For this little mythic adventure, let’s explore what Dorothy from Kansas exclaimed on her hero’s journey (heroines’ journey, for the more sophisticated) to the mythic Wizard in the land of Oz.
“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”
Now, this serves as an introduction to the Cowardly Lion for the Dorothy and her still incomplete crew; but let’s leave that alone. Instead, let’s look at some fiercesome Lions, Tigers, and Bears (Oh My!) from across the world…
Heracles and the Nemean Lion:
While there are many a mythic lion (think Narasimha from the Vishnu Avatars), I think it’s time I gave a proper mention to the Nemean Lion.
Poor Hercules was given 12 horrible labors; none that any semi-mortal should face. The first was the Nemean Lion…
This Lion was accustomed to appearing as a woman to lure warriors in to rescue and protect ‘her’; the following onslaught was as vicious as it was predictable. How exactly Hercules defeated the monster is open to version-interpretation, however he did succeed, and to prove it to his doubters, he used the most effective means available:
He used the Nemean Lion’s very own claws to skin the monster, and wore the Lion’s otherwise impenetrable coat to show his victory over the Beast of Nemea.
Leaving asides Tigger from Winnie the Pooh and the tiger from the Life of Pi, tigers don’t get as much mythic credibility as they should.
Yes, Shere Khan shows up to menace poor Mowgli in the Jungle Book, but that’s hardly old world mythology (and quite frankly, for new world mythology, it’s pretty damn racist, like its author, Graveyard Kipling).
Now, before I celebrate the following tiger, I should point out that I’m not particularity fond of hunters. And in India, the British and their lackey Raj’s took a particular fondness in Big Game Hunting.
Tigers, foremost on the list…
Apparently, one’s genitals are only as large as what one kills…
So My Props got to the following Tiger (tigers being one of the Five Big Game Hunting Animals that gave Imperialists erections):
Named the Champawat Tiger, She killed at least 436 humans. In a twist, the man who killed her (1907), Jim Corbett, went on to be an extraordinary conservationist, and there is a Bengal Tiger park dedicated in his name…
Which would be sweeter if he hadn’t hunted so many other animals along the way.
Bears play a significant role in many an indigenous/First Nation American mythology; but then again, their stories dominate many “pre-historic” cultures as well, besides the more commonly retold Greco-Roman myths.
Looking to the heavens, we find the Big and Little Dippers: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great Bear and Her Son. Little Bear.
A version of those stellar patterns is related in the Greek myth of poor Callisto, however there are many, many more…
Many indigenous American tales involve the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters who flee the Bear. Some involve the Bear as Guide, leading the protagonist on her (or his) mythic quest.
Some bears end up as CGI Avatars (yes, I’m looking at you, Yogi & Boo Boo).
And some end up in Werner Herzog documentaries (Grizzly Man).
Life feeds on life…
Like Lions and Tigers, Bears can be friends and foes, creators and destroyers.
No matter what part they play, they remain forces to contend with, which is why they deserve the mythic status that they are afforded.
And what about poor Dorothy?
Well, for what it’s worth, Kansas is still devoid of Lions, Tiger and Bears, Oh My!
However, you might find some hanging out at Tanganika Wildlife Park.
(that’s an unsolicited, and perhaps unwelcome plug! But if you’re in the area, it’s a great place to find us, and maybe some Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! (substitute Penguins for Bears, and you’ll be fine :-))
So maybe the point of this post is simply this: Nature is bigger than us, by definition.
Sometime the Lions, Tigers and Bears besiege us; sometimes they liberate us.
Either way, we should always tread carefully…
Even when we’re wearing Ruby Red Slippers…
Sometimes, especially when we’re wearing ruby red slippers…
(Never forget, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…)