I thought it might be fun this month to re-post some of my most popular fairy tale posts. “The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena” always gets a lot of views, but to be honest, it’s not a story I remembered at all.

“The Lion, the Hare, and the Hyena” is a story from Kenya. The version I read in Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales was told to Phyllis Savory by Gwido Mariko and illustrated by Tamsin Hinrichsen.

A lion who lived alone in a cave had an injured leg and cannot hunt , but luckily for him a hare, Sunguru, who was passing by realized the lion needed his help and stayed to take care of him. The lion gained strength and was soon well enough to catch food for them to eat.

One day a hyena smelled the bones that were left from the two friends’ meal. The hyena, wanting the delicious bones, tried to convince the lion that he had been truly concerned about the lion while he was injured. The lion, being fairly smart, didn’t believe him and the hyena  shuffled away. The hyena couldn’t forget about the bones though, so he came up with another plan.

“Nevertheless, what I have told you is true,” confided the hyena. “It is well known throughout the countryside that Sunguru is purposely giving you the wrong treatment for your wound to prevent your recovery. For when you are well, he will lose his position as your housekeeper – a very comfortable living for him, to be sure! Let me warn you, good friend, that Sunguru is not acting in your best interests.” (pg. 42)

Sunguru the hare, learning of the lie, thought quickly and came up with quite a clever plan, retained the lion’s confidence and got revenge on the hyena at the same time.

Hares feature prominently in several stories in the collection.  In “Mmutla and Phiri,” a hare disposes of a rival medicine man, and in “The Hare’s Revenge” it’s a buffalo that wishes he hadn’t tried to take advantage of a hare.

The hare is not the biggest animal, nor is he the strongest. He’s not the scariest or the most talented, but he’s smart, clever and a quick thinker. Like in so many folktales and fairy tales told throughout the world, it’s cleverness or kindness that wins in the end. To be honest, though, I don’t think the hare was entirely unselfish when he started nursing the lion back to health. I think he knew what benefits being friends with a lion could provide and being known as a healer couldn’t hurt either.

It’s interesting that although settings change and characters vary, the lessons folktales tell are universal. We can find the same meanings in stories from cultures everywhere. I will say, though, that the folktales I read in this collection were enchanting. I liked Mandela’s introduction:

“It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all the children in the world may experience the wonder of books and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthy dwelling place with the magic of stories.”

Just a comment, there’s aren’t many illustrations to the stories in this book, but they are still perfect to read aloud. Most of the fables are only two or tree pages long with the addition of one bright, colorful, full-page illustration.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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