Having descended into the political realm last week, this time I will do a sidestep shuffle into, well, actual realms, as in kingdoms. In thinking of crowns and thrones, though, we move out of our ordinary day-to-day-ness into something grander. (I am currently taken with this shirt, a nice world map with hidden buttons. Wearing the world, a new concept.) When the original movie version of The Lion King came out in 1993, we watched it over and over, on tapes of course. Not as often as An American Tale, but that’s a different story. We learned that Simba means” lion” in Swahili, and hakuna matata (no worries) entered the parlance. James Earl Jones voiced Mufasa then too, following his uncredited voicing of another famous dad in Star Wars.
The new film is good, amazing to watch with live animals that are CGI real, and it falls into that delightful niche of Rotten Tomatoes with low rankings from critics (55%) and high from audiences (88%). The discussion often alludes to Shakespearean influences from Hamlet, but I see other possibilities as well: Penelope from The Odyssey remains faithful to Odysseus just as Sarabi does to Mufasa even when Scar insists she relent and marry him. Or, Simba as Prince Hal, later Henry V. I can think about that later, but I promise it works better than Hamlet.
Back to thrones. I’ve seen them a lot lately. Seven empty ones become important in Shazam! Billy Batson and his crew only fill six, but no one knows why. Four occasionally-occupied thrones in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of course, the Iron Throne from a recently ended series has been destroyed, so I’m thinking I can remain the last person in America not to see even two minutes of “the best television ever.” Linguistically, it’s related to the word dharma, which is Sanskrit for “law.” Perhaps even more than a crown, it represents power.
In The Lion King, however, there are neither thrones nor crowns, no scepters, no swords in stones, no globus cruciger (yes, you’ve seen it—the orb and the cross, here carried by Queen Elizabeth II during her coronation, where she would leave it on the altar). None of that. Just the mandrill Rafiki holding up newborn cubs and anointing them. The action does prompt bowing from the other Pride Landers, an action I find uncomfortable, but you’ve heard about that already when I wrote about the Queen in April 2017, or not. This is the point of the Circle of Life, however. Mufasa tells Simba, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” Ant to antelope, clever, that. He also reminds his son to “Remember who you are.”
So, lions are kings, naturally. Perhaps it comes from their regal bearing. Perhaps from their position on the food chain. Perhaps their mighty roar. (Apparently people like to listen to these on YouTube; here’s one with 9.5 million views. Worth watching.) These days most of our spiritual culture comes from super hero movie quotations: You are much stronger than you think you are. With great power comes great responsibility. In a world of ordinary mortals, you are a wonder woman. Do or not do; there is no try. (Quiz yourself on these. If you disagree that the last one isn’t a super hero, we can talk.)
Finally, of course, it comes down to family. That’s what these stories are all about. It may be all that any literature is about, how a family deals with life and loss, love and life. The Lion King could be better, but days after its release, the audience I was in did applaud.