Among the several lamentable evolutions of picture books, people don’t get eaten so much anymore. Of course there is always the threat of it, though more and more authors appear to be relying on the ghost of Shel Silverstein to string us along. Or often the carnage is just a bad dream (psych!) still how many times can we expect to be awakened this way without starting to wonder if maybe everything isn’t a bad dream? Really, a couple of snackable humans can’t be very worse than that.
Here are a man and a lion in Dan Yaccarino’s Deep in the Jungle:
“‘Can you perform any tricks?’ asked the man.
‘My dear fellow, my specialty is the famous man’s-head-in-lion’s-mouth trick.’
Thrilled, the man asked the lion to show him.
‘I’d be delighted,’ said the lion.”
Maybe he is a descendant of Silverstein’s Lafcadio (minus the marshmallows and guns), or the big cat Kipling would have chosen if he were stationed in Africa, or maybe he has even weirder, or wilder, or nobler designs, yet at least we are alive to these possibilities. This follows an earlier brush with stardom that didn’t exactly end how he dreamed it (“The lion made up his mind. He had a bellyful of show business, and he was going home.”) and it’s a surprising reminder of all we are missing when artists get shackled - or shackle themselves. Artists? I’m sorry - performers. Wow, we forget how good it feels to wonder what’s going to come next, even when it’s nothing but a simple little fable we’re following, and even when we are likely to wind up in more or less the same place. The law of the jungle. The crack of the whip. A metaphor is only a cliché if you don’t have to worry about teeth.