* * * POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT * * *
I don't know why I haven't reviewed this wonderful book, long ago. I should have.
This is a great book, a small book that makes a big difference to those who read it. I read it shortly after it came out, and I consider it one of the five New Age books I would recommend to anyone.
Yet before deciding to write this, I read some reviews here. Two misconceptions and/or misrepresentations I'd like to address before I give my take on the book. One is that some people say this was at the beginning of the New Age movement. That is far from the truth. Much of what is in the book was out there quite a few years before. In the "Modern world" people seem to have such misguided ideas about the newness of what ideas are out there, and they really do not understand how much previous history occurred. The New Age came out of the Spiritualist movement of the 1800s - Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists and all that. It evolved through The Work of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky in the first half of the 20th century (not for the dabbler or the faint of heart). The books of Stewart Edward White (primarily The Betty Book
and The Unobstructed Universe
) continued the work. Houdini's unraveling of some frauds set back metaphysics for a time, but little is spoken of the ones who did pass muster. Much of the New Age came in with the very beginnings of the Hippie movement, meaning the works of Tom WOlfe The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
, Timothy Leary, Baba Ram Dass, Dr John C Lilly (The Center of the Cyclone: Looking into Inner Space
, the efforts of the Esalen Institute and EST Est (Erhard Seminars Training : 60 Hours That Transform Your Life)
, and the effect of the Beatle's involvement with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, still a decade ahead of Illusions. None of these links are necessarily recommendations, but certainly are efforts that predate both Illusions and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull - some by quite a few decades.
Compared to the earlier efforts at personal growth, the latter day efforts are rather puny and are all built upon the shoulders of the efforts of all these pioneers, plus many more I don't mention here. Little or no credit is given by our latter day New Age gurus to the pioneers they base all their work on and from whose works they steal with impunity. We live in a pretty shameless period in New Age growth, actually.
Illusions has/had no new ideas within it, but it is one of the most poetic presentations of the insights of the previous several decades, blended with a Christ-like non-christian semi-picaresque hero.
Within the context of the story itself, I would disagree that Donald Shimoda was sent to be a messiah. I always read it that he was born with or discovered his abilities and as the population around him became aware of them, they - THEY - named him "Messiah," not some power(s) On High. No one can be a savior/messiah unless the population accepts/believes the person to be such. But neither should any person be one, not unless he or she accepts it. The term Messiah means "anointed," so the crux come in when one asks who does the anointing and does the anointee choose to be anointed.
The question might also arise: Is just any old population warrant a messiah/savior? And what if the population doesn't measure up? Can one distinguish between the population and its savior? Would they not need to be matched well enough? If a messiah/savior doesn't match up, does anyone ever know the difference? And if the population fails to measure up, what onus is there upon the savior/messiah to follow through? Would Shimoda have accepted his assignment if the peoples had been more suitable?
And in a sense didn't the other one, 2,000 years earlier more or less abdicate as well? After all, three years is not much of a fulfillment of the potential, is it? It is the understanding of many that Jesus could have gotten out of the crucifixion had he really wanted to. And what is it Shimoda did? Piss off the "way things are," evidently knowing it would come to the end it did. Did Jesus do any different, when He merely said, "So sayest thou"? And no one doubts He knew what that would lead to. It is part of His mystique, is it not? In spite of all the good works that could have been done had he stayed around, three years was all the world would get.
In that vein, one could suggest that the earlier messiah was also reluctant. Perhaps that is what Bach was trying to get across. His story took place in backwaters, just as the earlier story did. And reactionary forces are what took him out, just as the ancient story tells, too. And both left behind someone who could only tell what they understood of what happened along the way.
The one-line wisdoms in the book are as good as any book ever in our time. Richard Bach did a marvelous job of creating a mythic character and telling his story.
I gave it 5 stars in 1978 or so, and I give it 5 stars today. As far as inspirational stories goes, can anyone find a better one?