Jonathan Livingston Seagull
|Jonathan Livingston Seagull|
Book cover for Jonathan Livingston Seagull
|Subject||The life of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull.|
|Genre||Spiritual, self-help, novella|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|Pages||127 (paperback edition)|
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. It was first published in 1970 as "Jonathan Livingston Seagull — a story." By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print, Reader's Digest had published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. In 1972 and 1973 the book topped the Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States.
The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with the daily squabbles over food. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying, until finally his unwillingness to conform results in his expulsion from his flock. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads a peaceful and happy life.
One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a "higher plane of existence" in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him "pretty well a one-in-a-million bird." In this new place, Jonathan befriends the wisest gull, Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to "begin by knowing that you have already arrived." Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, the very first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.
Part One of the book finds young Jonathan Livingston frustrated with the meaningless materialism and conformity and limitation of the seagull life. He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars as he experiments with exhilarating challenges of daring and triumphant aerial feats. Eventually, his lack of conformity to the limited seagull life leads him into conflict with his flock, and they turn their backs on him, casting him out of their society and exiling him. Not deterred by this, Jonathan continues his efforts to reach higher and higher flight goals, finding he is often successful but eventually he can fly no higher. He is then met by two radiant, loving seagulls who explain to him that he has learned much, and that they are there now to teach him more.
Jonathan transcends into a society where all the gulls enjoy flying. He is only capable of this after practicing hard alone for a long time (described in the first part). The learning process, linking the highly experienced teacher and the diligent student, is raised into almost sacred levels. They, regardless of the all immense difference, are sharing something of great importance that can bind them together: "You've got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull." He realizes that you have to be true to yourself: "You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."
In the third part of the book are the last words of Jonathan's teacher: "Keep working on love." Through his teachings, Jonathan understands that the spirit cannot be really free without the ability to forgive, and that the way to progress leads—for him, at least—through becoming a teacher, not just through working hard as a student. Jonathan returns to the Breakfast Flock to share his newly discovered ideals and the recent tremendous experience, ready for the difficult fight against the current rules of that society. The ability to forgive seems to be a mandatory "passing condition."
"Do you want to fly so much that you will forgive the Flock, and learn, and go back to them one day and work to help them know?" Jonathan asks his first student, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, before getting into any further talks. The idea that the stronger can reach more by leaving the weaker friends behind seems totally rejected.
Hence, love, deserved respect, and forgiveness all seem to be equally important to the freedom from the pressure to obey the rules just because they are commonly accepted.
In 2013 Bach took up a non-published fourth part of the book, which he had written with the original, then edited, polished, and sent to a publisher. Bach reported that it was a near-death experience, which occurred in relation to a nearly fatal plane crash in August, 2012, which inspired him to finish the fourth part of his novella.1
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by several publishers before coming to the attention of Eleanor Friede at Macmillan in 1969. She convinced Macmillan to buy it and Bach received a $2,000 advance.2
Several early commentators, emphasizing the first part of the book, see it as part of the US self-help and positive thinking culture, epitomised by Norman Vincent Peale and by the New Thought movement. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote3 that the book was "banal," and that "The Little Engine That Could is, by comparison, a work of some depth and ambition."
The book is listed as one of 50 "timeless spiritual classics" in a book by Tom Butler-Bowdon,4 who noted that "it is easy now, 35 years on, to overlook the originality of the book's concept, and though some find it rather naïve, in fact it expresses timeless ideas about human potential."
John Clute, for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (in which capitalized typesetting represents literary themes and categories for that book), wrote: "an ANIMAL FANTASY about a philosophical gull who is profoundly affected by FLYING, but who demands too much of his community and is cast out by it. He becomes an extremely well behaved ACCURSED WANDERER, then dies, and in POST-HUMOUS FANTASY sequences — though he is too wise really to question the fact of death, and too calmly confident to have doubts about his continuing upward mobility — he learns greater wisdom. Back on Earth, he continues to preach and heal and finally returns to HEAVEN, where he belongs."5
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is named after Johnny Livingston, a Waco test pilot who died of a heart attack at 80 during an airshow, sitting in his plane by the side of the runway at Ft Lauderdale.
- A 1972 parody, "Marvin Stanley Pigeon," was published by Thomas Meehan in The New Yorker: "Marvin Stanley Pigeon was no ordinary pigeon. While other pigeons spent their time grubbing for food, Marvin Stanley Pigeon worked away on his book on the window ledge outside the Manuscript Room of the Public Library in Bryant Park. He wanted to get his novel done in time for Macmillan's spring list."6
- In The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Mike Brady (Gary Cole) is reading it in bed with Carol (Shelly Long).
- The Sea Captain on The Simpsons uses the title as an exclamation when his ship is about to hit a lighthouse in the 1997 episode El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer.
- The story is referenced in the line, "we relive in Seagull's pages", in the second track of the 1973 Yes album, Tales from Topographic Oceans.
- Jonathan Livingston's passion for flying is illustrated in the song "Martı" (Seagull) by Turkish-Armenian singer Yaşar Kurt.
- Jonathan Seagull was the inspiration for the James Gang song " Ride The Wind " from 1973.
- The novel inspired the Barclay James Harvest track, "Jonathan", written by Les Holroyd, from the band's 1975 album, 'Time Honoured Ghosts'.
- ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus found his inspiration in Jonathan Seagull when writing the song " Eagle " (1978).
The novella inspired the production of a motion picture of the same title, with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond. The film was made by Hall Bartlett many years before computer-generated effects were available. In order to make seagulls act on cue and perform aerobatics, Mark Smith of Escondido, California built radio-controlled gliders that looked like real seagulls from a few feet away. Bach was so unimpressed with the treatment of the film that he sued the film company for negligence. Critics blasted the film, calling it "for the birds." Previously only available on VHS, it was released on DVD in October 2007.citation needed It was released again on DVD on a manufactured-on-demand (MOD) basis through the Warner Archive Collection June 25, 2013.78
- Sullivan, Jennifer (17 January 2013). "Author Richard Bach, recovering from plane crash, returns to inspirational tale". Seattle Times. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- Grimes, William (2008-07-25). "Eleanor Friede, 87, Is Dead; Edited 1970 Fable ‘Seagull’". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- Ebert Roger, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, November 1973, Chicago Suntimes. Retrieved July 2011
- Butler-Bowdon, T., 2003, 50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom From 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose, Nicholas Brealey: London.
- Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). "Bach, Richard (David)". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin’s Griffin. p. 79. ISBN 0-312-13486-X.
- Meehan, Thomas (November 18, 1972). "Marvin Stanley Pigeon". The New Yorker (New York City: Condé Nast): 53. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "Warner Archive Collection".
- "Private Tutor". Factmonster.com. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
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