Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Lion

The lion is the king of the beasts. Enough said.

Or almost. The fact is there really isn't much to lions beyond Sovereignty.

The lion, gruff and belching murderer, rests prone on the plain like a hand saw on a workbench. Presently the saw's teeth are not wrenching their way through the soft lengths of pine nearby, but at any moment they might. And that's the central fact about lions. What else is there?

Idle like our hand saw--i.e., when the lion isn't hungry--he will often become chatty. This is another fact about lions we might raise. Some animals find it the most annoying single thing about their sovereign.

"Hot day," the lion says to a zebra he's sauntered up to.

"Yup," the zebra says, his throat going tight.

Typically the lion will then start to complain about his "insane schedule," how some down-time would be nice but he just "can't manage it with all that's going on," how his wife is "driving him nuts for a vacation," etc., etc.--the point of all this being: "Hey, zebra, I know it's tough for you. But don't think just cuz I'm a lion that I've got it easy. Not at all! It's hard being a lion. It's hard work."

This spiel does have some validity--in a good mood the zebra will admit it--but the questions still nag: Why when you look at lions are they usually just resting on their bellies, digesting the latest kill, idly scanning the plain? Do their small bursts of activity every few days--can we say that these really count as work?

Years ago leafing through a faded Polish magazine in a small town library I came upon an illustration of two male lions in a beauty salon having their manes curled. I couldn't read the caption, but the image has ever since defined the creature for me.

Possessing unchallenged power, the lion has little to do but concern himself with Appearances. Yes, you will find that ninety percent of the lion's grotesquely swollen head--really too large for the rest of its body--is used to house a grossly outsized Ego. The lion is the vainest of animals, outdoing the peacock by miles.

But so what? What can be done about it? Lions themselves will tell you proudly how "necessary" they are for the health of the ecosystem. Convinced of their importance, their centrality even, wielding those jaws and claws besides, does anyone suspect the lion's going to give up sovereignty any time soon?

It's true the animals sometimes talk of Revolution--unseating the arrogant felines that have ruled them for too long. But wiser animals fear a revolution may not improve things: that in the power vacuum following the bloodbath the hyenas, one way or another, would take over.

Would hyenas perhaps be better than lions? The question is widely debated among animals keen on this sort of discussion. Most animals, however, faced with the uncertainty of what change would bring, opt for accepting lions as their overlords, for keeping things as they've always been. Some animals even claim the lions' sovereignty is somehow "natural".

Me, I wouldn't go that far.

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