Literary Pop: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

“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?”

Author: Richard Bach
Year: 1970
Nationality: American

jlsAfter finishing the behemoth of a novel that is Wolf Hall, I decided to take it easy for the next few books I read. This led me appropriately to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, numbering just 93 pages (including, in my edition, several pages of photographs). It’s something I’d been half meaning to read for a while, without entirely knowing what it was about. So, I sat down on the train and took up the less-than-daunting task.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull, lives his life as something of an outsider from his flock. While his fellow gulls live a short, boring, food-centric life, all Jonathan wants to do is fly. One day he discovers a new method for attaining high speeds in flight, and in his eagerness to enlighten the flock disturbs their breakfast scavenging. Unimpressed, the elders banish him from the flock forever. This is hardly a disappointment for Jonathan Livingston, who continues to use his days improving his flying until one day, having seemingly reached his peak, he is transported to a higher plane of existence populated by gulls like himself. Here, capable of flying even higher and faster, Jonathan outshines even his fly-happy contemporaries and is taught the power of apparent extratemporal flying by an elderly gull. He is given the option of ascending to an even higher plane or returning to his old, close-minded flock; Jonathan chooses the latter, keen to impart his new-found skills on any willing gull. He soon meets Fletcher Lynd Seagull, a bird like himself shunned by the flock, and convinces him to join him in his quest to enlighten the (unwilling) unenlightened. Eventually the two gather a huge following and teach the flock once and for all that “a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom”.


In the end, it only took me about half an hour to read so whatever my verdict it can hardly be described as a waste of my time. It’s not exactly my thing, and I suppose it was a bit of a let-down given that, as I say, I’d been looking forward to it for a while. Unsurprisingly I was strongly reminded of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the other famous spiritual/motivational novella that I feel achieves a very similar end with a little more literary prowess. Jonathan Livingston Seagull‘s simplicity is nevertheless integral in getting the motivational message across, and the message is a commendable one – that sometimes you have to ruffle a few feathers (sorry) to move forward, but that progress is only really progress if those at the back are helped along as well as those flying ahead.

I think.

My rating: 6.5/10


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