Book Review: Jonathon Livingston Seagull

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This thin book lasted roughly an hour from cover to cover. The words take up half of each page and other pages are packed with just as many photographs of
seagulls. Everything about the novel is pedestrian, except for the message – which I respect, but only halfway agree with. To wit:

All seagulls have human names and, in this edition, speak English, presumably with seagull accents(??). This story centers around Jonathan Livingston, a
seagull who desperately needs to break away from the demands of his society and just be himself. But seagull world ousts any members that choose to do more with their fowl lives than look for food. Jonathan is that member. He wishes to push himself, fly faster and farther than any bird; do fantastic acrobatics in the sky, and will risk his life day in and day out searching for his idea of the very best that he can be. And it doesn’t take long before he is sent packing by his seagull brethren.

I understand what is happening here. Bach is celebrating personal identity. Fine, I’m all for people doing what they want to do with themselves.  It’s all we did in New York City. But I don’t love Bach’s approach. Through JLS, he displays the view that not only is being different a right, but sheer brilliance as our protagonist not only tops himself and his kind physically, spiritually and mentally, but he literally attains more awesomeness than any human. He becomes a seagull Jedi Knight whose outrageous superiority even allows him to travel through time.

Yes, yes – the sky’s the limit! I get that too. Yes, yes – some people need this kind of self-help message. Also understood. But Bach’s “Break rules! Be different! Or you will never aspire to greatness” theme creates limitations for those who prefer a counter approach to life than his own, and is therefore underlyingly hypocritical. For instance… Jonathan knew the mandates of his community yet he chose to go against them, shun them, break them openly. If he was so dead set on his own agenda, he should have willingly took off on his own, free to do whatever he wants.

But no…Bach indirectly preaches rule-breaking instead, when rules are the very things that keep a society from falling apart and becoming chaotic. Destruction
and bedlam are what make the Joker and various other villains of yore so infamous.

Not saying JLS is a criminal mastermind in the making, but he is a seagull with phenomenal super powers, a psychiatric profile of lusting for personal gain and a history of life-altering rejection. All he needs is the straw to break the camel’s back and God help the seagull population…

Okay, got carried away a bit with that last paragraph. All in all, Bach put together a self-indulgent short with a strong message that one could call both good and bad. I am indifferent to it.

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2 Comments

  1. Bach has written some phenomenal books (one of my all time favorites is his “Illusions”). In my opinion, though, JLS is absolute rubbish. It’s hard to believe that this is the book which made him famous.

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