Wessex In Fiction: The Butterfly Lion

The Butterfly Lion is a 1996 novel for children by Michael Morpurgo, which won the Smarties Book Prize for that year. It tells the story of a South African boy named Bertie who finds an orphaned white lion cub, but is forced to give the lion to a circus and leave South Africa for a boarding school in Wiltshire.

The book then follows Bertie’s life into adulthood and his service in the First World War. WIth his nurse girlfriend, and later wife, Millie, he tracks down the lion to a farmhouse in France, where it is living with the former circus owner after the circus closed. They bring it back to England, and when it dies, they memorialise it by carving a white lion into a hillside in Wiltshire. Morpurgo says that this was inspired by a glimpse of the white horse at Westbury through a train window.

Like Morpurgo’s earlier The War Horse, The Butterfly Lion has been adapted into a stage play., which uses puppetry to bring the lion to life. The stage play toured the UK in 2013.

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