Most of us are aware of lycanthropy, the mythological ability of a human to transform into a wolf. Such shape-shifters are usually called were-wolves, but there are a host of other were-creatures that pop up now and then in folklore and in supernatural literature. Perhaps the oddest is the were-rhino, which shows up in John Metcalfe's story "The Renegade." Here, though, in this novel we encounter leanthropes, or were-lions.
The book is Lion-Man: An Easter's Tale (1928) by A.S. Cripps. It is a short novel of one hundred and twenty-some pages. It is told by Walter Ayling, aged 58, who is a total abstainer and vegetarian. He has gone to southern Africa with his wife Florence to finish his book on the History of Animistic Beliefs. As they arrive in Cape Town, they are summoned by Florence's brother Cyril to come at once to southern Rhodesia, where a native youth has turned into member of the lion-folk by eating of a pumpkin that had only one seed in it. According to local legend, this causes leanthropy. The youth, and others, terrorize the locals by killing and eating their oxen. Ayling, though a man of no faith, proposes that he and the local minister eat of the pumpkin themselves, proclaiming "I don't believe there is any more vice in a meal made on a one-seeded pumpkin than there is virtue in the partaking of a Missionary's Sacraments." So they eat of the pumpkin, and soon Ayling alone is altered by the meal. He becomes feral and disheveled and seeks out the other were-lions.
It's a promising beginning to the book, but I'm afraid the promise is short-lived. The were-lions have no desires other than to kill and feed on animals, and the plot meanders. As the author starts seeding his story with references to the approaching Easter, the story becomes completely predictable and one loses all interest. Ayling is saved and returned to normalcy because of his conversion to Christianity at Easter. A look for information on the author confirms what one has suspected from reading his book. Arthur Shearly Cripps (1869-1952) was for many years a missionary in Africa, though he conflicted with Church authorities and the British government over injustices performed on the native Africans. He was also an acclaimed poet (Oxford University Press published a selection of his best poems, Africa: Verses, in 1939, with an introduction by Cripps's friend John Buchan), and wrote other novels and collections of short stories, like Magic Casements (1905) and Faerylands Forlorn: African Tales (1910). Cripps's great-great-nephew, Owen Sheers, traced the legacy of his relative, and published The Dust Diaries; Seeking the African Legacy of Arthur Cripps in 2004.
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