While I launched this blog to promote the work of the great American writer Robert Anton Wilson, I have always had a soft spot for Robert Shea, particularly since I finally read his novel All Things Are Lights years ago. I have made an effort to use this blog to promote Shea as well as his Illuminatus! co-writer, and as I happen to believe the cliche that actions are more convincing than lip service, I am today beginning a whole week of posts specifically about Shea.
The Wikipedia biography of Shea covers his life pretty well, and you should also look at the official site maintained by Shea''s son, Mike Shea. I have links to "Robert Shea resources" at the right side of this page. I am hoping that at least some of this week's posts will help you learn a bit about him, but here are a few "fun facts" about Shea:
• The basic idea for Illuminatus!, i.e., writing a novel based on the various conspiracy theories that readers mentioned on the Playboy Forum, was suggested by Shea when the two friends, who both worked at Playboy magazine, were having drinks in a Chicago bar. The two remained close, by the way, throughout Shea's life.
• Shea obtained a book contract for Illuminatus! by contacting his old friend, Bob Abel, a book editor at Dell books.
• While he was not particularly interested in the occult, he was interested in mysticism and specifically was very interested in Zen Buddhist. For years, he did Zen Buddhist meditation every day.
• Like Wilson, Shea was interested in Discordianism.
• After his involuntary departure from Playboy after a mass layoff of employees, Shea began a successful career as a writer of historical novels. He was still working very hard at a novelist when he died at age 61 in 1994, from cancer.
• Shea's third wife, Patricia Monaghan, was a very good writer in her own right. She taught at Maybe Logic Academy and also was a professor at DePaul University.
I love Shea's writing. His deep interest in anarchism helped to give his portrayals of characters with political power an interesting depth which you can see in Shike and All Things Are Lights.
I remember in 1986 when my friend Paul Chuey and I, both big Robert Anton Wilson fans, first read Shea's Shike, we went through a week or two of wondering whether we thought we liked Shea better than Wilson and whether we thought Shea's vision had dominated Illuminatus!
@Eric, the question of who did what in "Illuminatus!" is an interesting one that I will try to explore later this week.
Perhaps a canine intelligence from Sirius dictated Illuminatus! fifty years ago.
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