The stone lion sits ruminating outside the library steps. He is unable to move, but converses with the gargoyle perched on the building above. His deepest wish is to be alive and ‘prowling, pouncing, leaping’ in the park across the road. He is but a stone lion though and cannot move. The stone lion is routinely visited by young Sara and her baby brother while others avoid him. The gargoyle explains that Sara and baby are homeless. Another visitor to the Lion is Ben, the librarian from the building inside. Ben leans against the lion while reading his books. The lion seems without empathy or understanding. This is the cast of ‘The Stone Lion’ which together create a haunting, layered story with various interpretations possible.
Ritva Voutila’s artwork features an Art Deco period. The setting is New York during the Depression. Colours chosen are soft oil pastels in tones of grey, browns and creams rendered on grey paper. Beautifully rendered, they create an other-worldly atmosphere and a sense of gloom. The story’s theme is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s classic short story, ‘The Selfish Giant’, about a giant that realises generosity is more rewarding than selfishness. Rita Voutila has also illustrated the version of ‘The Selfish Giant’, which makes for interesting comparisons.
The gargoyle reveals that sometimes stone animals are granted a chance to become ‘warm, breathing creatures’ but ‘only if they desire it greatly, with a generous heart’. One winter’s night, when Sarah and her baby brother appear distressed, the lion’s emotions are engaged, and he comes alive briefly to rescue the homeless pair from the cold by taking them inside the library to Ben. The stone lion’s coming to life lasts only briefly yet children now stop to stroke his mane, commenting that he feels ‘warm as toast’. As the years pass, Sara and her brother stop by to hug the lion, and ‘if he could have, the lion would have hugged them back’. The deeper one looks at the art and listens to the language of ‘The Stone Lion’, the greater the reflection of various genres—fable, fantasy, fairy tale—there are elements of each.