Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Do they still teach Jonathan Livingston Seagull?

 Johnathan Livingston Seagull fits into a category of books that I think of as ‘the lazy high school book report book’

That’s really because it’s such a short work that still qualifies as a classic. The Great Gatsby and Anthem and the Pearl fit the same bill. Amusingly, as a grown up, this category of books is tempting again due to time management.

My earliest memories of JLS isn’t actually of the book. My first exposure came from a narrated summary with a set of stills that I watched in middle school. That same series also included Contents of a Dead Man’s Pocket and By the Waters of Babylon. I can’t seem to find a reference to this format.  I guess it has faded into the mists of time and education.

JLS is the story of a sea gull whose love of flying transcends his need for social norms. Indeed, it leads to transcending to a higher plane of existence. Which happens about a quarter of the way through the book so I’m not spoiling much.

In a story whose whole point is metaphysical, JLS has some grounded touches that are almost jarring. In particular, the technical aspects of avian flight gets a surprising amount of attention.  But Richard Bach was a flight instructor so it makes sense.

Compared to other lazy book report books, JLS is less obviously challenging. Jonathan resolves conflict by basically ignoring it, making it hard to remember that there actually is any conflict. The book may be about pantheism or it may be about the triumph of the individual over conformity or it might just be about being yourself. There’s options for kids’ book reports.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a feel good parable. Which isn’t a condemnation. When folks say true art has to be angsty and life has to be serious, creating a feel good parable isn’t easy.

Post Script: 

While doing the research for this blog, I learned that Richard Bach added a fourth section to the book, one that he apparently had written back in the 70s. It’s set a thousand years after Jonathan’s time, when seagulls revere his teaching but don’t actually fly. But there are those who still want to fly.

Il’ll have to find a copy sometime.

No comments:

Post a Comment