We’ve gotten a good buildup of conflict with Henderson’s adventures, and I’ve just breezed through some more. With the beginning fifty or so pages giving us a good feel for Henderson’s past, present, his character and his worries for the future, Bellow does bring them to the mind as Henderson faces the culture and challenges of Africa.
As he becomes friends with King Dahfu, both fascinated by the man and a bit fearful of him, he comes to depend upon him to reveal the secret he seeks to fulfill his self-image. Some of what Dahfu says makes a lot of sense, some of it I’m just not getting because I don’t find it all that profound. But this is no easy question/answer session; Henderson is invited into a room deep down under the palace where a pet lioness is housed. He crys, from fear and from the intensity of emotions and physical exertions.
Dahfu feels that Henderson may find answers in observing and interacting with the lioness and reading medical textbooks he’s brought back to the village from school. Then Bellow winds more interest into the story: Dahfu’s mother, uncle, and the interrogator seek Henderson’s help. It seems that the new king must capture the old king in his form as a lion (which he becomes when he’s strangled because he can’t keep up with his harem) only the lioness in the basement is not the old king. And, the Wariri belief is that all lions except the king lion are evil spirits. Henderson once again is placed in the middle of a bad situation that also threatens his own progress in reaching his goal. Unsatisfied with his man Romilayu’s nightly prayer, Henderson takes a shot at it himself:
And I prayed and prayed, "Oh, you…Something." I said, "you Something because of whom there is not Nothing. Help me to do Thy will. Take off my stupid sins. Untrammel me. Heavenly Father, open up my dumb heart and for Christ’s sake preserve me from unreal things. Oh, Thou who tookest me from pigs, let me not be killed over lines. And forgive my crimes and nonsense and let me return to Lily and the kids." (p. 238)
"Oh, Thou who tookest me from pigs?" I’ve fallen in love with Henderson; he is so intense and passionate, naive and bumbling. He tries so damn hard even when he sabotages himself. There is the unreal reality of him that walks away from a normal world that he doesn’t feel comfortable within, and into the unreal reality of a simpler and yet more violent society.