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. It was first published in 1970, 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.
1.1 Part one
1.2 Part two
1.3 Part three
1.4 Part four
4 In popular culture
7 External links
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 met two gulls who took him to a "higher plane of
existence" in which there was 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."
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.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by several publishers before
coming to the attention of
Eleanor Friede at Macmillan in 1969. She
convinced Macmillan to buy it and Bach received a $2,000 advance.
Several early commentators, emphasizing the first part of the book,
see it as part of the US self-help and positive thinking culture,
Norman Vincent Peale
Norman Vincent Peale and by the
New Thought movement.
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
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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Jonathan Livingston Seagull is named after John H. Livingston, a
Waco test pilot who died of a heart attack at 76 while test flying an
acrobatic home-built Pitts Special.
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 Brady Bunch Movie
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Mike Brady (Gary Cole) is reading it
in bed with Carol (Shelley Long).
The Sea Captain on
The Simpsons uses the title as an exclamation when
his ship is about to hit a lighthouse in the 1997 episode "El Viaje
Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer".
The story is referenced in the line, "we relive in Seagull's pages",
in the second track of the 1973 Yes album, Tales from Topographic
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
Barclay James Harvest track, "Jonathan",
written by Les Holroyd, from the band's 1975 album, Time Honoured
Nina Simone's performance of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be
Free" live in Monteaux 1976 includes the lyrics "Jonathan Livingston
Seagull ain't got nothing on me".
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
Key & Peele reference
Jonathan Livingston Seagull in their Season
5 sketch "Prepared for Terries".
Children's arts charity The Flying Seagull Project is named after the
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
Escondido, California built radio-controlled gliders that
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
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.
^ Grimes, William (2008-07-25). "Eleanor Friede, 87, Is Dead; Edited
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
^ 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.
^ "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
^ 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
^ "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 (
LP, 1981)". worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
Richard Bach reads his
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (
cassette, 1981)". worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
^ "Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition (
Audiobook on CD,
2016)". worldcat.org. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album
Stan Freberg – The Best of the
Stan Freberg Shows (1959)
Carl Sandburg –
Lincoln Portrait (1960)
Robert Bialek (producer) – FDR Speaks (1961)
Leonard Bernstein – Humor in Music (1962)
Charles Laughton – The Story-Teller: A Session With Charles Laughton
Edward Albee (playwright) –
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1964)
That Was the Week That Was
That Was the Week That Was – BBC Tribute to John F. Kennedy (1965)
Goddard Lieberson (producer) – John F. Kennedy - As We Remember Him
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow –
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow - A Reporter Remembers, Vol. I
The War Years (1967)
Everett Dirksen – Gallant Men (1968)
Rod McKuen – Lonesome Cities (1969)
Art Linkletter &
Diane Linkletter – We Love You Call Collect
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. – Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam (1971)
Les Crane – Desiderata (1972)
Bruce Botnick (producer) – Lenny performed by the original Broadway
Richard Harris –
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1974)
Peter Cook and
Dudley Moore – Good Evening (1975)
James Whitmore –
Give 'em Hell, Harry!
Give 'em Hell, Harry! (1976)
Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes,
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones and
Orson Welles - Great
American Documents (1977)
Julie Harris –
The Belle of Amherst
The Belle of Amherst (1978)
Orson Welles –
Citizen Kane Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
John Gielgud – Ages of Man - Readings From
Pat Carroll – Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein,
Gertrude Stein (1981)
Orson Welles –
Donovan's Brain (1982)
Tom Voegeli (producer) –
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark - The Movie on
Record performed by Various Artists (1983)
William Warfield –
Lincoln Portrait (1984)
Ben Kingsley – The Words of Gandhi (1985)
Mike Berniker (producer) & the original Broadway cast – Ma
Rainey's Black Bottom (1986)
Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chips Moman, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison,
Carl Perkins and
Sam Phillips – Interviews From the Class of '55
Recording Sessions (1987)
Garrison Keillor –
Lake Wobegon Days (1988)
Jesse Jackson – Speech by Rev.
Jesse Jackson (1989)
Gilda Radner – It's Always Something (1990)
George Burns – Gracie: A Love Story (1991)
Ken Burns – The Civil War (1992)
Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Robert O'Keefe – What You Can Do to Avoid
Maya Angelou –
On the Pulse of Morning
On the Pulse of Morning (1994)
Henry Rollins – Get in the Van (1995)
Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman (1996)
Hillary Clinton –
It Takes a Village (1997)
Charles Kuralt – Charles Kuralt's Spring (1998)
Christopher Reeve –
Still Me (1999)
LeVar Burton – The Autobiography of
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (2000)
Sidney Poitier, Rick Harris & John Runnette (producers) – The
Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2001)
Quincy Jones, Jeffrey S. Thomas, Steven Strassman (engineers) and
Elisa Shokoff (producer) – Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones
Maya Angelou and Charles B. Potter (producer) – A Song Flung Up to
Heaven / Robin Williams, Nathaniel Kunkel (engineer/mixer) and Peter
Asher (producer) – Live 2002 (2003)
Al Franken and Paul Ruben (producer) – Lies and the Lying Liars Who
Tell Them (2004)
Bill Clinton – My Life (2005)
Barack Obama –
Dreams from My Father
Dreams from My Father (2006)
Jimmy Carter – Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis / Ossie
Ruby Dee - With Ossie and Ruby (2007)
Barack Obama and Jacob Bronstein (producer) – The Audacity of Hope
Cynthia Nixon and
Blair Underwood – An Inconvenient
Al Gore (2009)
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox – Always Looking Up (2010)
Jon Stewart – The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The
Betty White – If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) (2012)
Janis Ian – Society's Child (2013)
Stephen Colbert – America Again: Re-becoming The Greatness We Never
Joan Rivers – Diary of a Mad Diva (2015)
Jimmy Carter – A Full Life: Reflections at 90 (2016)
Carol Burnett – In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter,
Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox (2017)
Carrie Fisher –
The Princess Diarist
The Princess Diarist (2018)