When Ace and John saw a lonesome-looking lion cub for sale at Harrods, they decided to take him home. (It was the sixties; ’nuff said.) The cub, Christian, turned out to be a fun-loving, cuddly cat with a penchant for hugging his friends.
But Christian started getting bigger, and soon, the London flat he lived in and the church graveyard he played in weren’t wide-open-spacey enough for a lion. So Ace and John (who are so noble and good-looking that it hurts) decided to take Christian where he’d be happiest–home to Kenya. Christian succeeded in transitioning from domesticity to living in the wild.
All of this is true. Also true: when Ace and John returned to Kenya a year later to see how Christian was doing, the now-wild lion launched himself at the duo–and proceeded to hug them to bits (metaphorically speaking, that is).
The film of their reunion apparently “became a worldwide internet sensation” that I seem to have missed entirely. But You Tube gave me this:
If this didn’t make you smile, you’re officially creepy. And probably dead.
Many versions of this story have made the rounds–there’s the 1971 book A Lion Called Christian by Ace and John, and there’s apparently a film in the works too. I read the picture book Christian the Hugging Lion by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, who previously authored And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about the two male penguins who successfully hatched an egg. You may remember homophobes getting all mad about happy animals in a loving relationship? And Tango… was apparently the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, and 2008, as well the most banned book of 2009.
Christian… doesn’t seem to have attracted the same ire, probably because it’s never explicitly mentioned if Ace and John are in a relationship. But we are told that “the three of them became the most unusual family in London”, and we can make of that what we will. It’s partly because of this open-endedness that I liked this book so much. It seems obvious that the bond of family doesn’t depend on gender or age or sexual orientation or even species, but it’s a truth worth repeating over and over, and the book’s depiction of the trio’s life makes the point with subtlety and grace. And the illustrations are lovely; I would gladly frame them for my living room wall.
I have to say, though, that I liked this book more than my just-turned-three son did–he wasn’t taken by the artwork (no primary colors here, just rich autumn shades) or the story (the switch between present and future, and England and Kenya was too complex). The book is targeted at 4-8 though, so I think he’ll grow into it.
Christian went on to meet a nice mate (or two) and fathered lots of cute cubs . Hopefully, they all lived happily ever after.
I’m writing this review to mark Pride Week in Toronto, which began on 25 June. This one also counts towards the GLBT challenge.
Christian the Hugging Lion by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Simon and Schuster, 2010
Genre: Picture Book