Published in 1963, Shel Silverstein's "Lafcadio: The Lion That Shot Back," is the story of a young lion that challenges the machinations of society albeit inadvertently when he refuses to act in accordance with the flow of the natural world. This of course is frowned upon by the other Lions and hunters. As the subplot to this story involves peace and war, it is interesting that Silverstein's classic was first published during the outbreak of the Vietnam War. Whether or not this is mere coincidence is not known.
The story of Lafcadio begins when a group of hunters begin firing shots throughout the pride lands of Africa. When all of the lions in the immediate area begin to quickly disperse, Lafcadio, a young lion (the name Uncle Shelby or Shel Silverstein ultimately gives him) questions why it is that he should run away from these so-called "hunters" even if it did mean imminent doom. So after all of the lions run for their lives, Lafcadio stays back just so he can catch a glimpse of one of the hunters, as he is curious to see what these hunters looked like. Well, when he and a hunter do come face-to-face, the hunter says to him plainly,"I am going to shoot you." Lafcadio then responds with, "But I give up" and just to prove it, he raises his paws in the air. What ensues is a debate between the two in which the hunter must shoot the young lion in spite of the fact that Lafcadio is willing to surrender to the hunter without protest. After all this transpires and when Lafcadio asks him why it is that the hunter still insists on shooting him, the hunter simply says,"Because I am [going to]."
Now, rest assured, Lafcadio doesn't get shot by the hunter, because in his infinite wisdom, the hunter forgets to load his gun before joining his safari. In response to this, Lafcadio tells the hunter, "I am going to eat you," and when the hunter asks him why, he says, "Because I am." And of course he does. What follows is that Lafcadio takes up the "funny stick" which is the gun (which used to belong to the hunter) and begins practicing again and again until he becomes a world-class sharpshooter. He goes on to become the best in the world when a circus man discovers him and takes him out of the jungle to find fame and fortune. Much later on and by the end of the story, Lafcadio finds that he's tired of living the life of a successful world-class sharpshooter and so at the suggestion of the circus man, he returns to the pride lands and reunites with his pride only to find that he doesn't want to be neither lion nor human, as he isn't fit for either lifestyle.
One of the important lessons that the late Shel Silverstein exhibits in this story is that all of us have choices in life. At the beginning of the story in which Lafcadio meets the first hunter who was bent on killing him, the hunter did in fact have a choice to either kill or to not kill, plain and simple, just as Lafcadio had the choice to either run and or to stand up to adversity. One could safely argue that it was indeed curiosity and NOT bravery that kept Lafcadio from running, but in either case, he had a choice. Whereas Lafcadio offered peace and harmony to the hunter whose sole obsession was killing, the hunter had no real viable reason to kill Lafcadio as the young lion was friendly and courteous in his offer of peace an posed no danger.
Such reasoning leaves me to believe that Silverstein was in fact a pacifist and so did not believe in hunting for sport. Such message speaks volumes about the reasoning behind our race which creates wars and kill innocent lives simply for the sake of killing, as it has no real value or purpose in the eyes of nature. Perhaps each of us can learn a valuable lesson from Lafcadio after all, whose curiosity changed the scope of killing without purpose.
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