I received this book as a gift in 2021 for jólabókaflóð, which is Norse for Christmas book flood. In this tradition, people gift books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spend the rest of the night reading. It is an enduring practice despite our age of rampant technology.
I was excited to receive Illusions because my wife had recently been talking to me about it as something I might enjoy putting on my reading list. This novel was first published in 1977, while my 1989 copy fits in my back jeans pocket. If I were the kind of person who could tolerate dings and creases in my books, I could see packing it around. Though small, this is an incredibly thought-provoking work whose brevity is nevertheless meaningful.
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah was written by Richard Bach. If his name is not entirely familiar to you, you may recognize the novels One, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Bach was a national best seller in the 1970s. Seagull was made into a Golden Globe award-winning movie starring Grammy winning singer-songwriter Neil Diamond just three years after it was published. I was pretty young when I first watched it, so I don’t remember much beyond Jonathan the seagull and many scenes at the beach. Nevertheless, I like the beach, so there is that too.
Illusions is deceptive in that it is an easy read, while the meat of it resides in philosophy and existentialism. The story is simple to follow – just two guys flying their biplanes and giving rides to random people across the mid-West, $3.oo for 10 minutes of air. The majority of the novel is comprised of discussions between these two men, Richard and Donald. Richard is looking for answers and Donald spends his time trying to convince Richard that all he needs to do is look within himself to find the truth he seeks.
I am over-simplifying. Involved in Richards’ revelations are floating nine-sixteenths wrenches, squashed bugs on propellers that come back to life, a Travel Air that flies without gasoline, and a motif of remembering ones’ past lives. There is a little girl whom loses her fear of heights, a man whom manages to walk after being wheelchair bound, and a mysterious book that explains how to effect miracles which the reader is given excerpts from throughout the course of the novel.
Richard struggles to understand how Donald can be so wise about life, and so fluent in managing difficulty. As they fly together from field to field, Richard learns and becomes adept at seeing life for what it is, and grows in his own ability to affect reality. There is a certain timelessness to this story, as it implies that any one of us could be Richard or Donald.
This novel resonated with me. I kept a few quotes aside, having written them down for future reference. My plan is to let all the ideas from these 192 pages sit in my subconscious for awhile and then read it again. If you would like a good explanation for the sometimes strange things that happen in your life, the useful coincidences, the unbelievable strokes of luck, and why it feels like you know some people deeply upon first sight – Read this novel.
I chuckled aloud when I came across the quote above in the latter part of Illusions. My favorite quote, however is as follows:
“We are game-playing, fun-loving creatures, we are the otters of the universe. We cannot die, we cannot hurt ourselves any more than the illusions on the [movie] screen can be hurt. But we can believe we’re hurt, in whatever agonizing detail we want. We can believe we’re victims, killed and killing, shuddered around by good luck and bad luck.”
I won’t quote the entire book, though there are several more shorter excerpts that I could add to try and convince you to give this a read.
I will say this, however, I would have avoided this book on the title alone if not having been told about it first. I am not a religious person, and I would have assumed this was a religious book. It is not. It is a spiritual book. Messiah is used as a term meaning a soul that has remembered enough about how to perceive life that their immunization against difficulty leads others to flock around them. I suppose one could see it as a Jesus story, but it certainly does not have to be taken that way.
Instead, I’ve come to envision our spirits as otters dancing around stars like joyful comets, chirping amidst nebulae and the planets with unbridled mirth. It may not make sense now, and even if this book doesn’t resonate with you completely, the concepts it offers are worthwhile. I would recommend it to anyone.