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||144 (The Complete Edition)|
|ISBN||9781476793313 (2014 paperback edition)|
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, and illustrated by Russell Munson is a fable in novella form about a seagull who is trying to learn about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. Bach wrote it as a series of short stories that were published in a soaring magazine in the late 1960’s. It was first published in book form in 1970, and by the end of 1972 over a million copies were in print. Reader’s Digest 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. In 2014 the book was reissued as Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition, which added a 17-page fourth part to the story.
The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with 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. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads a peaceful and happy life.
One day, Jonathan meets two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” in which there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge. There he meets another seagull who loves 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, 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 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 and the first learning process of 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.”
These 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.”
In 2013 Richard Bach took up a non-published fourth part of the book which he had written contemporaneously with the original. He edited and polished it and then sent the result to a publisher. Bach reported that it was a near-death experience which had occurred in relation to a nearly fatal plane crash in August 2012, that had inspired him to finish the fourth part of his novella. In February 2014, the 138-page Bach work Illusions II was published as a booklet by Kindle Direct Publishing. It also contains allusions to and insights regarding the same near-death experience. In October 2014, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition, was reissued and includes part four of the story.
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 wrote that the book was “so banal that it had to be sold to adults; kids would have seen through it.”
The book is listed as one of 50 “timeless spiritual classics” in a book by Tom Butler-Bowdon, 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, 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 posthumous 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.”
In popular culture
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- 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.”
- Hubert Bermont wrote and published another parody, Jonathan Livingston Fliegle, with illustrations drawn by Harold Isen, in 1973. Its content contained many examples of Jewish humor.
- Also in 1973, Price Stern Sloan published Ludwig von Wolfgang Vulture, a Satire by Dolph Sharp, a story about a vulture determined to push the limits on speed-reading.
- The book was mentioned frequently by Newfoundland businessman Geoff Stirling who incorporated elements of the book into station graphics and overnight programming for his television channel CJON-DT.
- Jonathan Livingston’s passion for flying is illustrated in the song “Martı” (Seagull) by Turkish singer Yaşar Kurt.
- Jonathan Seagull was the inspiration for the 1973 James Gang song, “Ride the Wind”.
- 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 1978 song “Eagle“.
- “Jonathan’s Dream”, a song by Sid Sound, is inspired by this novel. The song is featured on the dance simulation game Pump It Up Fiesta Ex.
- Children’s arts charity The Flying Seagull Project is named after the novella.
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 glidersthat looked remarkably like real seagulls from a few feet away.
Bach, who had written the film’s screenplay, later sued Paramount Pictures before the film’s release because he felt that there were too many discrepancies between the film and the book. Director Bartlett had allegedly violated a term in his contract with Bach which stated that no changes could be made to the film’s adaptation without Bach’s consent. Bach took offense to scenes Bartlett had filmed which were not present in the book, most notably the sequence in which Jonathan is suddenly attacked by a wild hawk (voiced by Bartlett himself). Ultimately, the court ruled that Bach’s name would be taken off the screenplay credits, and that the film would be released with a card indicating that Bach disapproved of the final cut. Bach’s attorney claimed, “It took tremendous courage to say this motion picture had to come out of theaters unless it was changed. Paramount was stunned.”
The Grammy Award-winning soundtrack album was composed by Neil Diamond and produced by Tom Catalano. It won the 1974 Grammy Award as Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special. The album apparently also made more money than the film. The album sold two million copies in the United States,400,000 in France, 250,000 in Germany, 200,000 in Canada  and 100,000 in the United Kingdom.
The Irish actor Richard Harris won a Grammy in 1973 for the Audiobook LP Jonathan Livingston Seagull. To date Harris’s reading has not been released on any other format. Versions read by the author, Richard Bach, have been released on LP, cassette, and CD.
- Sullivan, Jennifer (17 January 2013). “Author Richard Bach, recovering from plane crash, returns to inspirational tale”. Seattle Times. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- “Our History”. LivingstonAviation.com. Archived from the original on January 3, 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
John Livingston was an inspiration for the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull — ‘to Johnny Livingston who has known all along what this book is all about.’ — Richard Bach 1970
- 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.
- “About Us”. TheFlyingSeagulProject.com. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
- “‘Seagull’ Author Sues”. The Evening News. October 11, 1973. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- Campbell M. Lucas, 80; Judge Became an Entertainment Law Mediator(obituary), Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2005
- “American album certifications – Diamond, Neil – Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Soundtrack)”. Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
- “French album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull (B.O.F.)” (in French). Syndicat National de l’Édition Phonographique.
- “Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Neil Diamond; Jonathan Livingston Seagull)” (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
- “Canadian album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. Music Canada.
- “British album certifications – Neil Diamond – Jonathan Livingston Seagull“. British Phonographic Industry. Enter Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go
- “Private Tutor”. Factmonster.com. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
- “Richard Bach reads his Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Audiobook on LP, 1981)”. worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- “Richard Bach reads his Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Audiobook on cassette, 1981)”. worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- “Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition (Audiobook on CD, 2016)”. worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.