Review of "The Illuminatus Trilogy" by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

Wikipedia has a good summary.  I'm not going to try to add anything to the summary.  Suffice it to say that parts of the summary from Wikipedia such as, "Wilhelm is killed by the monstrous alien being Yog-Sothoth, Wolfgang is shot by John Dillinger, Winifred is drowned by porpoises, and Werner is trapped in a sinking car" will only make marginally more sense if you read the whole book.

The book is a libertarian classic, so I decided to read it.  It's not really my kind of libertarianism.  It's the more libertine kind.

There is a book review within the book.  I would have a hard time reviewing this book more aptly:

"It's a dreadfully long monster of a book," Wildeblood says pettishly, "and I certainly won't have time to read it, but I'm giving it a thorough skimming. The authors are utterly incompetent—no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors—whom I've never heard of—have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy. . . .

"Heavens, I wouldn't know for sure. I told you yesterday, it's absurdly long. Three volumes, in fact. Boring as hell. I only had time to skim it. But listen to this, dear boy: 'If The Lord of  the Rings is a fairy tale for adults, sophisticated readers will  quickly recognize this monumental miscarriage as a fairy tale for paranoids.' That refers to the ridiculous conspiracy theory  that the plot, if there is one, seems to revolve around. Nicely worded, wouldn't you say?"

I shouldn't be too harsh, there were some interesting parts, like their description of the leader of the US, Russia and China:

He was, in fact, characteristic of the best type of dominant male in the world at this time. He was fifty-five years old, tough, shrewd, unburdened by the complicated ethical ambiguities which puzzle intellectuals, and had long ago decided that the world was a mean son-of-a-bitch in which only the most cunning and ruthless can survive. He was also as kind as was possible for one holding that ultra-Darwinian philosophy; and he genuinely loved children and dogs, unless they were on the site of something that had to be bombed in the National Interest. He still retained some sense of humor, despite the burdens of his almost godly office, and, although he had been impotent with his wife for nearly ten years now, he generally achieved orgasm in the mouth of a skilled  prostitute within 1.5 minutes. He took amphetamine pep pills to keep going on his grueling twenty-hour day, with the result that his vision of the world was somewhat skewed in a paranoid direction, and he took tranquilizers to keep from worrying too much, with the result that his detachment sometimes bordered on the schizophrenic; but most of the time his innate shrewdness gave him a fingernail grip on reality. In short, he was much like the rulers of America and Russia.


The child saw clearly that, in every relationship, there is a dominant party and a submissive party. And the child, in its quite correct egotism, determined to become the dominant party. It was that simple; except, of course, that the brainwashing takes effect eventually in most cases and, by about this time, the college years, most of them were ready to become robots and accept  the submissive role.

There was some interesting thoughts on Moby Dick, but this was balanced out by some crazy-hippy-talking to dolphins stuff, the '80s equivalent of this, perhaps.  I was honestly embarrassed to be reading some of this hippy-shit.  For example, on talking apes:

 And the gorillas themselves are too shrewd to talk to anybody but another anarchist. They're all anarchists themselves, you know, and they have a very healthy wariness about people in general and government people in particular. As one of them told me once, 'If it got out that we can talk, the conservatives would exterminate most of us and make the rest pay rent to live on our own land; and the liberals would try to train us to be engine-lathe operators.  Who the fuck wants to operate an engine lathe?' They prefer their own pastoral and Eristic ways . . .

In the end, the summary of their views (after lots of stuff that seems contradictory) seems to be:

We have sought to disperse power, to set men and women free.  That really means: to help them to discover that they are free. Everybody's free. The slave is free. The ultimate weapon isn't this plague out in Vegas, or any new super H-bomb. The ultimate weapon has always existed. Every man, every woman, and every child owns it. It's the ability to say No and take the consequences. 'Fear is failure.' 'The fear of death is the beginning of slavery.' "Thou hast no right but to do thy will.' The goose can break the bottle at any second. Socrates took the hemlock to prove it. Jesus went to the cross to prove it. It's in all history, all myth, all poetry. It's right out in the open all the time."

I'm not really sure this is particularly interesting or inspiring.

5 Responses to Review of "The Illuminatus Trilogy" by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

  1. John says:

    This isn’t a review. You just quoted a bunch passages from the book. Have an original thought and learn how to write a review.

  2. You are a staggering bore for such a lazy take on one of the most interesting literary experiments of the 70s.

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