The Lion and the Little Red Bird
By Elisa Kleven, Puffin Books
One afternoon a little red bird saw a lion with a colorful tail, which began an unlikely friendship filled with art, music, and respect.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
In The Lion and The Little Red Bird, a lion and a bird become unlikely friends. This story explores the nature of friendship, and more importantly what constitutes a friendship. Why does one person like someone else? Some philosophers speak of friendship not in terms of egoism or profit, but in terms of sharing. When people are truly friends, it is not because they receive “ego boosts” which allow them to feel better about themselves, or simply because they profit from another’s aid or another’s goods. Rather, people are friends in the fullest sense when they gladly spend time together engaged in shared activities and shared pleasures. The lion and the bird, though they cannot communicate through language, come to enjoy each other’s company. The pleasure they take from one another’s company includes ways in which their lives are enriched by being together.
When the lion saves the little red bird from the storm, it highlights another aspect of friendship that is also based on good will. True friends wish good things for each other, and are willing to take steps to care for one another. In friendship, one takes steps to benefit the other not because it will be returned in kind, but simply for the sake of the other person. Although mutuality may be the benefit of friendship, it is not the motivation of friendship. The motivation of friendship is to care for the friend as its own benefit.
The great discovery of the little red bird is that the lion has been using objects of nature, and his love for nature, to create art on the walls of his cave. This raises the question: What is art, and what relationship does art have to nature? Many philosophers view art as partaking of nature, but never as pure as nature itself. According to this thinking, art is an imitation of life. Other philosophers elevate art above nature, seeing it as born of the spirit and unveiling the truth. In this sense, the creativity of artistic productions is seen as a deep expression of the truth of the senses. In this way, we might think of art as an embodiment of the statement, “Truth is beauty; beauty is truth.” In either case, art and nature are linked, with art representing nature and affording us new ways of seeing and perceiving the world. Often, we find art pleasurable and elevating to our spirit, much as does true friendship. The bird, also, pleases the lion through his singing, which raises further questions about the nature of art. Is art only visual, or can it refer to other senses? Music may be thought of as art to our ears, and dance may be thought of as art to the rhythms of our bodies, so it may take many forms.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Communicating Without Words
"The lion didn’t understand the bird’s language. He thought she was simply chirping."
"The bird had never seen anything so unusual or so pretty. Just looking at it [the lion's colorful tale] made her happy."
Art and Nature
"The cave was warm and colorful. The walls were filled with pictures of green forests, orange flowers, butterflies, sunsets, a bright blue sky, a deep blue lake."
Music and Beauty
"The bird sang while the lion painted. She sang a song without any questions, full of color and joy. The lion had never heard anything so unusual and so pretty. Just listening made him happy."