Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author: Richard Bach
Published: 1970
Website: Wikipedia Page

Jonathon Livingston Seagull is a short story of about a hundred pages, with many pictures, and yet, it is about everything. It’s said that there are seven narratives which all, or almost all storylines follow, and yet I would be hard pressed to pick one that fits Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It’s about an eponymous seagull who learns how to fly for the sheer love of it, not just to eat, making him an Outcast from his flock. On his own for many years, he eventually runs into denizens from another world, who show him a community of seagulls just like him, all working to learn. Here he begins to understand the metaphysics of seagull nature, the Great Gull and the essence of ideas underlying the physical world. He becomes a teacher in his own right, and then leaves to teach outcasts like himself. With this band of rebels, he goes back to the Flock, and with care, civil disobedience and a little showing off, the Flock comes to see his work as incredibly important. Their psychological response, however, is to switch from seeing him as a demon to seeing him as a god which Jonathan, in his last plea to his friend and acolyte Fletcher Seagull, begs him not to let them do.

This is a rushed summary, and it doesn’t do the book justice, but it’s necessary so I can give the following response: this book is actually about everything. It is beautifully written, with photographs of seagulls wonderfully punctuating a story which is full to bursting with ideas and allegory. It speaks to imagination and the pushing of boundaries, of acceptance of difference and of pursuit of excellence. It is about Aristotle and the essential nature of things and beings and how they are inexorably pulled to them. It is about social dynamics and a bit of religion and a lot of self-idolization. It calls for being the best, and teaching that to others, of using knowledge to better the experiences of those around, and of treating the world not as a set of physical limitations but as an immeasurable set of possibilities. It’s a strange piece, not least because it is about seagulls and half-obsolete philosophies, but it is uplifting and beautiful and asks us all to fly high.

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