In 1969, Anthony Bourke and John Rendall, two Aussies new to London, wandered into Harrods. There in the second-floor “zoo” were two caged lion cubs. One cub regally pretended they didn’t exist, enchanting them. One hefty price tag and many negotiations later, the boys took the lion they ironically dubbed “Christian” home to a flat over a Chelsea furniture shop named (appropriately) Sophisticat. Soon, Christian had the complete adoration of his owners, the shopkeepers and London at large, often posing in the front shop window to the delight of fans and passersby.
By late 1970, Christian, to his owners’ consternation, had outgrown his bijou digs. What follows is a wondrous, serendipitous tale that tracks Christian’s migration from London streets to Kenyan wilderness and the new friends, both lion and human (notably lion expert George Adamson of Born Free fame) that he finds there. Most astonishing, however, is that in 1971, after a year’s absence, Bourke and Rendall returned to Africa and successfully reunited with Christian who, though magnificently mature, greeted them exuberantly: Christian never forgot the men who had first fed, sheltered and played with him.
The heart of A Lion Called Christian, which first was published in 1970 (and has since been updated due to the appearance of the widely viewed 1971 reunion footage on YouTube), highlights the remarkable, enduring bond between the authors and their regal pet. Written in a simple, straightforward style, this book is not great literature, but is a memorable story that tells of the life and work of George Adamson, the African wilderness and the mysterious, life-affirming connection between man and animal.