Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The End of the Lion King - or Just the End of the Beginning?

At the end of the Lion King Simba majestically walks onto Pride Rock and is anointed King with the blessing of Rafika, the monkey priest. But the land that Simba inherits has been ravaged by the hyenas. It lies cold, barren and grey. Simba looks like he’s got a major rebuilding job on his newly adult, lion paws. But no – as Simba stands aloof on the rock the countryside below him changes colour and is restored in seconds to its former beauty and fecundity.

Films and novels frequently portray a struggle for power in which the good guys prevail, but at considerable cost in terms of lives, land and social cohesion. The hard difficult, divisive work of reconstructing is yet to come. Yet in most cases what is actually only the end of the chapter is treated as the end of the story. The victory of the ANC in 1994 in South Africa has given way to the reality of the HIV crisis and corruption at high levels. The orange revolution in the Ukraine; the symbolic destruction of the Berlin Wall, the list goes on. The euphoria and cry of ‘things can only get better’ in the early hours of May 2nd 1997 wear off to leave… well you get the picture.

Are there any films or novels that deal with both the titanic struggle and the difficult rebuilding or, in terms of successful narrative are they different, mutually exclusive stories? The Lord of the Rings comes close, especially in the book. Remnants of the enemy rampage through The Shire and as Sam becomes mayor back at home and the hobbits have to clear up the mess. More poignantly Frodo has to deal with the shadows and nightmares that remain in his mind and to face up to his own frailties as ultimately he allowed the ring to control him. This kind of post-adventure trauma is rarely glimpsed in fiction, but it’s significant that it appears in one of the longest popular movies/novels of the twentieth century. Maybe there’s just not normally the time for such coverage. Maybe, it’s just not as interesting to deal with such material. As long as we remember that in reality it’s not as easy as Simba found it in the Lion King.

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