The Lad and the Lion is an interesting book as it not only tells the adventures stories of a young man with a lion but a parallel story about a small European country struggling with revolution, but strangely neither story has much impact on the other. Written in 1914 and first appearing as a three part serial in All-Story Weekly The Lad and the Lion is also noteworthy for being the first Burroughs story to be adapted to the screen.
The story begins in a troubled European country, in the world of Burroughs there are no untroubled European countries, a king is murdered and Michael, the young heir to the throne, is hustled out of the country to save his life. Things go even worse for poor Michael as the boat he is on is wrecked by a storm and he finds himself bobbing along in rough seas until he is “rescued” by a crazed epileptic deaf mute who lives aboard a derelict tramp steamer. Having been hit in the head in the head during the storm Michael has amnesia and with no knowledge of his past, language or pretty much anything about the world he settles into this new life as slave to this demented man. The only thing that makes his life bearable is that also on board this ship is a young lion and the two becomes friends, their growing hatred of the man who beats them daily is a great bonding element. After years of spent drifting the trio becomes a duo when the deaf mute goes berserk and almost kills Michael but is stopped when the lion, now full grown, breaks out of his cage and kills the crazed coot. The boat eventually runs aground on the shores of North Africa and Michael and the lion finally escape their long captivity at sea. As the young man still has no recollection of anything the two just wander around together hunting and basically hanging out like two awesome bros. Two pals with nothing but time on their hands, that is until the opposite sex enters the picture.
Meanwhile back in Europeland the new king isn’t very well liked, the revolutionaries who put him on the throne are having buyer’s remorse, and the fact that Prince Ferdinand, the new heir to the throne, is even a worse twit than his father gets the revolutionaries plotting again. The stuff in Europe is very hard to get through and as the book is structured with Michael’s story on even numbered chapters and the kingdom on odd numbered chapters so that you are constantly yanked away from the cool stuff with the lad and his lion, you know the characters the book is titled after, to go to back to the boring stuff of Prince Ferdinand and more pointless conspiracies. Structurally it’s an interesting idea unfortunately it really doesn’t work because we never really get a payoff. Michael and Ferdinand never meet; there is no cool confrontation between the rightful heir and the twit usurper. There is a kind of cool stinger at the end but it’s only good for a chuckle and not enough to justify the countless pages of the boring life of Prince Ferdinand and his dalliances with the gardener’s daughter. We just don’t care.
What would you most like to read about? Would you prefer adventures of a young man with his ever loyal lion friend as they run across Bedouin bandits, a beautiful daughter of a sheik, jealous rivals, and even a nice lioness to round things off or story about a callous jerk who cares not for his people but just getting in the pants of the gardener’s daughter and spending the taxpayers money on a boat? Yeah, not a tough call.
The half of the book that takes place in Africa is great; Michael meets and falls in love with a beautiful Arabic woman who is daughter to a powerful sheik, there are kidnappings and betrayals, the standard misunderstandings and declarations of love that one expects in a Burroughs book and it is all adventure gold, but then it is constantly interrupted by the second plot line with the annoying Prince Ferdinand which if any reader out there cares about I’d certainly like to hear from them to find out why.
This book could have been equal to some of the better Tarzan books because the story elements that take place in Africa are fun but unfortunately they are seriously hamstrung by the alternate plotline with the kingdom stuff. It’s not a long book and if you find yourself skimming over the stuff with Ferdinand you will mostly likely get a kick out of The Lad and the Lion.