Bach, Richard 1936–
Bach, Richard 1936–
(Richard David Bach)
PERSONAL: Born June 23, 1936, in Oak Park, IL; son of Roland Robert (a minister) and Ruth Helen (Shaw) Bach; married Bette Jeanne Franks, 1957 (divorced, 1971); married Leslie Parrish (a movie actress), 1981 (divorced); married, 1999; wife's name Sabryna; children: (first marriage) three sons, three daughters. Education: Attended Long Beach State College (now California State University, Long Beach), 1955.
CAREER: Writer and aviator. Charter pilot, flight instructor, aviation mechanic, and barnstormer in Iowa and the Midwest, 1965–70. Associate editor, editor, then West Coast editor, Flying, 1961–64. Military service: U.S. Air Force, pilot, 1956–59, 1961–62, becoming captain.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nene Award, 1974, for Jonathan Livingston Seagull; American Book Award nomination, 1980, for Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.
Stranger to the Ground, introduction by Gill Robb Wilson, Harper (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Harper (New York, NY), 1972, reprinted, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
Biplane, prelude by Ray Bradbury, Harper (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted with photographs by Paul E. Hansen and Bach, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
Nothing by Chance: A Gypsy Pilot's Adventures in Modern America, photographs by Paul E. Hansen, Morrow (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
A Gift of Wings, illustrations by K.O. Eckland, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1974.
(Author of introduction) Munson Russell, Skyward: Why Flyers Fly, Howell, 1989.
Flying: The Aviation Trilogy, Scribner Classics (New York, NY), 2003.
Messiah's Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul, Hampton Road (Charlottesville, VA), 2004.
Contributor of about one hundred articles, most of them about flying, to periodicals, including Flying, Air Facts, Argosy, Holiday, Writer, and other magazines. Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Flying.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, photographs by Russell Munson, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1970, twentieth anniversary edition, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1977.
There's No Such Place as Far Away, illustrations by Ronald Wegen, Delacorte/Friede (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted with paintings by H. Lee Shapiro, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.
The Bridge across Forever: A Lovestory (autobiographical novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.
One (autobiographical novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
Out of My Mind: The Discovery of Saunders-Vixen, illustrations by K.O. Eckland, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
"FERRET CHRONICLES"; FICTION
Air Ferrets Aloft, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
Rescue Ferrets at Sea, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
The Last War: Detective Ferrets and the Case of the Golden Deed, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Rancher Ferrets on the Range, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Curious Lives: Adventures from "The Ferret Chronicles," Hampton Road (Charlottesville, VA), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: Jonathan Livingston Seagull was adapted to the screen by Hall Bartlett, Paramount, 1973. Some of Bach's books have been adapted as sound recordings, including Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, The Bridge across Forever, One, and Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit.
SIDELIGHTS: A direct descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach and an aviation enthusiast (Bach once allowed his family car to be repossessed while he still owned an airplane), Richard Bach is the author of the bestselling Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as of numerous other inspirational and fable-like tales, some autobiographical, and others featuring animals from eagles to ferrets, in addition to his famous seagull. Bach has said that his most popular book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is the result of a vision. "I realized," he once said in a Life interview, "that I was meant to write it all down, not just watch it." Midway through the writing of the book the vision disappeared. Bach explained to Alden Whitman of the New York Times that the vision "stopped like fireworks gone cold in the sky. I tried to invent an ending and just couldn't." Then, after several years, he reported, "this strange visionesque thing picked up just where it had left off. And there was the end of the story."
For a book that was rejected by numerous publishers before Macmillan cautiously printed 7,500 copies, Jonathan Livingston Seagull took the country by storm. Although Macmillan launched the book with a very limited advertising campaign, word-of-mouth praise brought Bach's book to the attention of many more readers. Bestseller status, foreign language translations, television talk-show appearances, and film offers followed.
Bach's novel tells the story of a spirited and brave seagull, Jonathan, who dreams of flying for grace and speed instead of mere survival. After much experimenting and practicing, Jonathan learns to do this. Rejected by other seagulls who, like Jonathan's father, believe "the reason that you fly is to eat," Jonathan lives and flies in solitude until two radiant gulls appear and begin to teach him to transcend the limits of his beliefs in space and time. He then returns to his original flock to try to share what he learned.
When asked about the popularity of his novel, Bach remarked to Judith Wagner in the Toledo Blade: "Something invisible guides any ideal into communication. Jonathan came in the '70s when people needed to hear what he is saying to them. If I had finished the manuscript in the late '50s when I started it, the book probably would not have been accepted." Bach continued: "Jonathan is a crystal sphere in which we can see glimpses of our past and our future. He is true for anyone who finds him true. He believes in doing things that matter. He has his dark times and his bright times, just like all of us. To me, he is saying 'I'm going to live the way I want to live, the way that is right for me. If you are going to destroy me for that, OK. But as long as I'm able I will follow my own direction.'"
The enormous popularity of the book sometimes led Bach to wish that he had written it under a pseudonym. He has been deluged with mail from readers wanting to know the underlying metaphysical philosophy behind the story of the seagull who deviates from the behavior of his flock. On one hand it has been said that the book captures the spirit of Buddhism, while on the other a bishop denounced the book as being an example of the sin of pride. A group of reformed alcoholics used it for inspiration. Timothy Foote reported in Time that "a columnist, dismissing the whole thing as 'half-baked fantasy,' offered its success as proof that America's brains are addled." Bach's own interpretation of the book: "Find out what you love to do, and do your darndest to make it happen."
As proof of the fact that he did not really "write" Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bach pointed to the differences in style between it and his earlier books. Foote explained: "His normal style is highly personal and full of description. As a parable, Jonathan is little more than a narrative skeleton supporting a number of inspirational and philosophic assertions. Bach also pointed out that he disagrees entirely with Jonathan's decision to abandon the pursuit of private perfection in favor of returning to the dumb old flock and encouraging its members toward higher wisdom. 'Self-sacrifice,' said Bach, 'is a word I cannot stand.'"
While Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been extremely well received by readers, many reviewers dismissed the novel as shallow and pretentious. For example, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that it is a pity that "Bach has chosen to deck [his idea] out in a wispy little fable about a brave and individualistic seagull which elects to go against the rules of the flock and becomes first an exile, then a hero. It is when Jonathan Livingston Seagull begins to be known as the Son of the Great Gull that the prose gets a mite too icky poo for comfort." And John Carey remarked in the Listener that Jonathan Livingston Seagull "is for those who think the world would be a lovely place if it were full of chummy people and tame animals. Needless to say, such beliefs are for the most part readily divorceable from their owners' actual conduct. It's of interest that Jonathan's spiritual aviation should prove so endearing to a nation [then] using its own air power to crush North Vietnam."
However, Jean Caffey stated in the Christian Century: "Clearly, here is a work that transcends not only age but culture and politics…. Moby Dick it's not; nor am I prepared to class it with The Old Man and the Sea…. 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.'"
When asked by Wagner if he was bothered by the fact that Jonathan Livingston Seagull "has received precious little critical acclaim," Bach answered: "No. At first I was upset when I read bad reviews. I wanted to say, 'Poor fellows, you really missed the boat, didn't you?' But now that doesn't matter either. Book reviewers tend to be literary, very intellectual, and quite sophisticated. Jonathan is none of these things. Jonathan, the book, is the archetype Cinderella story. The depth of Jonathan's touch is as unique as the people who read his story. I wrote him for myself and for anyone else who finds special space for him in their lives."
Foote described Bach as having "a remarkable gift for saying tentatively, and with disarming humor, things that ought to sound pretentious or phony or both, but instead convince and captivate his listeners. The result is that after meeting Bach, even the veriest cynic is likely to find himself shamelessly rooting for Jonathan Livingston Seagull and curiously willing to forgive the book its literary trespasses…. Whether his book raises tingles at the back of your neck or curdles your vichysoisse, it is hard not to believe that somebody up there loves Richard Bach. Maybe even the Great Gull himself."
By 1993, reported Los Angeles Times reviewer S.J. Diamond, Jonathan Livingston Seagull "[had] sold an estimated thirty million copies in three dozen languages." Bach followed this commercial success with A Gift of Wings, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, and There's No Such Place as Far Away, three books which have been perceived as inspirational. A Gift of Wings is a collection of forty-six essays, most of which have some connection with flying or other aspects of aviation. Bach described this book to Publishers Weekly editor Mildred Sola Neely as a compilation of stories "of friendship and joy and of beauty and love and of living, really living." He added that these stories are based on "whatever sad times, bright times, strange fantasies struck me as I flew."
Arthur G. Hansen wrote in the Saturday Evening Post that A Gift of Wings "is an accounting of one man's feelings about life and the things that make life worth living. Flying is the means for expression rather than an end in itself…. Flying is aimed at finding life itself and of living it in the present. It is the challenge of independence." Hansen continued: "One suspects that the main issue under discussion in A Gift of Wings is the never-ending search for transcendence. This was also the core of Jonathan—we really can be more than we are if we try hard enough. We all have the means to do so. What we need is the will, an adventuresome spirit, and an idea of what we might eventually become with practice and effort."
Illusions and There's No Such Place as Far Away have also been compared to the seagull's quest for fulfillment in Bach's earlier novel. Illusions attempts to find the answers to the age-old questions concerning the true meaning of life through the main character's encounters with a fictional messiah. Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post Book World commented that Illusions contains "enlightenment, miracles, reincarnations [and] out-of-body experiences." And according to Richard R. Lingeman in the New York Times, "the general pitch [of Illusions] seems to be that the world is an illusion, death is an illusion [and that] happiness lies inside you anyway, not outside you in so-called reality." In There's No Such Place as Far Away, a young child learns about the meaning of life from a hummingbird, an owl, an eagle, a hawk, and a seagull. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly explained: "On his/her way to [a] birthday party … the narrator is uplifted and instructed by the spiritual logic of five feathered friends…. They utter bromides about the unity of all life and experience in a universe unfettered by time, space and the corporeal body."
The Bridge across Forever: A Lovestory, is the story of "one man's obsessive search for his soulmate and what happened after he found her," according to Phyllis Butler in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The Bridge across Forever is an account of the author's life since the publication of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Nancy Wigston wrote in Toronto's Globe & Mail that the work "zooms around Bach's life as an adventurer on the road in search of true love. It's a serious enough issue, the business of finding a soul-mate, and Bach is serious to the point of obsession." While a Publishers Weekly critic gave The Bridge across Forever an unflattering mark, Butler predicted that the book will be savored by "sentimental slobs" but will seem annoying to those who "can't put up with the silly, at times sophomoric, tone." Yet, Butler admitted that in the book—which is sprinkled with "heartfelt insights" and "poetic bits"—Bach tackles "things difficult to talk about [and] harder to write about without sounding silly." "But I guess somebody has to do it," concluded Butler, who remarked: "Bach's successful love quest is probably what may of us secretly hope will happen to us."
In Bach's 1988 best-selling novel, One, he and his wife, Leslie, are flying from Los Angeles to Santa Monica when they find themselves traveling through time. At each point in time they discover the impact of their past decisions on their own lives and the lives of others. By the journey's end, Bach has realized the unity or oneness of all people. In One, wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "Bach again displays an inventive imagination and inspirational zeal." Less positive were the comments of Joyce Cohen, who remarked in the New York Times Book Review that "One presents a number of provocative speculations…. [but] in the hands of Richard Bach … they quickly plunge into the realm of the asinine." A reviewer in the Los Angeles Times Book Review pointed out, however, that "In the light of his track record on the best-seller lists, there is obviously a hearty market for Bach's peculiar brand of profundity."
In 1994 Bach published Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit. Essentially an extended dialogue between the author and his nine-year-old inner child (known as Dickie), the book portrays Bach's character as wearily confronting the creation of another book, asking himself: "Remember that this world is not reality. It's a playground of appearances on which we practice overcoming seems-to-be with our knowing of Is." "Clearly," wrote Brian Fair Berkey in a Los Angeles Times review of Running from Safety, Bach has "figured out the map, reached Enlightenment, and already stocked the refrigerator with carrot juice. Of course he parades a false humility—the big plot twist at the end is his realization that it was really Dickie teaching him all along—but the whole book stinks of sanctimony and certitude. (And the prose is atrocious)." Calling Running from Safety a "quasi-nonfiction indulgence," a Kirkus Reviews critic remarked, "New Age jargon bobs along amiably on stream-of-consciousness froth…. Either you buy it or you don't." To Booklist contributor Denise Perry Donavin, the story unwaveringly shows the author "[facing] some truly serious and painful issues in his life." A Publishers Weekly contributor also recommended Running from Safety: "The book—thanks in large part to Bach's sincerity—deftly skirts sentimentality and becomes, ultimately, a real and affecting creation."
Bach's Out of My Mind: The Discovery of Saunders-Vixen was released in 1999. Saunders-Vixen is a British airplane company in a parallel universe. There, set in the early 1920s where World War I did not happen, Bach "suggest[s] that imagined perfection is real somewhere" wrote Ray Olson in Booklist. This book, determined a contributor to Publishers Weekly, is a "New Age parable" that Bach fans "might enjoy … but others will find … a flat experience." According to the reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "this slight parable … is almost ludicrous in its strain for profundity." Robert Winder in New Statesman & Society wrote that the "book is little more than a dressed-up elegy to a vanished age before computers—a gilded world of leather straps, open hatches, and splashing about in the air."
Bach returned to storytelling involving animals with the "Ferret Chronicles," a series "based on the exploits of ferrets who have abandoned their utopian world to aid the human race," according to a contributor for Publishers Weekly. The series started off with the 2002 title, Rescue Ferrets at Sea, featuring a plucky ferret heroine, Bethan Ferret, whose one ambition is to save other animals on the ocean. Bethan gets her chance when she passes officers training classes and gets her own command, but must first win over the crew and a skeptical journalist sent along to cover Bethan's maiden voyage. The Publishers Weekly critic found this opening novel in the sequence "touching and satisfying." Bach's second ferret book, Air Ferrets Aloft, is an adventure dealing with a mistimed love affair between two pilots, Stormy and Strobe, flying for air cargo companies. A "ships-in-the-night" sort of story, the book shows how the pilots keep missing their rendezvous with one another. Reviewing this second title, a contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted "Bach displays the same ability to set the heart pumping" in this "inspirational animal fable." Budgeron Ferret, a writer, is featured in the third book in the series, Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse. As Budgeron begins his epic novel, his new wife, Danielle, a "pawcurist," also begins putting some of the stories she hears at work onto paper. The writing couple, after a string of rejections, eventually both get their books successfully published. A Kirkus Reviews critic thought "the plot will attract more adult readers [than the first two ferret books], largely thanks to Bach's revelations about the publishing game." A Publishers Weekly reviewer had similar praise for this third series title, commenting, "this effort recaptures some of the sense of wonder that made Jonathan Livingston Seagull a runaway bestseller," Bach places his protagonist ferrets on a Montana ranch for the fourth installment in the "Ferret Chronicles," featuring the childhood sweethearts, Monty and Cheyenne in Rancher Ferrets on the Range. A contributor for Publishers Weekly felt this fable-like novel was "heartfelt and earnest," but also noted the book "lacks the humor" of Writer Ferrets. Bach collected his ferret tales in the 2005 Curious Lives: Adventures from the Ferret Chronicles, a group of "feathery adventure fables," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors in the News, Volume I, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.
Bach, Jonathan, Above the Clouds: A Reunion of Father and Son, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Bach, Richard, Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit, Morrow, (New York, NY) 1994.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 24, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, 3rd edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
New Age Encyclopedia, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975–1991, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Booklist, September 1, 1994, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Running from Safety, p. 17; June 1, 1999, Ray Olson, review of Out of My Mind: The Discovery of Saunders-Vixen, p. 1740.
Christian Century, November 22, 1972, Jean Caffey, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 1185.
Cosmopolitan, October, 1984, Carol E. Rinzler, review of The Bridge across Forever: A Lovestory, p. 42.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 23, 1985, Nancy Wigston, review of The Bridge across Forever.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1994, review of Running from Safety, p. 930; April 15, 2002, review of Air Ferrets Aloft, p. 509; August 15, 2002, review of Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse, p. 1154; December 15, 2002, review of Rancher Ferrets on the Range, p. 1803.
Life, March 3, 1972, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 24.
Listener, December 7, 1972, John Carey, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 797.
Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1993, S.J. Diamond, "Singular Sensations," p. E1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 4, 1984, Phyllis Butler, "Checkmates, Soul Mates at Last," review of The Bridge across Forever: A Lovestory,p. 14; September 18, 1988, review of One, p. 10; December 16, 1994, Brian Fair Berkey, "Searching for Answers and 'Spirit Lite,'" p. E12.
Midwest Quarterly, winter, 1988, Richard M. Gardner, "Stereotypes and Sentimentality: The Coarser Sieve," pp. 232-248.
New Statesman & Society, August 28, 2000, Robert Winder, review of Out of My Mind, p. 40.
New York Times, January 18, 1972, Alden Whitman, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull; April 1, 1977, Richard R. Lingeman, review of Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.
New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1977, Andrew M. Greeley, review of Illusions, p. 11; November 27, 1988, Joyce Cohen, review of One, p. 22.
Observer, November 29, 1992, review of There's No Such Place as Far Away, p. 6; September 4, 1994, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 17.
People, April 27, 1992, J.D. Podolsky, "The Seagull Has Landed," p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1970, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 60; April 29, 1974, Mildred Sola Neely, interview with Richard Bach; June 17, 1974, review of A Gift of Wings, p. 66; March 12, 1979, review of There's No Such Place as Far Away, p. 64; January 3, 1986, review of The Bridge across Forever, p. 51; August 12, 1988, review of One, p. 441; August 8, 1994, review of Running from Safety, p. 380; July 19, 1999, review of Out of My Mind, p. 183; April 29, 2002, review of Air Ferrets Aloft and Rescue Ferrets at Sea, p. 40; September 23, 2002, review of Writer Ferrets, p. 50; October 19, 2003, Mike Neil, "Animal Act," p. 149; January 17, 2003, review of Rancher Ferrets on the Range, p. 237; October 10, 2005, review of Curious Lives: Adventures from the Ferret Chronicles, p. 38.
Saturday Evening Post, April, 1975, Arthur G. Hansen, review of A Gift of Wings, p. 72.
Smithsonian, September, 2005, Mimi York, "Richard Bach: Author Jonathan Livingston Seagull," p. 18.
Time, November 13, 1972, Timothy Foote, review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, p. 60.
Toledo Blade (Toledo, OH), March 24, 1974, Judith Wagner, interview with Richard Bach.
Washington Post Book World, April 24, 1977, Joseph McLellan, review of Illusions.
Messiah's Handbook by Richard Bach, http://www.richardbach.com (January 20, 2006).