The Furry Canon: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

30 May 2016 |

Ugh.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a 1970 novella, hereon referred to as JLS, is really bad. How bad? Read on.

I'm reviewing JLS for the [a][s] Furry Canon project because it appears on Fred Patten's "Top Ten Furry Classics". Fred's list was one of the inspirations for this project, and so I'm working my way through all ten of Fred's choices. Unfortunately they include JLS.

To be fair to Fred, his top ten is obviously not intended to be a "best of" - it's more a list of books that are important to furry in some way. It includes choices like the first by-furry for-furry book (Paul Kidd's Fangs of K’aath), and (as Fred puts it) the first serious* intelligent* animal novel for adults*, Sirius.

* My experience with JLS has caused me to doubt Fred's judgment of quality. So I'm going to consider these terms to be provisional, until I've read and reviewed Sirius.

All of Fred's top ten—including JLS—receive Fred's approval as "great reading". I am here to tell you that JLS is not great reading. To the contrary: it is asinine, tedious, humourless, preachy, and (mercifully) short.

JLS is a story about a seagull who learns to transcend the boundaries of space and time using the power of his heart. Argh.

Do you really want to hear all the ways this book sucks? Because it's worse than my synopsis in the preceding paragraph (minus my ejaculation of psychic pain) suggests. I thought that this review might be fun to write, but all it's doing is reminding me of the experience of reading JLS, which is much like living through a Picard facepalm.

JLS starts with JLS himself—the triple-barreled name of our seagull hero—pissing about. He is ignoring his seagull mates and instead flying stunts. (This is written in weirdly specific aeronautical jargon.) Jonathan learns to go fast, and then gets kicked out of his seagull team because he has the moral courage to follow what's in his heart. And then he meets a fucking immortal seagull guru and starts transporting himself around the place instead of flying. And then becomes this bullshit secular religious prophet, where he teaches other seagulls to follow their dreams.

The writing is bad. It is written alternately in the style of what I imagine goes on at r/seaplanes, and coddling new-agey claptrap. It's about as edgy as a weak episode of Diff'rent Strokes.

In line with the softcock positivism of JLS, the tone of the writing is bland and—at its best—worthless. I'd compare it writing that appears on an eagle-themed inspirational poster, or the platitudes spouted by Malibu Stacy's short-lived competitor Lisa Lionheart, or perhaps the motivational messages of professional wrestling cheeseball Bo Dallas. Except that JLS is less pithy, and has less to say.

I'd say that JLS is unpublishable, yet it has sold in excess of one million copies—that's a lot of readers' eyes being rolled as they suffer through this thing—and was rewarded with a film feating a Neil Diamond soundtrack. Both the film and soundtrack have a reputation for being terrible.

So I guess you could say that I respectfully disagree with Fred's characterization of JLS as "worth reading". I can only imagine that he included JLS in his list because of its commercial success, or perhaps due to some short-lived cultural impact on its publication in 1970 (Fred was 30 at the time). In either case I can't imagine anyone picking it up in 2016 and deciding it's worth a damn.

I'm happy to conclude that JSL fails at the most basic level to be a book of any value, never mind one of the quality necessary for recommendation into the [a][s] Furry Canon.

It think it fails on our other criteria as well - longevity & furry connection.

I know I'm not the only person who knows JLS solely through its use as an expletive by The Simpsons's sea captain, which I think says it all as far as longevity goes. And while I know of at least one furry seagull who takes a kind of furry pride in the existence of JLS, he is Scottish and therefore you can imagine how he feels about being told by a hippie to find the courage to let his heart soar free.

In summary, Jonathan Livingston Seagull deserves neither your time nor interest. It will not be taking a place in the Furry Canon.


The Furry Canon, recommended, at the time of publication:
Redwall
Black Beauty
Equus