Read of the Week: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
In a glorious return to our regular Read of the Week feature, our departing Reading Resources intern Deborah has shared a favourite read, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.
Jonathan wants to fly – which should not be unusual for a seagull. But he wants to fly for flying’s sake, not just in order to hunt and eat.
“Why, Jon, why?" his mother asked. "Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock, Jon? Why can't you leave low flying to the pelicans, the albatross? Why don't you eat? Son, you're bone and feathers!"
"I don't mind being bone and feathers mom. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can't, that's all. I just want to know.”
I found the novella’s idea of being able to reach perfection and freedom interesting, because although Jonathan seeks transcendence, his way to it seems to be through training and hard work, and a kind of flying-as-meditation. Jonathan does not want to be remembered as a divine or supernatural being. His ultimate goal is simply to be. To fly without limitations.
But Jonathan is mocked by his peers for straying from the given way and he is pushed out by his flock, and leaves. Jonathan, however, at his centre, is compassionate, and wants nothing more than to be able to share with others the feeling of limitless flight. And so after being adopted into another flock, and eventually assuming the position of a leader, he later returns to offer to teach anyone who is willing how they can really fly.
“He spoke of very simple things- that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.
"Set aside," came a voice from the multitude, "even if it be the Law of the Flock?"
"The only true law is that which leads to freedom," Jonathan said. "There is no other.”