Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Critical Reading of Tawny Scrawny Lion

Pork Chop isn't yet up to the task of eating jelly beans or marshmallow peeps, so on Easter of this year, my folks stocked his basket with Little Golden Books. My kid went absolutely nuts . . . over the plastic Easter grass. I, however, felt a deep, electric thrill when I spied a copy of Tawny Scrawny Lion. A classic of children's literature! A fond memento of my youth! Oh, how I anticipated settling my son into my lap, reading the beloved story, lingering over Tenggren's iconic illustrations.

I ran to my husband, waiving the book. "Holy shit! Holy shit! It's the Tawny Scrawny Lion!"

"What's that?"

"What do you mean "what's that"? It's the Tawny Scrawny Lion. Don't tell me you've never read this."

"I've never read it. I've never even heard of it."

I had to brace myself against the kitchen counter. What could it mean? My husband grew up in a genteel, palm-lined section of Miami. His parents were smart, successful, and good looking. Shelby spoke fondly of good friends and a warm family life.

But was it all a lie? Had I married some stranger, some man with a gaping hole in his heart where there should be the happy tale of a needy lion befriended by a ragtag band of bunnies?

I handed Shelby the book. "You need to read this."

He cracked the thin spin. It had been decades since I'd last laid eyes on old Tawny Scrawny.

Shelby took one look at the lion and screamed, "I'M GARY BUSEY!"

I'm Gary Busey!
Then who the hell am I?

And with that, my husband took my living, beating childhood in his hand and he squashed it. He killed it. He ruined my childhood. He plastered googley eyes and big goober teeth on everything I have ever held sacred.

It took two Cadbury Cream Eggs, a handful of pastel M&Ms, and the butt-end of a chocolate lamb to settle my nerves. But I couldn't unsee Gary Busey. I opened up my son's copy of Tawny Scrawny Lion and read it with new eyes, with new, big, crazy-ass eyes.

And, so okay, maybe the book is a little different than I remember.

Let's take a closer, critical look, shall we?

So, to start, there's the lion, ol' Tawny Scrawny, who has a taste for the following: bears, zebras, camels, elephants, monkeys, and kangaroos. This would indicate to me that Tawny Scrawny hails from a zoo. Or a game reserve. Or Pangea.

Tawny Scrawny's problem isn't that he can't find food; it's that his food is mobile. Our poor lion friend is wasting away from chasing after his prey. Tawny is hella bummed about this situation, as are the bears, zebras, camels, elephants, monkeys, and kangaroos whom he brutally kills.

The animals try to convince Tawny Scrawny to maybe, pretty please, stem the tide of blood. But Tawny Scrawny is like, "It's all your fault for running away."

And the animals are like, "Uh. . . ?"

So T.S. elaborates, "If I didn't have to run, run, run for every single bite I get, I'd be fat as butter and sleek as satin."

And the animals are like, "Uh. . .?! "

Tawny Scrawny is nothing if not goal oriented. 

Recognizing the futility of reasoning with the lion, the other animals band together to trick a fat, friendly rabbit into becoming Tawny Scrawny's next meal. Sociopathy, it would seem, runs rampant in Pangea.

"We appoint you to talk things over with the lion," the animals explain to the rabbit, knowing full well that Tawny Scrawny is going to pop that bunny in his mouth like a furry pizza roll. But the rabbit is honored. The rabbit is psyched. The rabbit is like, "Hip hop hooray!" which makes exactly zero sense, because the rabbit is clearly the smartest mammal in the bunch; he's wearing pants and a natty little vest while the others are just standing around in the nude. And the rabbit's eyes are normal -- as in not terrifyingly dilated. Every other beast in this storybook looks like its been huffing butane.

But, for whatever reason, the rabbit agrees to chat things over with the lion. In fact, the rabbit invites the lion to supper back at the rabbit village. Fortunately, Tawny Scrawny gets a big ol' murder boner at the thought of laying waste to an entire bunny population, so, rather than nomming him on the spot, he follows our fashionable rabbit friend home.

As the unlikely pair make their way to the village, they stop for stew supplies along the way: fish, carrots, mushrooms, berries, and herbs. Tawny Scrawny, no dummy, thinks this stew sounds like an unholy health slurry. But he doesn't really care. Why have carrot soup when you can cram your big Gary Busey-looking mouth with hot bunny guts?

But, lo! When the duo arrives in the village, broth is already at a full boil. The smell is so intoxicating that the lion forgets to eat the rabbit and his family. Instead, the lion slurps up the stew with a gusto normally reserved for disemboweling bears, zebras, camels, elephants, monkeys, and kangaroos. Mmm mmm. Carrots, berries, and fish! 

Personally, I'm not sure how that stew could smell or taste like anything other than fermenting trash. So maybe there was something else in that stew. The residents of rabbit village did look awfully energetic. I'm not gonna come right out and say drugs were involved. But . . . meth.

Right, so T.S. eats the hell out of some nasty stew. After a few bowls, he's looking pretty plump. "Fat as butter and sleek as satin," to be exact. Which just sounds greasy I guess. Like a suckling pig or a Popeye's buttermilk biscuit. By the end of his meal, and I quote: "He felt so good and fat and comfortable that he couldn't even move." Ah, yes, food paralysis. Maybe this story takes place in America after all.

The point is that one good meal does the trick. One meal. So someone really needs to find the recipe for this stew and share it with all the Third-World countries. 

Notably, the stew softens not only the lion's figure, but also his heart. As long as the rabbits cook and cater to his every whim, Tawny Scrawny agrees to scale back on the butchery. In celebration, the bears, zebras, camels, elephants, monkeys, and kangaroos join Tawny Scrawny for a peaceful communal meal. The bear even dons a top hat and cravat for the occasion, because he apparently became an oil tycoon during his new-found free time. 

In the end, Tawny Scrawny transforms into the overweight pantywaist he was always meant to be. 

As a kid, I thought the moral of this story was to be kind, even when kindness felt undeserved. But kids are dumb, and I was wrong.

The true moral of Tawny Scrawny Lion is that murder is slenderizing; that if you threaten murder, people will do whatever you want; that not murdering just makes you a fat ninny. Yeah, so, the moral is murder things.

Thanks for the Little Golden Book, Easter Bunny. And thanks for ruining everything, Gary Busey. 


  1. Tawny Scrawny is a new one on me, too. But call me when the Grimm fairy tales come up, we can do a whole Women's Studies seminar on those little crack fantasies.

    1. Yeah, I could say plenty about Little Red Riding Hood, but sexual predators just don't get the laughs. Gary Busey and meth -- now that's comedy GOLD!

  2. This is too funny. The photo of the lion and Gray Busey made me laugh out loud. Kudos to Shelby for pointing that out. He nailed the comparison.

    1. Yeah, it's a real bummer when my husband is right. It's even worse when he's right AND funny. I mean, can't I just have one thing for myself? Can't he just be content being the smart one? (And thanks!)

  3. Maybe our dog needs to try this stew, to tame her rabbit murder boner.

  4. This is comedy gold, my fabulous friend!! However, I am deeply saddened that I have never read Tawny Scrawny and can only hope that the name doesn't escape me the next time I take my son to the library because obviously, this lesson is an important one. I might need to get your cell number because texting "Hey what was the name of that book? You know, the fish soup, meth village, murder boner one?"
    Also did you ever read Little Black Sambo? One of my favs as a kid... I may have to write a post about it one day.

    1. Little Black Sambo . . . how can I even make a joke about that? I think that's what they call a comedy land mine. "Murder boner," on the other hand, is in fact comedy gold. I can't tell you how proud I was of that one. Which is sad. But whatever. Like I can afford to be choosy about my accomplishments.

  5. Holy crap! He does look like Gary Busey! I have never had the pleasure of reading this book, but you can bet your ass I'll be reading it now after your hilarious critical reading. "Yeah, so, the moral is murder things." HAHAHAHA!