book that way?

Marlo Morgan: Well actually the first ones were handwritten, then I finally got a typewriter and put it on the typewriter, so the 375 000 were basically typewritten copies.

And then it was picked up by a major publisher and is now just out. This is the story, tell us the story of how, what this book is about.

Marlo Morgan: Well it’s based upon an actual experience that happened to me. I was living in Australia, I went there to work in a health care clinic, and while I was there I saw the aborigine [sic] people being discriminated against, and I was really concerned because the young people in their early twenties and their latter teens were walking around with petroleum in cans, sniffing it, and this was leaded gasoline, and lead in the human body ultimately means your demise. So I got together these kids and said that I don’t think that you’re going to get a job in a fast food restaraunt, you’re the wrong color, but you can own a company! And I would like to show you how to do that, because I know what success is. I know why we’re here, why we’re born. We’re born to get an education and to make money to buy a house and a car and art objects and things like this. So we got together and we started this company, which was making screens for windows. We did it for a few years. It was very very successful. And then one day I was invited to a meeting. The voice on the telephone said there is a group of aborigines who are having a meeting for you, it’s your meeting. We want you to attend. And so I thought I was going to go like I did for Red Cross, and Community Chest and things like this, where they would give you a pin or a plaque or something.

You thought it was going to be like an awards lunch. In fact you were dressed in hose and heels and-

Marlo Morgan: Brand new clothes

….brand new clothes.

Marlo Morgan: What I didn’t understand was that the group of people who were having the meeting for me were not the aboriginal people of the cities that I was accustomed to. They are in fact nomad people. They’re people who don’t come into the cities, deliberately have not, have stayed away from the cities. And when I got there they said they heard my cry for help, which made me laugh, because I was the helper, I wasn’t asking for any help. But they didn’t see it that way. They saw this as a person whose heart is in the right place, my intentions were right, that I really did truly believe in my heart that people who lived in a house were better than people who don’t live in a house. And they wanted me to see that you can get all of the way through the human experience and be an incredibly wonderful person, and never have read anything, and never have lived in a house, and so forth. So that’s really what the story is about. It’s not my story, it’s their story.

So you go out, thinking you’re going to this lunch, and you end up with a group of people who say first off you’ve got to take all your clothes off, right, and you have a very funny line about how you put your underclothes inside your clothes, which we all do. They burn your clothes and put you in some kind of simple garb and now say, Come and follow us.

Marlo Morgan: Right. And people say, well now that’s bizarre, and I would not have done that, but anyone would’ve done what I did at that point. I mean it made perfect sense. Because the jeep was there that we had come in, the keys were in it, there was gasoline in it, but I was six hours into death valley. I couldn’t even tell what direction we had come. And for twenty years of my life, I have studied healthy people, and what I saw was very healthy people walking out in the desert, who had no food or water with them. They couldn’t be going very far, and so I figured they just want me to walk another forty five minutes or so out in the desert. Even though they said we’re going to walk across Australia, that’s absurd, no one can do that.

Obviously you didn’t think they were being literal about that.

Marlo Morgan: No

So you think well ok well this is alright, so I’ll just spend one more day here with these people

Marlo Morgan: Sure

Then I’ll get back in the jeep, I’ll go back to civilization.

Marlo Morgan: Exactly.

You start walking and then you realize by the end of that evening that they have no intention of going back.

Marlo Morgan: Right.

They literally intend to walk you across Australia, or walk some place.

Marlo Morgan: Or walk some place. But I didn’t know how far the walk was going to be, and so the first morning that we woke up, these people wake up as the sun begins to come up, and they go, “Ah, oh, another day, oh, we’re given another day! What shall we do?” You see I looked out, and there’s nothing out there. Nothing in any direction, so there’s nothing to do today. So then you think, what can they be so excited about, because they don’t have anything. So that takes you, well you know, I’ll go a few hours to see what theyre doing. And then after a couple of days, I thought, well I’m closer to the end, to go this direction, so you just keep going. But the secert to this whole thing was my age. You see it didn’t happen when I was twentyone, it didn’t happen when I was thirty five because I wouldn’t have handled it that way. This happened when I was past fifty, and that, I think, was the wonderful part about it, because I was at a point that I was flexible enough, I didn’t really have responsibilities, except at work and my job was assured because I had come from America to da something specifically that nobody else could do. So it didn’t come as the trauma that people think that it would have been, simply because I believe in my age actually.

But were you in shape for this, I mean-

Marlo Morgan: No

Did you, did you even have your shoes?

Marlo Morgan: No. I wasn’t in shape at all. I don’t know how you’d get in shape for it. You certainly could’ve been in better shape than I was. I ended up losing about forty five pounds, which is a tough way to lose weight, and got burned, I mean incredibly sunburned all over that’s why I have all these wonderful little, um, health challenges all over my body, and fried feet. The people were very helpful in trying to help me with their kinds of natural remedies and things that they use, but they’re really made for people with pigment that’s different than ours.

But in the history books they talk about the aborigine [sic] people as being very stupid, because they’re illiterate, and they’re pagans and they’re savages and so forth. This is not what I found at all. As a matter of fact I found incredibly wonderful people who actually invented something while I was there. When I was walking with them I said, “My skin has peeled off so much that pretty soon I’m not going to have any ears left. It’s down to cartilage.” And they said, “In all of our history, in all of our songs and dances and stories that we have, we have never been with a person who lost their ears.” So they all sat down, just like IBM would around a directors table, with a brain-solving [sic] thing saying, you know, we’re not leaving here tonight until we solve this problem, and they actually came up with a solution in which they hung bird feathers over my ears, so that my ears would stay away from the sun.

So didn’t anybody wonder, like, where in the world is Marlo, because I mean you have children back in the United States, you had colleagues at work, and boyfriends and all that kind of stuff-

Marlo Morgan: Right, right.

Didn’t you worry tha they were going to be like sending out search parties for you, or….

Marlo Morgan: Well no, as a matter of fact, I was hoping that they would send out search parties for me, which they never did! But I didn’t find out until I got back that the arrangement had been, the jeep belonged to an aboriginal man in the city, and he was told we’re going to borrow your jeep and we’tre going to take this woman out to the desert and we’ll bring the jeep and her back tonight, unless she decides to go with us, then you’ll have to go into the desert and get your jeep, and this is the phone we called to get her. So if that happens, you call it and tell them what happened. And that’s exactly what he did. He called the clinic and he said “Marlo has gone walkabout”, bang. And in Australia, walkabout means that some one is going, you don’t know where they’re going, you don’t know how long they’re going to be gone, you don’t know when they’re coming back, but there really isn’t any harm in this, it isn’t a fearful kind of thing, so everybody knew, hey, it’s ok she’s just a kook, you know, she’s just an American who thinks she can find a big opal and become a millionaire or something. So they were upset that I wasn’t at work when I had agreed that I would do this project, but weren’t out sending, you know, the patrols after me.

There’s a lot of mysticism in this book, and the experiences that you felt. There seemed to be a connection between you, and one of the aboriginal, one of the aborigine [sic] people, and it was your age, or that you’d both been born around the same time, or that there was some kind of a connection, I mean how do you account for that?

Marlo Morgan: Well, you see, you see something mystical about this and people in the New Age see soemthing mystical about this, but I don’t see anything mystical at all, because that’s not where I’m coming from. When I first went to Australia, some guy, a fortune teller kind of person, told me I had made an agreement before I was born, to do something with someone who was born at the same time. And I went out of that tea room saying, this guy is weird, because I was born and raised a catholic. There is no life before your parents have sex. That’s when you start. So this didn’t make any sense to me. As a matter of fact, I spent some time prior to this desert trip really looking around for someone who had my same birthday to see if there was something significant. But I didn’t know if it was a man or a woman, I didn’t find anybody, so that was just a bunch of silliness to me.

Wait a second, let me reintroduce you. I’m talking to Marlo Morgan, and her book Mutant Message Down Under, an incredible success, it’s first publishing was a s aself published book, and now it’s been published by Harper Collins. Ok, so now you’re out looking to see who you’re going to find, to see who’s going to fulfill this, if there’s such a, and no one did.

Marlo Morgan: Right. And it really wasn’t until I got with these people and went into a sacred area, that I found that the way that they keep track of time is that once a year they actually make a mural on the wall, where they paint and chisel marks and so forth on the wall, and this is where I found someone who had been born on the same month and the same day and the same year that I was. And he’s a wonderful person. So, if I’m connected with anybody I’m proud to be connected with him, but you know, I don’t know whether that’s so or not. That’s soemthing you could sit and argue with all day.

Now you make the point that when you started out on this walk they had no water, they had no food. In fact in much of the book you talk about the daily gathering food, finding food, creating food, and you ate some very strange things, because everything’s natural.

Marlo Morgan: That’s right. Exactly. And in the beginning they cooked things for me, because that absolutely I would be repulsed if they handed me a big worm and said eat this. But as it got hotter and hotter and hotter you finally come to the conclusion that you don’t cook things when it’s 130 degrees. That’s ridiculous. I mean, if a bug can crawl, the reason the bug can crawl is because it’s got moisture in it. When it doesn’t have moisture it doesn’t crawl anymore, so what you’re looking for is the most crawly kind of a creature. So yes, I learned to eat worms and things like that.

I made mistake in eating them, like for instance, the first time they gave me a big grub worm, I took a big bite and then it wiggles in your mouth and it’s hard to swallow wiggly things, so your learn to eat little bites. But fortunately, I could give myself a sales pitch, because I could eat this thing and say, this is a complete protein, it has all the essential amino acids. You just get over the fact that this thing is a worm. And you’re with people who have asked the world for food and the food showed up, and they’re very very grateful for it.

But then you had a nursing background, so you knew that you could sort of do this sort of mind game with yourself to understand that it was a pure protein. You introduce a couple of things to them. You introduced a version of gravy to them, right? And how did they respond to the concept of gravy?

Marlo Morgan: Well they were very polite and very tactful, but one thing they don’t do in their society at all is tell a lie. They would never tell you that yes something tasted alright if they didn’t think that it did. And so after I made this kind of thick stuff that you could find difficult to make out of this kind of situation, and put it over lizard, and people say there’s a mistake in the book because it says a “frilled” lizard, shouldn’t it say “grilled” lizard. No, it was a semi grilled, frilled lizard, actually. They used this concept later on when I left them by reminding me that I had done this gravy thing for them, and they saw that I believed that I knew much truth in my life, but they said it was buried under a lot of thickening and spices, they think that we understand our relationship to the earth and our relationship to one another, but we really let material things get in our way to distort it

And frosting on a cake that you describe and that they have the same kind of –

Marlo Morgan: Right.

– reaction to that.

Marlo Morgan: That’s why the title is so strange, Mutant Message, because that’s the word he actually used, the translator did when he said the name of their tribe. He said it means first original unchanged, thinks in oneness, or real. All of those words mean the same thing to us. And he said, you are someone who’s not like first people. You’ve changed. You don’t think in oneness, you think in separateness. And then he went, “You’ve mutated.” And I think he used that word because it is a scientific word, and he knew that I would relate to that. But it seemed an appropriate word to me, so when I had to type some name on the front of my pieces of paper, that’s what I chose to put.

One of the other things that I noticed is the way that they celebrated virtually everything, I mean, there seemed to be, the one thing that comes through most clearly is that life was a constant celebration, right? But they didn’t celebrate birthdays as we know it, they celebrate in an other way.

Marlo Morgan: That’s right. When I talked about birthdays they said “Celebration is special” and I said “Yes” and they said “Why do you do this? Because we’re getting older, but everything gets older, even the rocks, you know. It just happens, so what’s to celebrate?” And I said, “I don’t know, hey, this is just they way it’s always been, you know?” So I asked them, if you don’t celebrate this, what would you celebrate? And they said we would celebrate being better. If I am a better person now than I used to be, I’m the only one who knows that. So I must tell my friends it’s time tio celebrate me, and they do. They greet their babies. Every baby who is born is greeted. They believe that everyone has multiple talents, that you probably won’t live long enough to display all of your talents. They have no word for work. When I tried to describe work, they said it doesn’t sound like it’s fun, why do you do this work? Because they believe that you have so many things that you could give to the world, that you should want to do it, that it should be fun to get up in the morning and it would be fun to do it. And they believe if you really honor who you are, the system is built to support you, that you will always have a roof over your head, if you in fact, believe that that’s the way that you want to live.

Now you have presented this book as a fiction book, although you make it very clear in the book that this is based on true experience. Why did you do it as a fiction book?

Marlo Morgan: For legal purposes. Because actually after I wrote this book I caused a great problem for these people in the desert. You see no one really paid too much attention to them before, in fact they would’ve told you they don’t even exist! Because the laws in Australia are very much like they are in America. You have to be on the tax rolls, whether or not oyu make money, you have to be with the census, you have to, your children have to go to school. If your children don’t go to school, they’ll take your children away from you. You have to report every baby that’s born, and if someone dies in your family, you can’t just dispose of the body, you’ve got to call in someone to investigate why this person died and so forth. Well these desert people don’t do any of that, so they literally are criminals on their own continent. And the only way to deal with that is to say this is fiction. Because if it’s fact, you have to be willing to say dates, places, times, and so forth, which I was not willing to do. And the only alternative that is to say it’s fiction, it’s a figment of my imagination. And quite frankly, it really doesn’t make any difference. The las time I was back with these people and asked Ooota [sic] the interpreter, what do these people think about my book, he said, you know this word “miracle” you have this word miracle where you come from and I said yes. He said the Poeple say they have never left the sand, they do not speak your tongue, they do not read and write, but you go far away and you do this thing, book, and then you come back and you say what they do in the sand touches people far away, and then you say that you go farther away where this book is written in another language that you cannot read and write and you can’t speak, and yet it touches people there, and we have never left the sand. So they said, this is truly a miracle.

And in fact, this book has been translated into how many languages?

Marlo Morgan: Sixteen.

Sixteen different languages!

Marlo Morgan: Yes, isn’t it awsome? I was just in the Scandinavian countries and a man in Finland said that to me, now how much time did you spend when you were thinking about doing this, how it would appeal to the finnish people and the danish people along with the Americans. I cracked up laughing.

You’d never thought of it-

Marlo Morgan: Zilch.

But have people challenged that this is true?

Marlo Morgan: Oh, certainly.

And what did they say, did they say Marlo you just made this up-

Marlo Morgan: Right-

-totally out of whole cloth, there are no such people-

Marlo Morgan: That’s right. Because you’re too old, you couldn’t have done it, because you’re a woman, they wouldn’t’ve let a woman do it. And the first year that I went around giving talks I took off my shoes to show people my deformed feet, but that’s humiliating to anyone who is deformed for any reason. And after that I really found out that it didn’t really make any difference. Because people can walk away and say, well anyone can grill their feet, or anybody can have skin cancers all over, that doesn’t really prove anything – she doesn’t look rugged enough and tough enough and so forth, you know. And really at that point I just really didn’t care, because it doesn’t make any difference to me. I get positive feedback from this from children, from old people, from people in prison, who use things, just like we were talking about, about getting better. can you really be a better person when you’re locked up in a prison and there’s no hope of getting out, you’re on death row? Yes, I can verify that you can use that simple concept, you know. So the People really have touched lives.

What do children get out of this? When children read-

Marlo Morgan: Oh they love it because I talk about people getting to name themselves, you get to be anything you want to be and it’s usually what you’re interested in, and you get to change your name over and over as you promote yourself, and this is a wonderful thing for children to do. As a matter of fact, I’ve had some really positive letters from people who have used this in their family with children that they couldn’t really relate to. They had a problem child, and they asked that child to name themselves. And the name that child selected for themselves was a tremendous insight for the parents on where the kid was coming from. Where hollering and screaming and so forth had gotten anywhere.

Now the aborigines that you met and spent so much time with are very different-

Marlo Morgan: Oh yes.

-to the aborigines that-

Marlo Morgan: Yes, there’s fifteen different tribes of aborigines in Australia. 200 years ago there were 500 various tribes. Now there are approximately fifteen. But for years it was against the law for them to speak their language or to do any of their rituals. They were supposed to go to reservations, just like we did to the American Indians. So the majority of aboriginal people that you see now, in my opinion, are kind of lost in between two cultures. They don’t belong in the desert, and they’re- once you’ve had ice cubes and things, you’re not going to go out and eat grub worms again. They’re fighting for equal opportunity, for equal jobs and equal housing and things like that. And like many other indigenous people, their systems make them addicted to alcohol, much much easier than our European systems seem to be. So yes, these people are very different.

The amount of prejudice to these people, which is very similar to the prejudice we see in this country to American Indians or to other minority groups, do you think this kind of book does anything to counteract that or to make a oneness between us and everybody else?

Marlo Morgan: You what’s happened because of this book? Not just the prejudiced in Australia, but I’ve had death threats here in the United States for prejudiced [sic] over this-

Really…

Marlo Morgan: -because I am a white person saying that someone whose complexion is darker than mine is my equal. So I’ve had the Klu [sic] Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, the Nazi skinheads come after me. But another interesting prejudice that has comeout of this are some wonderful Christian people who really believe that they are right, that there are a lot of churches who believe that they are the only way there is, and if you don’t belong to their church you’re damned, you know, you’re going to hell, and again they see these people as my people, saying if there is a heaven they’re going to be probably going to be in the front row, but they don’t go to church on Sunday. They don’t even have any buildings or whatever, and so interestingly enough, these people also find this book as a threat. So I think it’s a way of kind of making people, you know, look at different things. Obviously, I’m still here, so it really hasn’t slowed me down really. But as I said, I’ve been back a couple of times since then, and I have written down the things that happened when I went back, and they’re in a safety deposit box, so in the event that someone decide that I am the bad guy and the world would be better without me, at least the the information about the peiople will be safe.

Do you think that there will be a sequel, that you, you say you’re not a writer, but in fact you have written a very interesting and compelling book. Do you think you might do a sequel and do what’s happened since you’ve gone back?

Marlo Morgan: Well, a lot of wonderful things have happened since I’ve been back, and not only with them, but just things that have happened since the book came out and the stories that people come up and tell me, you know, but I don’t know. I live like the aborigine [sic] people do now, not with a fatalistic view, but with a realistic view, that there is no guarantee that the sun’s gonna come up tomorrow and you’re going to wake up from your sleep. So every da yI say than you to the people that I need to thank, and I say I love you, and I live every day to the best of my ability just do the best that I can, and so I don’t go to sleep at night without having some humor and music in my life.

Marlo Morgan, whose book Mutant Message Down Under has been quite a success. Marlo, thank you so much for joining us.

Marlo Morgan: Thank you.

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3 comments

  1. […] See also Part 2: Marlo Morgan: Radio Lies […]


  2. What about Gary Holz? Is anyone calling out his/his wife’s nonsense? I just discovered him while looking for more info re: Ms. Morgan and her Mutant Mess. He died in 2007, but his wife is continuing his “work.”

    http://holzwellness.com/aboutus-2/dr-gary-holz/

    “Although Gary’s trip into the desert village was in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic numb from the neck down, his return flight back to the States less than two weeks later was dramatically different.

    “Transformed in body, mind and spirit, Gary now had feeling throughout his entire body and increased mobility.

    “With assistance from a Higher Consciousness they called the ‘Big Guy,’ the Aboriginal tribespeople had sent restorative energies to the scientist, healing him and helping him discover his own gift for healing others.”

    Blurbs for the book claim outright that it was “written at the request of the Aboriginal people [he] stayed with.” Amazon reviews suggest he might have known even less about Australia than Morgan does.

    His wife has written a sequel (?).


  3. Oh great. No I hadn’t heard of him. “A physicist’s journey….” with a pseudo-scientist’s vocabulary and a scammer’s eye for profit.

    It may even be possible that Aborigines “requested” him to write it (or at least say, “Tell people about us.” There are plenty of scammers and lunatics among Aboriginal healers too.



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