A review by Daniel A. Brown
©2010 Daniel A. Brown
Published in 1977, “Illusions” never received the mass audience adulation that greeted Richard Bach’s initial offering “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. In fact, it became more of a cult classic among the New Age circuit which was gaining some steam in the late 1970’s. Not a surprise, as this slight volume answers the question; “If a Christ figure showed up in contemporary America, what would he be like?”
A good question and a good guess that it wouldn’t be some guy dressed in a robe and sandals. Being an aviator himself, Bach imagines this latter-day avatar as a barn-storming biplane pilot, offering airplane rides for $3 as whack in his immaculate Travel Air which, for some odd reason, never needs gas or oil and flies through the Midwest summer skies with nary a squashed bug on his windshield. This alone signals that Bach’s new flying buddy, Donald Shimoda, is not your average stick jockey.
Or your average messiah as the title suggests because he hates crowds who are more intent on being wowed by miracles than understanding (and thus living) the spiritual wisdom he is aching to share. “When I stay around one place too long, things happen” he tells Bach cryptically who himself then considers the fate of most holy people who work their trade here on earth.
Shimoda might have given up on crowds but has chosen Bach as his disciple, handing him the “Messiah’s Handbook” which contains wisdom both rare and obvious. It is to the credit of Bach’s craft that he can weave a believable spiritual parable around a good flying story. Miracles occur between take-offs and landings while deep wisdom is transmitted in such mundane locales as movie theaters and burger joints. Few people could guess that “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would be a venue to teach both the lessons of reincarnation and how karma really works. Bach pulls it off with a fair amount of wit and style.
And there are some tense moments as well that seems ripped from a modern sequel to the New Testament. One day, as Shimoda and Bach are giving rides to a gaggle of curiosity seekers, a man shows up in a wheelchair. Always solicitous to his customers, Shimoda is unusually harsh, demanding that if this fellow wants to fly, he damn well better get out of his seat and walk to the airplane. The man, who has been crippled for years, throws away his crutches and nearly flies out of the chair to the amazement of himself and the crowd around him. A crowd which then descends on the non-plussed miracle-worker while Bach, panicked, takes off in his own biplane for points unknown.
It isn’t the end of the tale, of course, just a passage in a narrative that has an ending that is either sad or uplifting according to one’s own perspective. “Illusions” imparts its wisdom in a strictly take-it-or-leave-it manner. And that wisdom is not only valid, but useful, thirty-odd years after its publication. That alone, is the mark of a good timeless story.