Richard Bach JOSEPH McLELLAN - Essay

JOSEPH McLELLAN

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 enlightenment—nirvana—comes when you perceive that the self, too, is an illusion, a game, or perhaps merely a temporary ripple on the surface of the continuum. Bach gives no evidence that he has any idea of this level of enlightenment; his book is riddled with the illusion (or the reality; it's all the same) of self. The book is clearly the product of Richard Bach, avid pilot of small aircraft, author of a number of books about flying and of one book—Jonathan Livingston Seagull—that captured the popular imagination in a wholly improbable way and dominated the cash registers for an interminable period five years ago. This is, of course, a relatively hard self to escape from and the need for such an escape is probably not evident to its proprietor. So be it; writing best-sellers may be a better game than achieving ultimate oneness with the All.

Illusions has certainly one of the requirements for a bestseller in the field of pop mysticism; that easiness which is both its charm and its danger. Bach climbs the foothills of a Himalayan range, and at the end of this not uninteresting book one feels that he has uttered the first "gu" of guru-hood.

Joseph McLellan, "A Wing and a Prayer," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1977, The Washington Post), April 24, 1977, p. E5.