Jason Pilley sent me an email recently, asking, "You know it just struck me, has *anyone* ever considered whether those 500 missing pages of "Illuminatus!" might be a typical RAW joke?"
I enjoyed Pilley's witty suggestion. It would also be comforting to learn that ILLUMINATUS! was, in fact, published substantially as Wilson and Shea wrote it. But I think the weight of the evidence is that ILLUMINATUS! was, in fact, cut before publication, although the size of the cuts may be a matter of dispute.
In various interviews, Robert Anton Wilson complains that (1) Although he and Robert Shea conceived of ILLUMINATUS! as one long work, it was published as a trilogy by Dell and (2) That Dell made large cuts in the published version.
There is independent verification for (1). When I interviewed Dell editor David M. Harris about his role in the book, Harris recalled insisting on publishing the book as a trilogy, over Wilson's strong objections. Harris said it was the only way to actually publish such a long book, by unknowns, as a genre science fiction book. (He did not say "by unknowns," but I think that is implied. Robert Heinlein only got away with publishing very long, unedited books when he was a celebrity who could dictate terms to his publishers). Fred Feldman, another Dell editor who worked on ILLUMINATUS!, told me much the same thing. (Harris also recalls pushing ILLUMINATUS! along into publication and deserves credit for helping to make sure it was published at all.)
As for (2), if you read my Harris interview, you can see he doesn't recall (or may not have been in a position to know) if ILLUMINATUS! was cut or revised in a major fashion.
I have not yet published my Fred Feldman interview, but I listened to it again as I drove home from work today. Feldman, who apparently finished the job of preparing ILLUMINATUS! for publication, recalls two things about his work (1) He reshaped it to give it more narrative drive and more of a beginning, middle and end and (2) he made cuts that he describes as "significant," although he would not describe them as "substantial." I remarked that the trilogy as published includes long speeches by the major characters, and he replied that he did not alter the didactic nature of the book.
It is possible that the cuts were not as draconian as Wilson has represented them. Pursuing this latter theory, I wrote to three people who I thought might remember what Shea said about whether ILLUMINATUS! was subjected to drastic cuts.
All three replied. While it is dangerous to argue from silence, none recalled Shea complaining about the matter.
Shea's son and literary executor, Mike Shea, said he could not tell me anything. Arthur Hlavaty, the well-known SF fan who knew both ILLUMINATUS! authors but was closer to Shea than Wilson, likewise remembered nothing. Hlavaty queried Bernadette Bosky (mentioned in the acknowledgments for Shea's excellent All Things Are Lights), who did not remember anything, either.
Finally, I tried Dr. Patricia Monaghan, the author, Maybe Logic Academy member and Shea's widow. She did not remember Shea complaining about the matter. She wrote, "As for the cuts to the original ms--they must not have been overwhelming, because Bob never mentioned them, or at least not in such detail that I remember."
It is also possible that Shea was more accepting than Wilson about the realities of dealing with a commercial science fiction paperback publisher. Harris and Feldman both describe Shea as being easier to deal with than Wilson.