If you have the same twisted obsession with bad literature as I, than you know that this one is legendary.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the Bridges of Madison County of it’s day; a stupid little book that turned into a truly evil phenomenon. Both books inspired their own films, their own soundtrack albums (is their any phrase in popular music worse than “Music from and inspired by the whatever”?), and a slew of posters, plaques, collectors’ plates, bathroom sets, and so on. Here’s the difference: both books are campy as all hell, but where Bridges is so awful that I can’t get through five pages of it before I have to bang my head against the desk, Jonathan is actually… *KIND of* good.
Jonathan is different from all the other gulls because, instead of scavenging for scraps and crapping all over tourists, he’d rather do barrel-rolls and question the nature of reality. He is banished from the flock, but he is later taken to a mysterious place where he is taught a new order of thinking by a Zenlike mentor. Jonathan develops some very strange abilities, and becomes very powerful. He then goes off to free the minds of other gulls, and together they battle intelligent machines bent on sucking the body heat from living creatures for energy and…
No… I’m confused. Never mind.
What actually DOES happen in the story is actually stranger in a very 70’s way. And since this is the first book we’ve ever reviewed here at the Realm that you may have actually heard of, and might actually be able to find in real life and actually read, I’m not going to spoil the end. Go read it yourself. Enjoy.
The Best Parts:
Page 34 – The Elder Gull banishes our hero. Bummer man.
Page 46 – Seagull angels?
Page 56 – A really cool design effect with vellum. Hey, if you’re an artist, you notice this kind of stuff.
Page 58 – 42.
Pages 63 – Jon gives Sullivan a headache.
Page 82 – The allegory goes balls-out!
Page 86 – Fletcher Lynd Seagull is flying through a mountain?!?
Page 92 – Jon goes to teach others the New Way.
“Life is the unknown and the unknowable, except that we are put into this world to eat, to stay alive as long as we possibly can.” – the Elder’s justification for banishing Jonathan on Page 35
“Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect… You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.” – Chiang teaches Jonathan on Page 55
“Your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, …is nothing more than your thought itself, in a form you can see. Break the chains of your thought and you break the chains of your body, too….” – Jonathan becomes a Teacher on Page 77
“I can fly! Listen! I CAN FLY!” – Kirk Maynard Gull, after he is Healed on Page 83
Things I Learned from this Movie/Book/Whatever:
* – Seagulls are just little Klingons in feathers; they’re all about HONOR.
* – Any bird that appears to enjoy flying is a freak.
* – Things work if you know what you are doing. This even applies to metaphysical abilities.
* – Seagulls can learn how to teleport. They can also learn to use their built-in Oscillation Overthrusters.
Things That Can Save Any Book:
Cool Creatures? A flock of seagulls!
Creative Ideas? It’s considerably less campy then most people think.
Memorable Characters? No, just seagulls with metaphysical powers.
Memorable Setting? Ehhh… it’s a typical beach.
Nifty Illustrations? As I mentioned before, the photographs are very nice.
Drinking Game Potential? Not really.
Head Movie Potential? Not unlike Dune, “Waking Life”, “Dark Side of the Moon”, and “the Matrix” trilogy, you NEED to have gotten high and questioned the nature of reality at least once in your life to fully appreciate what’s going on here. The difference being that Jonathan, unlike these other things, is not cool. In fact, if there’s an opposite of being cool, than this book is it.
You know, I’m going to be very nice and give Jonny a Jordan. Really, the writing and the story IS quite good; it’s just absolutely impossibly ridiculous in hindsight.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a Story copyright 1970 by Richard D. Bach. Photographs by Russell Munson. Published by Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY. 10022