Richard Bach Jean Caffey Lyles - Essay

Jean Caffey Lyles

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.