I draw your attention to the title of the essential Canadian novel, In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaajte (1987). The title is from a longer quotation, as adapted by Ondaatje from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh’s friend, Enkidu, died of an illness inflicted by the gods who had sent him to Gilgamesh in the first place. Shattered by the loss, he said,
The joyful will stoop with sorrow, and when you have gone to the earth I will let my hair grow long for your sake, I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion.
I’ve been thinking about this since the book won the first Canada Reads award on CBC radio in 2002. I interpret it as having the flexibility to allow random possibilities in life to guide you, and to be more lion-like than lamb-like in your approach. The first part is a little less fun to think about, but it wouldn’t be the first time I sported a ponytail.
Another great thing about this book, is that it made me fall in love with Toronto. I would now live in downtown Toronto if I could figure out how to do it. Whereas, 40 years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a passing thought.
Another great thing about this book, is that it’s a great introduction to Michael Ondaatje. Whenever I think about wanting to write fiction (not including technical documents describing products that don’t work), the notion of competing for bookshelf space with this guy sends me right back to the IT industry. His almost casual genius produces very powerful prose and rich story lines. I’ve read all his novels, short stories and much of his poetry.
I wonder if it’s possible to find out what life is really like for a person like Ondaatje.