Richard Bach Essay - Critical Essays

Bach, Richard


Bach, Richard 1936–

Bach is an American novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. He is best known for Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a novel that Bach claims was inspired by a vision. The novel was a tremendous financial success, although most critics found it banal in theme and simplistic in its ersatz philosophical pretensions. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 13.)

Jean Caffey Lyles

[Some] reviewers have not hesitated to place Jonathan alongside Antoine de Saint Exupéry's small classic [The Little Prince]. It is true that Saint-Exupéry, like Richard Bach, was an aviator, but—though this may be heresy to Jonathan-cultists—that's where the resemblance ends. Bach's heavy-handed allegory is no match for the whimsical charm and gentle wit of The Little Prince…. (p. 1186)

Jonathan's success in the general book trade is another phenomenon altogether. For example, the Reader's Digest, that official organ of Middle Americanism, published a condensation of the book in its May issue. Clearly, here is a work that transcends not only age but culture and politics. Possibly the aspect most responsible for moving Jonathan off the shelves is its ambiguity. There's enough symbolism and allegory in the story to delight the most avid symbol hunter. Moby Dick it's not; nor am I prepared to class it with The Old Man and the Sea. But symbols it's got. And the great virtue of this book is that it means precisely what you want it to mean…. No matter what your age, sex, race, annual income, religion or politics, somewhere in the context of your life you can find a use for Jonathan's message that there are "no limits."… What Bach has done in essence is to market that panacea of the '50s, the power of positive thinking, in the packaging of the '70s, so that it can be swallowed whole even by those who share the late Adlai Stevenson's sentiments that "I have always found St. Paul appealing and St. Peale appalling." (pp. 1186-87)

Jean Caffey Lyles, "The 'Jonathan' Bonanza," in The Christian Century (copyright 1972 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the November 22, 1972 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. LXXXIX, No. 42, November 22, 1972, pp. 1185-87.

John Carey

Mr Bach's nice, soggy Christianity [in Jonathan Livingston Seagull] could not be expected to fit in unpleasantnesses like the Crucifixion. His book is for those who think the world would be a lovely place if it were full of chummy people and tame animals. Needless to say, such beliefs are for the most part readily divorceable from their owners' actual conduct. It's of interest that Jonathan's spiritual aviation should prove so endearing to a nation currently using its own air power to crush North Vietnam.

John Carey, "The Good in Every Gull," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1972; reprinted by permission of John Carey), Vol. 88, No. 2280, December 7, 1972, p. 797.∗

Arthur G. Hansen

There is no doubt that Bach is passionate about the realm of flight. In fact, flying to Bach is almost a religious experience, and his final essay in [A Gift of Wings] comes close to saying just that…. If the sky is symbolic of God, the airplane becomes the physical entity coalescing with the human spirit to provide the ritualistic act of worship. The airplane becomes an extension of the flyer. No mere assemblage of nuts and bolts, it is capable of responses (so Bach would claim) that almost transcend physical laws—at least if the aircraft has received tender, loving care. References to airplanes are on an intimate level….

Here are the stories of an unblushing romanticist—a latter-day Icarus with his gift of wings. While a "white-knuckle" air traveler may fail to appreciate Bach's peculiar perspective, his style and enthusiasm will undoubtedly make an impression. But the book does, nevertheless, have some depth to it.

Basically, this is an accounting of one man's feelings about life and the things that make life worth living. Flying is the means for expression rather than an end in itself. Readers of Jonathan Livingston Seagull will catch the significance of Bach's remark, "Flying, once again, is overcoming, not the distance from here to Nantucket, but the distance from here to perfection." Flying is aimed at finding life itself and of living it in the present. It is the challenge of independence—"If you wish a world where your destiny rests completely in your own hands, chances are that you are a naturally born pilot." One suspects that the main issue under discussion in A Gift of Wings is the never-ending search for transcendence. This was also the core of Jonathan—we really can be more than we are if we try hard enough. We all have the means to do so. What we need is the will, an adventuresome spirit, and an idea of what we might eventually become with practice and effort….

Bach has a passion and a pen and he puts the two together with warmth and skill. If one wishes a bit of spirit-lifting along with pleasurable reading, then Richard Bach's A Gift of Wings is certainly worth examining.

Arthur G. Hansen, "The Saturday Evening Post Bookshelf: 'A Gift of Wings'," in The Saturday Evening Post (reprinted with permission from The Saturday Evening Post Company © 1975), Vol. 249, No. 3, April, 1975, p. 72.

Richard R. Lingeman

I guess a lot of things that are said in ["Illusions"] are the kind of sentences somebody might want to embroider on a sampler—or bake into a fortune cookie. Bach seems sincere—he even ends up a messiah himself in the book and says there's room at the top for everybody. Maybe there's some truth in this—I can't really tell one way or another. My own inclination after reading it was to think up some sayings of my own like, "If this book helps get you through the night, then it's better than Jack Daniels" and "Ideas are not necessarily true if you can't disprove them" and "Everybody is free to do anything, including ignore this book."

Richard R. Lingeman, "Books: New Wings, Old Seagull," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 1, 1977, p. C27.

Andrew M. Greeley

As serious religion, "Illusions" does not even begin to be anything more than [fantasy literature]. The twin problems of purpose and evil with which religion has traditionally wrestled are not even addressed, but dismissed as illusory. If religion is the modest dogma that God is not mad, then "Illusions" is an irreligious book, because it suggests that it doesn't matter whether He is or not. Nor do the simple ethical imperatives of Shimoda do justice to humankind's agonizing over the implications of its world views of moral behavior. Shimoda and Bach dismiss ethical ambiguities as easily as they dispose of existential anxieties.

It is hardly fair, I suppose, to apply such serious paradigms to a playful exercise of the fantastic imagination; still, one has the impression that Bach wants the book to be taken very seriously indeed. It is fantasy, all right, but fantasy with implications for action. We should all live the way Shimoda did.

Ultimately one's judgment of "Illusions" will depend on one's taste for the fantastic. Some will think it heretical, even blasphemous—if such sins can still be committed. Others will find it cloying and cute. Many readers may decide that it is a charming, light-hearted story with important insights into the meaning of human life.

For whatever it may be worth, my own reaction was underwhelming…. I think I'll stick with St. Mark.

Andrew M. Greeley, "Jonathan Livingston Shimoda," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 10, 1977, p. 11.


It would not be quite accurate to say that the material in Illusions is shopworn, but it is becoming common currency in the reading offered to American mass audiences: enlightenment, miracles, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences….

There is nothing particularly wrong with [Bach's] anecdotal enlightenment, except that there is nothing particularly right about it either. It leaves the recipient where he was before the process began, except that he may have a dim recognition of the existence of other places. The problem, like the advantage, is that it is too easy; Lao Tzu might have said: "The Tao that is facile is not the true Tao."…

Perhaps the ultimate...

(The entire section is 330 words.)