Bilbliographic information (best version for telling):

Arnott, Kathleen. “The Lion and the Turtle.” Animal folk tales around the world.  New York: Henry Z. Walck, 1971: 190-194.


Ethnic Origin:

Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Running Time:

Approximately 6 minutes


Power Centers:

Lion’s frustration at Turtle staying in shell – shaking and biting

The race

Lion’s bewilderment

Turtles’ satisfaction/relief at winning the race





Turtle’s cousin



1) Lion & Turtle under tree at dusk

2) Turtle consults with cousin at night

3) Lion & Turtle by river at sunrise

4) The race in the river

5) Lion and Turtle’s cousin at end of race

6) Turtle and cousin meet in the river



Lion has had an unsuccessful day hunting, and is resting at dusk. He pounces on a creature rustling in the brush, and finds he has caught Turtle. Lion tries to eat Turtle, who hides in his shell and is safe. Lion is angry, proposes a race to determine which is indeed the stronger creature. If Lion wins, Turtle gets eaten; if Turtle wins, he goes free. Turtle stalls for time, and makes a plan with his cousin to outwit Lion. At daybreak, Turtle meets Lion at the river; Turtle has a red flower in his mouth to distinguish him from the other turtles. They race, Turtle hides on the river bottom. Lion reaches the other side only to find turtle’s cousin on the bank with a red flower in it’s mouth. Thinking that Turtle has beaten him fairly, he leaves, and Turtle and his cousin meet to congratulate each other on their successful trick.


Rhymes/Special Phrases/Flavor:

- flower is a red hibiscus

- “…said Turtle, somewhat indistinctly because of the flower in his mouth”

- the language in this version of the story flows easily and is fairly casual, and I want to retain that style when I tell it.


Audience (why appropriate? developmental characteristics?):

This story is intended for grade-school children, about ages six to twelve.

Since “The Lion and the Turtle” is a (loosely related) variant of Aesop’s “Tortoise and the Hare” fable, I think children would enjoy hearing this twist on a familiar theme. The story is straightforward, but since the plan of the two turtles is not explicitly stated until the end, children have the chance to figure it out themselves, and hopefully have an “I knew it!” moment.

Some of the developmental models we discussed in class are relevant to the action and themes of this tale. Drawing on the Industry vs. Inferiority stage of Erikson’s “8 Stages of Man,” the two turtles exemplify cooperative effort, and certainly express pride when they save Turtle’s life by tricking Lion. Likewise, the story embodies many of the elements in Piaget’s stage for seven to eleven year olds. The Lion is something of an authority/adult figure here, in that he is bigger, stronger, and sets the rules. When the turtles outwit him, they prove that they are smarter than the “adult,” with one turtle smugly saying, “Lion never realized it always takes two turtles…”  There is also the minor puzzle of what exactly the turtles’ plan is, which may appeal to this age group.


Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:

Source: Margaret Read MacDonald’s The Storyteller’s Sourcebook


Tooze, Ruth. “The turtle outwits the lion.” Three tales of turtle: ancient folk tales from the Far East.  New York: John Day Company, c1968: 45-60.


Faulkner, William J. “Brer rabbit and brer cooter race.” The days when animal talked: black American folktales and how they came to be.  Chicago: Follet Publishing, c1977: 132-136.


Brief comparison of all versions/variants (language, rhythm, tellability, content, etc.):

I chose Arnott’s version of the tale because it is the cleanest. The actions of the characters make sense and have a little nobility. Lion wants to eat Turtle because he is hungry, not out of malice. Thwarted in his initial attempt, Lion proposes the race thinking that it will be an easy way to soothe his wounded pride. Turtle then tricks Lion because he wants to save his own life, not because he is a sneaky creature by nature. The Lion and the turtles learn lessons, everyone eventually finds a breakfast he can eat, and life in the jungle continues as usual. The language of the tale is casual and easily tellable, unlike the two other versions.

In Tooze’s translation of this Sri Lankan story, the emotions of the animals don’t make as much sense to me. Lion is a big bully, pushing turtle around for no reason and seeming to want to eat him more out of anger than hunger. The two turtles reveal their plot to the reader right upfront, which takes out any hint of mystery in the story. The race is also very long, and the Lion drowns during it. Then the turtles gloat. Well, okay, they don’t gloat a lot, but the whole tale seemed very negative. The language is also a little stilted, with Lion saying things like, “Old stony back, were not the words you used to me a little overbearing?”[p.50]. There is repetition of the Sri Lankan proverb “we do only those things we can do”, and the use of the word kurmarsha (permit the turtle), but these were not enough to overwhelm my inherent dislike for this version.

The third tale, Rev. Faulkner’s “Brer Rabbit and Brer Cooter race”, has the same theme of turtle-uses-trick-to-win-race. Here, however, Rabbit is in the place of Lion, and the outcome of the race is not a life-or-death matter, only one of pride. This tale is very closely related to Aesop’s, but instead of Rabbit being lazy and Turtle winning through perseverence, Rabbit is lazy and Turtle is just sneaky. Faulkner talks quite a bit about the beauty of the Gullah dialect used by the man who told him these tales, but the language he decided to use in this variant was not striking.


Ellen Decker