United Talent Agency

Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water

The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water by Idries Shah, illustrated by Ingrid Rodriguez (2007)


Like many children, one of the storybooks I read was that of Aesop’s fables. I had a beautiful, large, fully-illustrated blue book with quite a few of them. One of the stories I recall reading was that of the dog with a bone seeing himself reflected in the water and, believing that the reflected dog was a real one with a larger bone, dropped the bone into the water and jumped in after it, trying to steal the bone from the reflection. All he got was a frightening swim and the loss of his bone. The moral of course being that it is hazardous to be too greedy.

A parallel story with a slightly different message, the Sufis utilize a lion and his reflection to illustrate the point that appearances can be deceiving. In the story, a fearsome but good-natured lion who doesn’t realize his own fearsomeness accidentally scares the other animals away, either directly or through the fear of those who see others’ fears and flee without thinking. In his search for the other animals and for understanding, he becomes thirsty and discovers a still pond where he sees his reflection for the first time. He is, himself, frightened of his ferocious visage and refuses to drink until the other lion leaves. The other animals know that this is a reflection and his fear of the lion and their added knowledge smooth over those rough edges enough for all to drink together. There are some other things thrown in there, but that is the gist.

Idries Shah was a master storyteller specializing in Sufi teaching stories, no matter the language. He had a gift for bringing to life Sufi stories to all audiences and has been translated into dozens of languages, republished and re-envisioned over and over again. This book, The Lion Who Saw Himself, is beautifully illustrated in watercolor and pen with comedic illustrations featuring exaggerated facial expressions and occasionally clownish body language with lots of motion. Rodriguez has a talent for clearly showing younger audiences exactly what the author wants to convey through her drawings and her use of color really brings the drawings to life.

I admit, when I saw the cover I wasn’t exactly expecting a book about the deceptiveness of appearances. I guess I learned something as well as the little ones that read this book. A surprising amount of fun for ages 3-11.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.