Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Illuminatus

The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a series of three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson purportedly between 1969 and 1971, and first published in 1975. The trilogy is a satirical, postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story; a drug-, sex- and magic-laden trek through a number of conspiracy theories, both historical and imaginary, which hinge around the authors' version of the Illuminati. The narrative often switches between third and first person perspectives and jumps around in time. It is thematically dense, covering topics like counterculture, numerology and Discordianism.

The trilogy comprises the books The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan. They were first published starting in September 1975, as three separate volumes, and in 1984 as an omnibus; they are now more commonly reprinted in the latter form. The trilogy won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, designed to honor classic libertarian fiction, in 1986. The authors went on to create several works, both fiction and nonfiction, that further discussed the themes of the trilogy, but no direct sequels were produced. Illuminatus! has been adapted for the stage, and has influenced several modern writers, musicians and games-makers. The popularity of the word "fnord" and the 23 enigma can both be attributed to the trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction, predating Foucault's Pendulum and The Da Vinci Code by decades.


The plot meanders between the thoughts, hallucinations and inner voices (both real and imagined) of its many characters, as well as through time (past, present and future)—sometimes in mid-sentence. Much of the back story is explained via dialogue between characters, who recount unreliable, often mutually contradictory, versions of their supposed histories. There are even parts in the book where it actually reviews and jokingly deconstructs itself.

Plot summary

The trilogy's rambling story begins with an investigation by two New York City detectives (Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon) into the bombing of Confrontation, a leftist magazine, and the disappearance of its editor, Joe Malik. Discovering the magazine's investigation into the John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations, the two follow a trail of memos that suggest the involvement of powerful secret societies. They slowly become drawn into a web of conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the magazine's reporter, George Dorn – having been turned loose without support deep in right-wing Mad Dog, Texas – is arrested for possession of drugs. He is jailed and physically threatened, at one point hallucinating about his own execution. The prison is bombed and he is bodily dragged into the hands of the Discordians, led by the enigmatic Hagbard Celine, captain of a golden submarine. Hagbard represents the Discordians in their eternal battle against the Illuminati, the conspiratorial organization that secretly controls the world. He finances his operations by smuggling illicit substances.

The plot meanders around the globe to such far-flung locations as Las Vegas, Nevada (where a potentially deadly, secret U.S. government-developed mutated anthrax epidemic has been accidentally unleashed); Atlantis (where Howard, the talking porpoise, and his porpoise aides help Hagbard battle the Illuminati); Chicago (where someone resembling John Dillinger was killed many years ago); and to the island of Fernando Poo (the location of the next great Cold War standoff between Russia, China and the USA).

The evil scheme uncovered late in the tale is an attempt to immanentize the eschaton (a catchphrase meaning "bringing about the end of the world" or "creating heaven on earth", and derived from a quotation in the works of Eric Voegelin). Here it refers to the secret scheme of the American Medical Association, an evil rock-and-roll band, to bring about a mass human sacrifice, the purpose of which is the release of enough "life-energy" to give eternal life to a select group of initiates, including Adolf Hitler. The AMA are four siblings who comprise four of the five mysterious Illuminati Primi. The identity of the fifth remains unknown for much of the trilogy. The first European "Woodstock" festival, held at Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany, is the chosen location for the sacrifice of the unwary victims, via the reawakening of hibernating Nazi battalions from the bottom of nearby Lake Totenkopf. The plot is foiled when, with the help of a 50-foot-tall incarnation of the goddess Eris, the four members of the AMA are killed: 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.

The major protagonists, now gathered together onboard the submarine, are menaced by the Leviathan, a giant, pyramid-shaped single-cell sea monster that has been growing in size for hundreds of millions of years. The over-the-top nature of this encounter leads some of the characters to question whether they are merely characters in a book. This metafictional note is swiftly rejected (or ignored) as they turn their attention to the monster again. The threat is neutralized by offering up their onboard computer as something for the creature to communicate with to ease its loneliness. Finally, Hagbard Celine reveals himself as the fifth Illuminatus Primus — he has been toying with both sides and playing them off against each other in order to keep balance. He is a representative of the "true" Illuminati, whose aim is to spread the idea that everybody is free to do whatever they want at all times.


The titles of the three volumes or parts (the front covers were titled Illuminatus! Part I The Eye in the Pyramid, Illuminatus! Part II The Golden Apple and Illuminatus! Part III Leviathan) refer to recurring symbols that relate to elements of the plot. The Eye in the Pyramid refers to the Eye of Providence, which in the novel represents in particular the Bavarian Illuminati, and makes a number of appearances (for example, as an altar and a tattoo). The Golden Apple refers to the Golden apple of discord, from the Greek myth of the Judgement of Paris. In the trilogy it is used as the symbol of the Legion of Dynamic Discord, a Discordian group; the golden apple makes a number of appearances, for example, on a black flag, and as an emblem on a uniform. Leviathan refers to the Biblical sea monster Leviathan, which is a potential danger to Hagbard's submarine Leif Erickson (from the name of the icelandic discoverer of America).

The three parts of the trilogy are subdivided into five "books" named after the five seasons of the Discordian calendar. These books are also subdivided into ten "trips" named after the ten Sephirot. The last trip's conclusion is followed by fourteen appendices named after letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, which share their names with paths on the Tree of Life. The first page of the Appendix includes this mysterious note: "There were originally 22 appendices explaining the secrets of the Illuminati. Eight of the appendices were removed due to the paper shortage. They will be printed in heaven", while "Appendix Mem" states: "Where are the missing eight appendices? Answer: Censored." This appears to be another of the authors' jokes, although it is true that eight letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are missing, and the publisher required the authors to cut 500 pages from the book.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminatus