37 pages 1 hour read

Richard Bach

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1977

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Summary and Study Guide


Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah was written in 1977 by American writer Richard Bach and is a philosophical novel that questions the nature of reality. This novel was a follow-up to Bach’s bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970), which has similar themes and imagery. Illusions suggests that all of reality is a construct of the imagination and can facilitate or hinder a person on their path to having the life that they want. One of the novel’s main themes is that all people have the potential to be a messiah by letting go of their perceived limitations.

This study guide cites the 1977 Random House edition, which includes a foreword by Richard Bach.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide contain depictions of gun violence.

Plot Summary

The text is divided into 19 numbered chapters and an Epilogue, and the first chapter comprises 33 notes that look like they are handwritten in a notebook. Chapters 2-19 and the Epilogue follow a traditional novel format. The novel is set in the Midwest of the United States in the 1970s and is told from Richard’s first-person, past-tense point of view.

Richard Bach is the first-person narrator and protagonist. A barnstorming pilot and a loner, he meets a fellow pilot named Donald W. Shimoda who shares his unique occupation. Richard is seeking a teacher and soon finds himself the student of the mystical and jovial messiah, Don. Connected to Don through some cosmic agreement and many past lives, Richard reluctantly opens himself up to Don’s teachings while the two men travel through Midwestern America in their biplanes, selling rides for $3. Richard is whisked away on a journey toward ultimate enlightenment as Don teaches him how to deconstruct his own perceived limitations and manipulate the illusions that construct his reality.

Although hesitant at first, Richard begins to trust Don and opens himself up to the possibility that he can also perform miracles and be divine. Richard’s journey presents pain and peril as he learns from Don how to make clouds disappear from the sky, how to walk on water and swim on the land, and how to create something out of nothing. Richard helps Don find a way to speak his truth to the public and also helps him to understand why he feels compelled to tell his truth. Realizing that his happiness does not depend on whether people accept his teachings frees Don from his unhappiness.

Richard ultimately becomes a master of Don’s philosophies and shows genuine interest in living a divine life. Throughout their journeys together, Richard and Don become good friends. Don has an opportunity to share his message on a call-in radio show and fulfills his desire to convey his teachings to the public, unhindered by the distractions of his miracles. Once Don has learned what he needed from this life, he dies: One of the angry callers shoots him while Don is in his plane. After his death, Don appears to Richard in a dream, signifying that he has not really left. Richard continues to believe and understand Don’s teachings as he travels from place to place in a continual journey toward true enlightenment and freedom. His journey inspires him to write about Don’s life, the notes in the first chapter of the book.