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There were no lions any more. There had been lions once. Sometimes in the shimmer of the heat on the plains the motion of their running still flickered on the dry wind--tawny, great, and quickly gone. Sometimes the honey-coloured moon shivered to the silence of a ghost roar on the rising air.
The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, (p. 9—opening lines)

Pocket Books edition
The Pocket Books Edition I grew up
with...discovered on a museum's
used book table when I was in
junior high. The pages had those
red edges books from the early
'70s often had...remember those?

The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973)

A Novel by Russell Hoban



The Lion... is available in the US as part of the Russell Hoban Omnibus, and Bloomsbury's 2001 trade paperback edition is available in the UK (and to the rest of the world via the Amazon UK Web site). Some used copies are generally available on the Bibliofind site. This book is also relatively easy to find on used bookstore shelves, and in libraries.


The first unquestionably-for-adults novel Russell Hoban published, and the first Russell Hoban book I ever read (at about age twelve!), The Lion is a masterpiece by any standard. It's set in a time when there are no more lions: lions are extinct, almost legendary, like dragons or unicorns. Jachin-Boaz lives in an unspecified town in the Near East, where he owns a shop that sells all kinds of maps; maps to find water, love, money, whatever the heart desires. He tells his son, Boaz-Jachin, that he's making him a master-map that will be given to him when he is a man; a map that will contain all the secrets of the other maps combined, so that he will be able to find whatever he decides to look for, thus assuring him of a proper start in life. Jachin-Boaz shows his son the map and asks him what he would like to find. 'A lion,' says Boaz-Jachin. 'A lion,' says Jachin-Boaz. 'I don't think I understand you. I don't think you're being serious with me. You know very well there are no lions now.'

Cut to scene two, in which Jachin-Boaz, the father, in the throes of existential despair and mid-life crisis, quietly leaves home, taking the master-map and half the family's savings, and leaving behind a note which reads 'I have gone to look for a lion.' Boaz-Jachin is left alone with his embittered mother to run the map shop and wonder where his father has gone with the map that was supposed to be his inheritance.

In the desert not far from the town where Boaz-Jachin lives, there is a palace where the last king is entombed, and his lion hunt is carved in stone on the walls of the great hall. Boaz-Jachin, who has decided to track his father down and ask for his map, takes the bus to the palace where he makes a powerful connection with the image of the dying lion carved in stone. Through a simple but artistic act of sympathetic magic, Boaz-Jachin removes the spears from the throat of the wounded beast and sets its spirit free, then sets off on a cross-country journey to find his father. Meanwhile, Jachin-Boaz, who has established himself in a "great city" in another country, is working in a bookshop, living with a beautiful young woman named Gretel, and dreaming furtive, guilty dreams of the family he abandoned. It's about this time that he turns around one morning on his way to work, and finds himself face-to-face with a very live, powerful and dangerous lion--a lion that he, Gretel, and the son journeying to find him must face, understand and ultimately embrace if they are to find their way out of the uncharted territories of fear, guilt and alienation in which they've gotten lost.


The Summit Books trade edition
The Summit Books trade edition


"A piece of invention as original as any of Tokien's or C. S. Lewis'."
--New Statesman

"One of those absolutely unclassifiable beauties that come along every so often, just as you've about given up hope of ever again finding a new book with a human voice behind it and a way of looking at the world that hasn't been predigested and pre-read...I wish I'd written it. It's one of a kind, and those are the only sort of books that mean anything to me."
--Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn

"Mr. Hoban is unclassifiable, thank goodness. His narrative is so minutely and compellingly realistic that after a time you cease to notice that he has stood reality on its head."
--The Sunday Times (London)

"First novels of outstanding quality are so rare that they call for a certain amount of celebration. One's enjoyment of the novel derives from Mr. Hoban's unusually vivid imagination, his immensely striking use of words to describe the being-with-the-lion feeling in a world where there are no lions. And, finally, most welcome of all, his use of these powerful images in conjunction with a sense of the ridiculous which verges on the total."
--Auberon Waugh, The Spectator


There is only one place, and that place is time. (p. 51)

"Why did [my father] never talk to me? Why did he always seem to be talking to a space that I hadn't moved into? Why was he always holding up an empty suit of clothes for me to jump into? He talked to clothes I never did put on." (p. 135)

There were times when it seemed to him that the different parts of him were not all under the same management. (p. 75)

...'I am glad to hear that,' said Jachin-Boaz, 'because the past is the father of the present, just as I am your father. And if the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time.'
Boaz-Jachin looked at the maps on the walls. 'The past is not here,' he said. 'There is only the present, in which are things left behind by the past.' (p. 13)

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