Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back

Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back

First edition
Author Shel Silverstein
Illustrator Shel Silverstain
Cover artist Shel Silverstein
Country United States
Language English
Publication date
Pages 110 pages

Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back, first published in 1963, is a children's novel written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. It is narrated by Shel Silverstein as Uncle Shelby.


Lafcadio first appeared in the pages of Playboy Magazine in the November 1963 edition of the magazine. It was part of a long history of Silverstein's contributions to the magazine and his close relationship with Huge Hefner the publication's founder. It was only later that the story was turned into a children's book .


A young lion is living in the jungle. On a night, when all the lions are sleeping, they awaken to hear a gunshot. All the lions run away except for one named Grmmff, who is the protagonist of the story. He is confused about why the other lions are running away, until an old lion tells him that hunters are coming. He does not know what a hunter is, but thinks that he likes the sound of the word "hunters," so he stops running and hides in the tall grass. The hunters pass by wearing red caps and carrying funny sticks that make loud noises (obviously guns). The lion likes their looks, so when a hunter passes, he stands up, says hello, and tries to make friends with the hunter. This offends the hunter's sense of the proper relationship between lion and hunter, and the hunter says he will shoot Grmmff. When the hunter finds, however, that he has not loaded his rifle, Lafcadio decides he does not like the hunter after all, and eats him up, red cap and all. He tries to eat up the gun and the bullets, but he cannot chew them. He brings them to the other lions. The old lion says to throw them away, but the young lion shoots the gun with his tail. The lions initially run away. They are angry with the young lion when they discover that he is the one shooting. However, the young lion likes shooting the gun so much that he practices to become the best shot in the whole world.

A year later, another man comes walking through the jungle, the young lion wants to shoot him. However it is revealed to him that the man is a circus man. Finchfinger, the circus man, persuades the reluctant lion to come with him to the circus with the promise of marshmallows. They arrive in the city, which is not at all like the jungle. There are "tall square things" (buildings) and "things that look like hippopotamuses that move very fast with people inside them" (cars). The lion goes into the hotel and goes up and down the elevator many times. He then meets Uncle Shelby (obviously Shel Silverstein, as he tells the story), goes to the barbershop, gets his paws shined, his claws manicured and a free haircut. He has dinner, and eats lots of marshmallow dishes, then finally eats his napkin for dessert. He wears a marshmallow suit, but it gets ironed and it melts all over him. He goes back to the hotel and stays up very late singing the "marshmallow song:"

Marshmallows Marshmallows
Marching Marshing Mellow
Malling Mallows Marshing Fellows

The young lion's name is changed to Lafcadio the Great. The next morning, there is a big parade for him. Lafcadio goes into the tent, shoots six bottles off the table, a hundred balloons off the ceiling, a marshmallow off everybody's head including some monkeys, shoots 12,322 of the Ace of Spades (but misses once), shoots in many different ways, and then joins the circus. He shoots for many different governments, becomes rich and very famous and signs six autographs at once. He then becomes more like a man, standing on his back paws, wearing clothes, playing golf and tennis, going swimming and diving, painting pictures (despite being unable to draw a straight line), doing exercises, going skating, and attempting to learn to ride a bicycle. He goes to the beach at Cannes, sings, plays the guitar, bowls and seldom says "GRAUGRRR" except on very special occasions. He writes his autobiography, becomes a clothes lion, and becomes very happy, rich and famous.

But suddenly, Lafcadio is crying because he is tired of what he has, and wants something new. Uncle Shelby asks if he has gone up and down the elevator a few times or eaten marshmallows, but that is old stuff. Then Finchfinger gets the idea to take Lafcadio on a hunting trip in Africa. Uncle Shelby cannot come because he has to water his philodendron plant. So Lafcadio, along with Finchfinger and some other hunters, goes back to Africa and begins hunting lions. A very old lion realizes that Lafcadio is a lion too and comes up to him. Lafcadio remembers that he was a lion, and that he still is a lion. All the lions want him to come back and be a lion with them, but the hunters also want Lafcadio to stay a hunter. Lafcadio cannot make up his mind and says that he does not want to do either and that he does not think that he belongs anywhere. He puts down his gun and walks away, not knowing where he's going and not knowing what's happening to him. Lafcadio has not been heard from since.

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