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Book Corner: The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes

“The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes,” is the autobiographical tale of author Dawn Schiller’s relationship  at age 15 with 32-year-old married porn superstar John Holmes during the late 70’s, early 80’s. During a U.S. military stint in Germany, Dawn’s father met her mother whom he later married and brought to the United States to live with his family in a suburb of New Jersey. Most of Dawn’s childhood centered around her family accommodating her father’s military career. Ravaged by the Vietnam war, drugs, and his inability to parent his children or hold down a job, Dawn’s father convinced his family to relocate to Carol City, a rough and downtrodden suburb of Florida where he left his family to fend for themselves, returning some time later to divorce Dawn’s mother. Dawn’s mother, frustrated and crippled by her husbands broken promises, lack of emotional and financial support, and abandonment, crumbled under the weight of having to support her family, including her mother in law, which manifest itself through a steady stream of  physical and verbal abuse directed toward her family.

Following her parents divorce, Dawn, along with her father, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend set out on a road trip from Florida to California. Along the way, Dawn’s father picked up a hitchhiker who’d later offer them a place to stay at his girlfriend’s apartment Glendale, CA. It was at the hitchhiker’ girlfriends apartment where Dawn Schiller met the manager of the apartment complex, John Holmes. Unbeknownst at first to Dawn was the fact that in addition to his role of apartment complex manager, John Holmes was also a notable pornographic movie actor and married man. Dawn’s rocky first encounter with Holmes slowly morphed into a sexual relationship fueled by drug addiction, isolation, despair, and later physical violence, culminating into a brief life on the run from police and threats against her life from hit men. Lack of parental supervision and involvement by her father left Dawn vulnerable to Holmes inappropriate advancements. Like most child predators, Holmes capitalized on this glaring lack of parental supervision and involvement by becoming Dawn’s gatekeeper. Holmes rapidly assumed control over virtually every aspect of Dawn’s life, crafting a life where Dawn would depend on him for many basic necessities (i.e. not allowing Dawn to learn how to drive; Dawn depended on him to get around Los Angeles).  Additionally, Holmes monitored Dawn’s movements, as well as reduced her already limited contact with her family, making it easy for him to claim that her family wanted nothing to do with her.

Although true crime buffs may be lured into reading this book to glean more information regarding the infamous “Wonderland” murders, at its core, this book is a cautionary tale of what can happen to a teen neglected and abandoned into the arms of a waiting pedophile. Looking back, Schiller identifies herself as being among the legions of “throwaway teens” who are left to, more often than not, unsuccessfully stave off attacks from child predators, drug abusers, rapists, and murderers. Some may chalk up the neglect and abandonment that Dawn suffered by her parents (specifically her father) as being part of the hippie counterculture of the day, but a closer inspection of Dawn’s family dynamics reveals patterns that have persisted throughout a variety of era’s. It was these family dynamics that made it easier for me to push through my initial frustration and disappointment regarding some of Dawn’s choices throughout the book. As I continued making my way through the book, it became easier for me to piece together the correlation between Dawn’s decisions, her tumultuous childhood, and Holmes manipulative, violent, and abusive control. Writing the book almost exclusively from the perspective of her teenage self is a powerful tool in drawing the reader into a ring of understanding and compassion that is achieved through a broader look behind the episodes of abuse and murders at Wonderland.

The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes is an important, albeit disturbing, portrait of a life nearly destroyed by drugs and violence. It is a testament to the tenacious and fighting spirit of an individual who rose above horrific abuse and addiction. What could have ended in incarceration or death resulted in a national platform for Schiller to educate people on the perils that face the score of throwaway teens roaming our nations streets today, shining a light on the predatory tactics of abusers, while simultaneously assisting teens to find a way to steer clear of the life she fell prey to.


About musingsnyc

I'm a self-professed iOS app addict who loves reading, writing, surfing the Internet and my hometown, New York City. In 2000, I graduated from the City University of New York, Hunter College, with a degree in English (writing concentration) and Political Science. In August 2009, I received an online MBA degree with a specialization in Public Administration from the University of Phoenix. For the past 8 years, I've worked as a Paralegal in the Immigration Law Unit of one of the largest not for profit law firms in New York City. Prior to my work as a Paralegal, I worked as a Traffic Coordinator and Assistant Account Executive in a New York City based Hispanic advertising agency. Throughout all of my different work and school experiences the one constant has been my love of writing. As long as I can remember, I have been jotting words down in notebooks, pieces of scrap paper, and just about any surface where ink would not dissolve. I have always been eager to share my thoughts and opinions about what is going on in the world and my personal life via writing. It would be a dream come true if I could channel my love and passion for writing into a full-time or freelance opportunity. My goal is to share my thoughts, opinions, life experiences in a thought- provoking and entertaining way with all that drop by. I love interacting with people and thus would love and greatly appreciate all feedback via the comments section of this blog.

6 responses »

  1. Dawn’s book is dynamic and riveting, and you wrote a great review of it, too! I like this observation, “Writing the book almost exclusively from the perspective of her teenage self is a powerful tool in drawing the reader into a ring of understanding and compassion…” It is brilliant, and it has inspired me to try again writing my own story, writing it from my childhood viewpoint rather looking back. Good luck on your writing!

  2. Thank you for your comment Margaret! Dawn’s book is certainly dynamic and riveting; it touched me deeply. I wish you all the best in writing your story!

  3. I have recently finished reading the Kindle edition of Dawn`s book and I was literally riveted by the screen. It is a brutally honest and at times a truly shocking revelation of life and innocence stolen. I was transfixed by the narrative and at times naïve musings, however it must be understood that Dawn was an impressionable teen still believing that the world is perfect and true love is above all else. Her story immediately grabbed my attention as I only read non fiction and the name immediately reminded me of the Hollywood film I had watched a few years ago which starred Val Kilmer as John Holmes. The Hollywood film however did fall somewhat short of describing the brutality that John controlled Dawn. I accept that for the film to be viable and not cast the actor portraying John Holmes in a disastrous light thereby possibly type casting him as a bully and woman abuser the director opted to censor and tone down some of the reality of the relationship between Dawn and John who can surely be diagnosed as a schizophrenic, bi-polar , narcissistic, drug addicted sociopath. His choice of employment seemed to have opened the door to his drug fetish and the seemingly unending supply of dope was prevalent just as was his denigration of women in general as is often seen in the porn industry.

    I have never been overly interested in porn and read the memoir of Dawn`s to fully comprehend how it was possible for a person to subject themselves to such a barrage of abuse and what I came away with is the realization that the need for love and belonging was the overriding factor in her journey regardless of what her partner did for a living. Believing in beauty and love was Dawn`s only fault in this story and her innocence was the ultimate victim of John`s lunacy.

    Dawn`s narrative is wonderful and filled with imagery of her deepest wishes and hopes for love. This left me with a feeling of being a voyeur as I was peeping into her life and going back and re-reading the horrid events like people do when driving past a car wreck and turning around to go past and try see more. The voyeurism is a by product of writing an autobiography but I did still feel guilty to an extent.

    I commend Dawn on her bravery to relive the horror of those days and walk away a winner in the end. Her book in my opinion should be part of the high school curriculum as opposed to some of the daft books students are subjected to at high school level. It is imperative to get the story out there for a broader teen populace to read and show of the horror and dangers involved in getting in over their heads or thinking that the streets are the answer.

    I have commented on Dawn`s other social media and I would like to thank her for her kind words in reply and ultimately for writing her story. She is the victor here and not the victim any more and other women and some men who are subjected to similar abuses need to read her story and extricate themselves from the cycle of abuse. CYCLE is a recurring theme in the taunting and beatings perpetrated by John Holmes.

    Coming from a military back ground myself I understand very peripherally how Dawn`s fathers mind worked and although I do not condone his actions, he was merely trying to make sense of his life and the war he lived through. Our parents are our primary care givers and teachers and if the break down starts at home the cycle is carried on and on. Once again Dawn, thank you for writing such a personal book of overcoming adversity.
    Best regards : Michael B Da Silva – South Africa —

    • Michael, thank you so very much for leaving this comment. You truly captured the essence of what Dawn so generously shared in this book. No doubt, it took a lot of courage to revisit the nightmare that she lived with John Holmes. It couldn’t have been easy to journey back to such a tumultuous and fragile time in her life. But I am positive that the words in this book, along with her outreach, have helped countless women and teens to discover the strength and sense of self-worth that is damaged in such relationships. I too wish that this book could become an integral part of high school curriculums. The book is written in a way that both teens and adults can learn from.

      I appreciate your observations about Dawn’s father. Like you, I do not condone any of his actions, but am sensitive to the effects serving in a time of war play in the lives of individuals on both a psychological and physical level. The Vietnam War depleted the souls of so many military personnel. In spite of her parents demons, and beyond the chilling experiences that she lived with John Holmes, Dawn Schiller survived. Her strength is remarkable and inspiring.

      Again, thank you for dropping by and leaving this comment!

  4. This book never leaves you. It is written with such raw honesty, you can feel her pain. I recommend to everyone- great read!

    • It has impacted me in ways I didn’t think it would. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read this book and would also recommend it to everyone.

      Thank you fro dropping by and leaving a comment!


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