May's Lion is really two stories in one: the first is narrated by a woman who knew May, the story's protagonist, when the narrator was a child, and she retells the story May told her about the time a sick mountain lion came into her yard. Uncertain of what to do, she called the sheriff's office. Police officers shot the lion because, according to May, "there was nothing else they knew how to do."

The second story is the narrator's fictionalized recounting of May's story. In this version, May (now called "Rains End") finds the lion in her yard, and in spite of her own fear she believes he has come for a reason. She offers the animal a bowl of milk, and sings softly to soothe him. She realizes "He had come for company in dying; that was all." This she offers him, and the lion dies there in her yard.


While this story does not deal directly with the doctor-patient relationship or the care of dying (human) patients, the two versions of the tale offer a springboard for discussing the nature of caregiving at the end of life. What does it mean to accompany someone in his or her dying? What fears come up, both for the caregiver and the cared-for? How can the physician observer relinquish control, honoring the dignity and spirit of the patient? How can a physician determine a patient's needs when the patient is unable to articulate them? When might drastic interventions be called for?

Which version offers the lion a more humane end? (Although LeGuin is clearly on the side of version 2, in which the lion dies naturally, an argument might certainly be made for the "putting to sleep" of terminally ill animals--and people?) The last lines of the story alone give readers something to think about: "He came to you. He brought his death to you, a gift; but the men with the guns won't take gifts, they think they own death already. And so they took from you the honor he did you, and you felt that loss."

Primary Source

With a Fly's Eye, Whale's Wit, and Woman's Heart: Women and Animals



Place Published





Theresa Corrigan & Stephanie Hoppe

Page Count