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Androcles and the Lion (1970)

Retold and Illustrated by Paul Galdone

McGraw-Hill Book Company

There are a few illustrators for whom I hold genuine affection, and Paul Galdone is one of them. Just the tactile sensation of holding a Paul Galdone book transports me back to a simpler time in children's literature, before there were a million version of - say - Androcles and the Lion - and his editions of classic folkstories and fairy tales were the versions of record.

"Long ago in ancient Rome, a slave named Androcles served a cruel master," it begins, and there he is, standing in the midst of a dense forest, hands upraised in classic freedom-loving stature, proclaiming - indeed - "I want my freedom!"

From there, the story hits all of the points we would expect it to - although I noted that in other versions, the lion is enraged and fearsome. In Galdone's eyes, the lion is "moaning and groaning sadly." Androcles removes the large thorn from the Lion's paw, thus instigating the camaraderie between the two. Within no time, Androcles had moved into the lion's cave and spends his days napping while the lion brings him pieces of meat to the content Androcles. A healthy relationship.

But then the inevitable happens - as we know it must - the Roman guards come a-hunting, imprisoning poor Androcles once more, and this time tossing him into the arena to be ripped apart and devoured for the enjoyment of the public.

I especially love the two-page spread wherein the cage is opened, the Guard's eyes hidden in shadow. The lion is now no longer moaning nor groaning, but fierce! Opening wide its jaws, eyes wild, lunging forward.

The next page furthers to scenario, as we now see Androcles cowering in fright, sobbing, "This is the end for me!" - which makes the contrast all the more startling when the lion then pounces upon him and begins licking him joyfully. The two good friends, reuinted at last!

Galdone ends the tale with the two of them walking down a Roman cobblestone road together, Androcles with his hand around the lion's back, the sun setting. "And they walked away together."

Click here for other versions of Androcles and the Lion.

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