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It's a dreadfully long monster of a book... 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... 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.
—Epicene Wildeblood, The Eye in the Pyramid
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, apparently postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story fnord; 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. The third-person omniscient narrator finds these switches, as well as its original non-identity as a disembodied narrator, very troubling and disconcerting at first. it also jumps around in time, as do the consciences of some of the characters, but by then it has settled down to a point where it is somewhat less evidently self-aware. It is thematically dense, covering topics like counterculture, numerology, anarchism and Discordianism.fnord
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.
Also known for inspiring early-90s electronic dance musicians, The KLF, AKA The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. Both names are references to the books.
- The All-Concealing "I" -- Much of the first-person narration is revealed at the end to be from the perspective of a third-person omniscient narrator in a fiction novel.
- There is a strong argument to be made for the existence of multiple first-person narrators; including, at one point, a squirrel.
- Ancient Conspiracy -- subverted. While several conspiracies claim to be ancient, none of them are more than 250 years old, and the only organization that really is as old as it claims is more of an Ancient Tradition than a conspiracy.
- Ancient Tradition -- The Erisian Liberation Front.
- And several others.
- Apple of Discord -- Turns out it works on Nazi zombies.
- Arc Number -- 5, 17, 23
- Arguably also several others.
- The Atoner -- Gruad the Greyface, a.k.a. the Dealy Lama, is either this or a Hero with Bad Publicity, depending on who you ask. Of course, if you ask him, he'll probably tell you that he's actually a Villain with Good Publicity -- we ultimately learn that he engineered his own bad publicity as part of being The Atoner.
- Author Tract -- A lot of the book is blatant antiauthoritarian ranting. But Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped.
- Badass: the town of Bad Ass in Texas is a place of hideous embarrasment for the rest of the USA. It embodies older Confederate ways of thinking, such as notices at the city limits proclaiming Nigger! Do Not Let The Sun Set On You in Bad Ass! and is generally a place where people tend to wear all-body white dust-covers so as not to get their clothes dusty.
- The name of the town is Mad Dog, not Bad Ass.
- Bavarian Fire Drill -- Trope Namer.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy
- The bank robber John Dillinger was actually identical Zen master quintuplets and one of the JFK assassins.
- George Washington may have been secretly replaced by Adam Weishaupt, "founder" of the Bavarian Illuminati.
- Cecil Rhodes coined the expression "Kick out the jams!".
- Which later became the basis for the title of MC5's classic punk song.
- The Beatles are the only band in the history of rock and roll to not be controlled by Satan.
- Post-resurrection Jesus was a Physical God from ancient Greece, who's also Simon Magus and the Reverend Billy Graham.
- The true identity of Stella/Mavis/Mao/Eris is strongly implied to have been Marilyn Monroe.
- Betty and Veronica -- arguably Stella and Mavis, for George. Subverted in that they turn out to be the same person - or rather Goddess.
- Brown Note fnord It is hinted that the actual fnord word is not fnord, but some word people actually fnording use, with the same effect.
- Cargo Ship -- An in-universe example in Leviathan/FUCKUP
- The Chessmaster -- Hagbard
- And several others.
- Cold War -- The story opens with the US, China and the USSR on the verge of incinerating the planet for downright trivial reasons.
"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 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 China and Russia."
—A note on the President of the US... followed by exact repetition in discussing the leaders of those other two countries.
- Conspiracy Kitchen Sink -- to the extent that every other conspiracy theory/mindfuck is laughable once you grasp Illuminatus! Seriously. This is the book whose appendices included the line "We have mentioned only one real conspiracy; this book is part of it" [paraphrased].
- Counter-Earth -- The leaders of the Illuminati may have originated on a counter-Earth named Vulcan and come to Earth on flying saucers from Mars via Saturn.
- Cynical Mentor -- The Dealy Lama (AKA Gruad the Greyface), who lives beneath Dealy Plaza.
- Conspiracy Redemption
- Conspiracy Theorist
- Contemplate Our Navels
- Cosmic Horror -- Yog-Sothoth, a figure from the Cthulhu Mythos, plays a major part in the villains' plan. Also, quite a few others like Saint Toad / Tsatoggua, and Shoggoths. Arguably Leviathan. Even Eris herself might count, but Your Mileage May Vary.
- Cosmopolitan Council -- Since it's Discordians, the funny costume were probably just for laughs. Probably.
- Double Reverse Quadruple Agent -- Tobias Knight goes this trope one better, being described as the only quintuple agent in the history of espionage.
- Eldritch Abomination -- In addition to the Lloigor mentioned under Cosmic Horror, there's also the Leviathan, a mountain-sized single-celled life form that's lived in the oceans since the Precambrian Era.
- Fakeout Escape -- The explanation provided for Dillinger's escapes from prison.
- Fun With
AcronymsAcrostics -- Two examples are an ultra-right-wing group called the Knights of Christianity United in Faith, and a computer named the First Universal Cybernetic-Kinetic Ultramicro-Programmer. There's also two right wing organizations whose acronyms are WHORE and TWAT. There's also at least one Fun With Initialisms moment, where one of the many groups holds its meetings on Lake Shore Drive "because of the acrostic[sic] significance". (LSD can't be pronounced as a word, hence is not an acronym nor an acrostic.)
- Gambit Pileup
- General Ripper -- Pretty much everyone in The Pentagon is presented like this.
- A Good Name for a Rock Band -- A big list of them in the book.
- The Government -- It's worth noting that Illuminatus was originally written before the Watergate scandal, although it was revised somewhat afterward. It was also revised after the publication of Gravity's Rainbow in order to insert Shout Outs to Pynchon's novel. (Incidentally, Gravity's Rainbow was also revised after Watergate - the epigraph of that novel's fourth section had been a quote from Joni Mitchell's "Cactus Tree" in the galley sent out to reviewers before the publication of the novel, but in the aftermath of Watergate it was changed to Richard Nixon saying "What?" for the final edition).
- Historical Domain Character -- William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg appear in a scene set at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Party convention.
- Ironic Echo Cut -- The paragraphs introducing the US president, the Soviet premier, and the Chinese premier are word-for-word identical, and all end by comparing the one to the other two.
- Just for Pun -- Fission Chips a.k.a. 00005, a James Bond Expy.
- Just Like Robin Hood:
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo -- The novel Telemachus Sneezed, a parody of Atlas Shrugged, which asks the question "Who is John Guilt?" Atlas Shrugged is mentioned several times itself, however. Telemachus Sneezed might be a thought experiment on what would have been the result if Ayn Rand had focused her interest in Ancient Greek philosophy on Heraclitus instead of Parmenides and Aristotle. It's an interesting fact however that Atlas Shrugged is anti-government, while Telemachus Sneezed is depicted as definitely pro-strong-government to an extent that it's openly fascist.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Long List -- The complete listing of the names of the rock bands that are set to play at the climactic concert goes on for quite a while. One of them is Nirvana.
- The Magic Versus Technology War -- The Cult of the Yellow Sign and their vs. the Illuminati.
- Milkman Conspiracy -- One Illuminist front works through controlling Discordians and anarchists, while another is lead by the four members of a European teen pop group called "The American Medical Association".
- Mind Screw -- At just about every possible opportunity. One of the conspiracies involved even has a plan called "Operation Mindfuck" - a reference to a real life Discordian project with the same name, though the novel's equivalent has greater ambition (or possibly just greater resources).
- Mole in Charge -- Hagbard is one of the leaders of just about every conspiracy out there, even though they're all opposing each other.
- Multilayer Facade -- Every ancient secret is actually a cover-up for some other ancient secret. And yes, that same principle applies to pretty much every level, thus creating an infinite loop of The Reveal.
- The New Rock and Roll -- Actually, just rock and roll.
- Old Cop, Young Cop -- Goodman and Muldoon
- Order Versus Chaos -- A somewhat complex example; while the Discordians are generally viewed as worshiping chaos, they actually believe in balance. It's just that the state of the world is so heavily tilted in the Order direction that the Discordians are forced to take up Chaos to balance it out.
- It's even more complex since nobody knows what the Illuminati are up to, it's possible that the Discordians do everything they do just for the lulz, and Chaos is usually the exact opposite of balance.
- As far as the Discordians are concerned, Order and Disorder are only two aspects of Chaos, which contains everything. They are on the side of Disorder because Order has overwhelmed the society, but they don't plan destroying Order entirely (or believe that they could).
- Out-Gambitted -- You know the Bavarian Illuminati? Secret organization out to rule the world from behind the scenes? Well, it turns out that they're the ones who are being manipulated. In fact, every single one of the dozens of the dozens of plans and predictions and all the quick adjustments played by the different characters and factions in the book can be interpreted as Out-Gambitted from one point of view or another.
- The Parody -- One of the characters is a book reviewer who trashes a novel that sounds very much like the trilogy itself.
- Pineal Weirdness -- And how.
- The Plague -- Anthrax Leprosy Mu
- Post Modernism -- While frequently categorized as Postmodern literature; Postmodernism is brutally deconstructed and parodied throughout the book. Whether that qualifies as Take That or Self-Deprecation depends on how much of the authors' Mind Screw you feel applies; however, Robert Anton Wilson has published more direct deconstructions of Postmodernism (eg. Maybe Logic), so it's more likely to be the former than the latter.
- Prison Rape -- Harry Coin on George Dorn. Or not.
- Psychic Powers
- Public Secret Message -- A secret society places personal ads reading "In thanks to St. Jude for favors answered - A.W." as a code to their other members.
- The Rashomon -- Just when, where, why, and how the Illuminati came to be varies wildly depending on who's telling the story. Most agree it started on Atlantis, but the rest is up to debate.
- Red Scare
- Revealing Coverup -- Two police detectives get sucked into the story when a left-wing magazine's office is bombed, and they find a collection of notes about the Illuminati in the wreckage. It turns out the magazine's editor set the bomb, specifically to get one of the detectives on the case.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent -- The Ophidians.
- Sapient Cetaceans: Dolphins aid the Discordians in their underwater expeditions.
- Scare Campaign -- One the Illuminati's favorite ways of keeping the masses in line.
- Screw Learning, I Have Phlebotinum -- The AUM drug, sort of. It is supposed to just increase intelligence, openness and creativity, but a judge who takes it suddenly also has a profound understanding of higher mathematics, communication theory, and set theory.
- Sealed Evil in a Can -- The Cosmic Horror Yog-Sothoth is imprisoned inside The Pentagon, where he's kept dormant by sacrificing unto him the souls of all the Americans who die in auto accidents every year. It gets released near the end.
- Shout-Out -- To Principia Discordia in particular, as well as H.P. Lovecraft, Ayn Rand, Conan, The Lord of the Rings, and numerous others. Some of these might be Take Thats, depending on your reading.
- Strawman Political -- several.
- The Syndicate
- Take That -- One example from the appendix (although it is hardly the only one), talking about the difference between property(1), which only exists due to the threat of force, and property(2), mutually agreed upon by all members of society:
The error of most alleged libertarians — especially the followers(!) of the egregious Ayn Rand — is to assume that all property(1) is property(2). The distinction can be made by any IQ above 70 and is absurdly simple. The test is to ask, of any title of ownership you are asked to accept or which you ask others to accept, ‘Would this be honored in a free society of rationalists, or does it require the armed might of a State to force people to honor it?’ If it be the former, it is property(2) and represents liberty; if it be the latter, it is property(1) and represents theft.
- Those Wacky Nazis -- Namely, Ghostapo: (the Nazis that attack the Ingolstadt Rock Festival are a SS squadron who collectively committed suicide and was then revived as Zombies by the Illuminati).
- Trading Card Lame -- The Illuminati card game (1981) and Illuminati: New World Order trading card game (1995), both from Steve Jackson Games, were inspired by the series, but are not based on it per se. (They are instead based on real-world conspiracy theory, public domain documents like the Principia Discordia, and other non-copyrighted material.) Wilson reportedly harbors an intense dislike for SJ Games.
- Treacherous Advisor -- Hagbard , to both the Discordians and the Illuminati.
- He's not really aiming to betray anyone, just teach and illuminate them towards independent, non-destructive existence. In the case of Illuminati he eventually gives up due to their refusal to even try to communicate peacefully with the world.
- Trickster Mentor -- Hagbard Celine goes out of his way to make sure his 'disciples' know he's a massive liar who can't be completely trusted. He hopes they'll apply that lesson to other mentors as well.
- Unfazed Everyman -- George Dorn, arguably.
- Unreliable Expositor -- As befits a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink, taken Up to Eleven.
- Unreliable Narrator -- In the beginning, the narrator doesn't know who, what, or when he is as he bounces back in forth in the story through different viewpoint characters, and eventually realizes he's A third-person omniscient narrator in a fiction novel.
- Warrior Poet -- Howard the Porpoise.
- Who Shot JFK? -- Turns out the Law of Fives applies here too.
- Wrong Genre Savvy -- 00005, a James Bond expy who finds himself in way over his head trying to infiltrate the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Still, when at Fernando Poo, is more aware of the truth behind the event than all the major intelligence agencies.
- In fact, several characters suffer from this to various degrees. It doesn't help that the books constantly shift between genres, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence.