A tragedy, no matter what

Herbert the Lion
is a children’s book with wonderful pictures first published in 1931. At age five, I was particularly fond of it because Herbert’s mane looked like butterscotch pudding. And of course, what animal-crazy little girl wouldn’t want a lion cub to play with? I checked it out from the library three times. When I tried for a fourth, the librarian said that maybe some other little girl might like to read about Herbert now, and recommended a book about a tugboat.

For years, the story I told about it went like this:

The book starts out happy: a little girl named Sally gets her fondest wish—a lion cub for a pet. But then the lion grows up to become the terror of the neighborhood, even though he’s just being friendly. The lion has to go live in a zoo. On the last page, Sally goes to visit him. She stands outside his cage, and the lion looks out between the bars, both in tears. I couldn’t stand it; the ending was too sad. The only cure was to start reading it all over again. And so I could never let it go.

So went my story. Then one day it occurred to me to look, and I discovered Herbert the Lion was back in print. Order it online, never have to give it back to the librarian—imagine!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the ending I remembered didn’t exist. Never happened, like the wise guy says in the movies.

There is indeed a page on which Herbert and Sally shed tears over their upcoming separation. That’s page 15, halfway through the book. On page 30, the end, they’re romping the hills together, the lion racing, Sally riding his back and hugging his butterscotch mane, both smiling blissfully.

It’s a happy ending, for cryin’ out loud. Happy. When did it change? At what point in my life did my sadness transmute this memory? I have no idea.

Herbert the Lion. Story and pictures by Clare Turlay Newberry.

The pictures are still great. The story’s a little dated, and a little disturbing now that Zanesville, Ohio has endured its night of terror in October 2011, when a guy with a problem, and a personal zoo full of predators, let them all out.