Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Richard Bach is without the shadow of a doubt one of the most original and inspiring authors of the twentieth century, somewhat ironic considering his self-professed disdain for writing. In Illusions and Illusions II he tells a tale starring himself, one where he meets Donald Shimoda, a self-professed messiah capable of elevating Richard’s world to new and unseen heights.
Table of contents
Richard Bach Embarks on his Imaginary Adventure
Writers write books for different reasons; while some seek fame and money, others have ideas they want to relay to the world at large. It’s safe to say Richard Bach belonged to the second category, especially considering his self-professed disdain for the art of writing; when an idea got hold of him, writing became the only way to expunge it. As a result, he has come up with some truly unique and profound concepts for his novels, and Illusions showcases this prominently.
The novel is of an autobiographical nature, with our protagonist being Richard Bach himself, in the story a disillusioned writer and barnstormer who makes a living giving people rides on his airplane. His concept of belief stretched only as far as the hard, concrete reality in front of him, until a chance meeting changes everything.
Enter Donald Shimoda, a former mechanic, fellow airplane enthusiast, and self-described messiah. He seems to barge into Richard’s life out of nowhere, and slowly begins to teach him his truth about life, how to pierce through the countless illusions which govern our existence on this planet.
Though at first he is reluctant and skeptical, Bach comes around to Shimoda’s way of seeing the world, and not necessarily because of his levitating magic tricks. On the contrary, his ideas open up Bach’s own perception of the world to the infinity of its possibilities, and most importantly, the inexorable power of human imagination.
As the two men spend time together flying their planes and making a few bucks, Shimoda offers plenty of passing wisdom about the profession of a messiah as well as the ways in which one can approach reflecting on the events happening in their own lives. In the end, we might not really need anyone but ourselves to know how we really ought to live.
The Monumental Inspiration of Illusions
The mysteries of the universe are all too numerous for us to solve in a single lifetime, and many of us have constant qualms and questions about the kind of logic our world follows. We inevitably keep asking ourselves why things happen to us and why everything works the way it does, and thus we naturally tend to gravitate towards those who claim to hold explanations, especially if they make even the smallest amount of sense.
Over thousands of years a certain status-quo developed: certain smart and gifted people may try to find answers to the biggest questions, while the rest of us are expected to follow or be left behind in the swamp of ignorance. Many people have cropped up who claim to know how everyone else ought to live, but if Bach‘s Illusions has shown me anything, it’s how anyone has it in them to be his or her own messiah.
As is customary for Bach‘s works, Illusions is a very short read, and is about as far from being an action-packed story as you could possibly imagine. The meat of the story is without a doubt in the dialogues between Richard and Shimoda, with everything else being secondary to the ideas they have to exchange between one another.
Slowly but surely, Shimoda unravels before him ideas along with concrete examples to show him, and consequently us, how much we have inherently limited ourselves with ideas of our own unworthiness in various aspects of life. Though some illustrations of Shimoda’s ideas seemed a bit fantastical and even outlandish, the more I thought about them the more I could see their application to the real world we all live in.
I’ve mentioned it in many other reviews, and in my opinion one of the greatest boons any book can have is the ability to make the reader. Illusions feels like it goes above and beyond that, having the power to not only have us reflect on our lives, but also to change our perspectives, especially on the topic of self-worthiness.
Additionally, I would like to add a short word about the messiah’s handbook, with short quotes from it being interspersed throughout the story at opportune times. It has some of the most poignant observations I’ve read in a long time, such as :
This is a test to see if your mission in this life is complete, if you are alive, it isn’t.
The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, ‘I’ve got responsibilities.
, and the one which links us to the second book:
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
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The Unexpected Sequel of Illusions II
For a rather long time after Richard Bach had written Illusions, it felt safe to assume the story was told in its entirety, and naturally, life had some different ideas about the subject. At a later stage in his life he ended up getting into an airplane accident, and after spending some time in a coma and accomplishing a nigh-miraculous recovery, he published the sequel to his bestseller in 2014, simply titling it Illusion II.
Compared to the first novel, this one feels more grounded in reality, with much of our time being spent with Richard as he recovers from his airplane catastrophe. Drifting in and out of consciousness and having meetings with his many characters, including Donald Shimoda, Bach reflects on the many aspects of his own life which come to mind.
In terms of plot, I would say there really isn’t one to speak of, save for Bach‘s road to a complete recovery. It feels like a much more personal work than the first one, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was something he wrote for himself before deciding to publish it. It also feels a bit more disorganized, almost like a stream of consciousness moulded into a vague shape after the fact.
If we want to end this lifetime higher than we began, we can expect an uphill road.― Richard Bach, Illusions II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student
As with the first book, Bach‘s meetings with Shimoda tend to steal the show whenever they happen, but they have now taken on a different tone from the first time around. Whereas they used to speak as master to student, it feels like they’re on equal footing, with Bach knowing all he does about life so many years later.
Nevertheless, Donald Shimoda isn’t done teaching him new things about life, showing the road to self-realization is ever-changing, always moving and very rarely the same for any two different people. Even masters and messiahs don’t know everything about life; they simply know more than their pupils.
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A Personal Experience
From what I’ve personally seen, there are a few people out there who tend to criticize this book for not being like the first one, for not meeting the high expectations they had after reading something as life-changing as Illusions. I would simply like to warn you about one thing: going into a Richard Bach novel with any expectations will inherently impact how you perceive it and what you stand to get out of it.
As I mentioned it before, Bach isn’t a big fan of writing and only does so when an idea gets such a strong hold of him it can only be expunged on paper. I believe the last things he thought about when writing this book were fame and money, two things in life which he obviously never cared for. The problem is, I think, is that the idea has become somewhat more difficult to decipher because of the more chaotic nature of this novel.
Many are the passages where Bach is simply laying down in his bed in the land of dreams, throwing various thoughts and observations at us without any apparent overarching purpose. Personally, I found it was much more beneficial to simply take these ideas one by one and examining them as isolated thoughts, rather than straining to find the common thread between it all.
While it is true Illusions II is a little more sparse with the bite-sized pieces of unconventional wisdom, it doesn’t mean it lacks for any new ideas to share with the reader. From an author’s relation to his or her characters, to the unreliability of the reality in our memories and the importance of love in one’s life, the topics broached by Bach stretch far and wide.
Perhaps even more than the first novel, I would say Illusions II is quite a personal experience, meaning different readers will get different things out of it. We all have our own lives with our unique set of past experiences, and the results we get when applying to them the ideas in this novel will inevitably vary. While the meaning I got out of it likely differs from yours, I do believe it manages to grant a common blessing to all of us who read it: it pushes our imagination to soar like nothing else.
The Final Verdict
Illusions and Illusions II by Richard Bach, while being two separate novels, are intricately linked and, in my opinion, ought to be read back-to-back. They are absolutely incomparable to anything else out there, and through fictional stories told in very few words they managed to accomplish what entire books fail to do: they inspire us to be our own messiahs, to believe in our worthiness and the unseen heights we can achieve.
If you haven’t yet read these books, then no matter what your area of interest is in literature, I think you ought to give them some attention. They are, after all, so short they can be read in an afternoon, but that’s all the time it takes to change a person’s life.
Richard Bach is an American writer best-known for authoring a few of the biggest bestsellers of the 70s, his most prominent works being Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. Some of his other works include Stranger to the Ground, Nothing by Chance and The Ferret Chronicles.