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.
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