Once upon a time, on an African plain, Lion walked around boasting about how strong and brave he was. He bragged to everyone who would listen. He boasted to the strong and to the weak. He boasted to the cowards and to the courageous. Everyone was tired of Lion, but no one had the courage to contradict or question him.
And then one day as Lion bragged, Rabbit twitched his nose.
“Why are you twitching your nose?” Lion roared. “Are you saying you don’t believe me? Is that what that twitching means?”
“Oh, I believe you,” Rabbit said. “More or less, I believe you, that is.”
The other animals gasped at Rabbit’s nerve, but Rabbit slyly winked at them.
“What’s that?” Lion growled. “Who could possibly be mightier than I?”
“Well, you’re mighty, that is true,” Rabbit said. “But you’re not the mightiest.”
“How dare you insult me,” roared Lion, but he was curious now. Who could Rabbit possibly mean? And so he asked, “Who? Who is mightier than I?”
“Mr. Hunger,” Rabbit quickly answered. The other animals, beginning to catch on, nodded, but no one said a word.
“Who? Who’s that? Who is this Mr. Hunger? I’ve never met him.”
“Lucky Lion, then,” Rabbit said. “Of course, if you had ever met him, you wouldn’t be here today.”
Lion laughed. “Ha! How big is this Mr. Hunger? Is he as large as I?”
“Oh he’s much larger,” Rabbit said.
“He’s larger than I,” added Elephant.
“And I,” Hippopotamus cut in.
“Yes,” said Rabbit, “he is larger than all of us put together.”
Lion’s jaw dropped. “He is? Well, he is surely not as strong as me.”
“Far stronger,” Rabbit said. “And stronger than Rhinoceros and stronger than Boar and stronger than all of us put together.” The animals all nodded their agreement.
But Lion laughed. “Take me to see this Mr. Hunger. I don’t believe a word you say, so you’ll have to show me.”
“Oh no, don’t make me go to Mr. Hunger’s house,” Rabbit said, trembling.
“I demand that you take me there,” Lion growled.
“He’s difficult to find,” Rabbit said.
“Surely someone knows how to find him if he’s so large and mighty,” said Lion. “Someone must know how to find his home.” All the other animals turned and whispered to each other and shook their heads and shrugged. Then one said, “We’ll have to look.”
“Yes,” Rabbit agreed. “We’ll look around, and we’ll get back to you next week.”
“Fine,” Lion said. “I’ll meet you at this spot in one week.”
Rabbit smiled. His plan was working well so far.
A week later they met at the same place. “Are you ready to take me to Mr. Hunger?” Lion asked.
“Yes,” said Rabbit. “Just let me jump on your back and I’ll give you directions.” And off they went.
“Mr. Hunger lives in a hole in the ground,” Rabbit said as they walked. “Just turn left here, now right, and straight ahead.”
They traveled on until they came to a hole in the ground that was covered up by huge logs. Beside it lay a heavy, flat stone.
“Elephant has opened the door to Mr. Hunger’s house,” Rabbit said. “This way you can go right inside and wait for Mr. Hunger to return.”
“But won’t Mr. Hunger see that his door has been moved? He’ll know I’m inside, and that will give him the advantage over me,” Lion argued.
“Never fear,” said Rabbit. “Elephant has agreed to put the stone back as it was after you’ve climbed inside.”
“Oh, what a friend you are to me,” Lion said gratefully. “You’ve thought of everything. And please thank Elephant for me, too.”
So Lion went down into the hole, and Elephant pushed the stone and logs back in place.
The next day, Elephant passed by and looked down into the hole. “Yoo-hoo,” Elephant called. “Mr. Hunger, are you home?”
“No,” Lion called up to Elephant. “He’s not come home yet.”
“Tell Mr. Hunger I’ve come to say hello,” Elephant said.
The next day Zebra came and did the same thing, and the day after that Giraffe was there, calling out for Mr. Hunger, and the next day Antelope came to call, and the day after that Monkey came. With each visitor, Lion answered, “Mr. Hunger isn’t home. I’m waiting for him to arrive.”
Two weeks passed, and at long last Rabbit came by and looked down into the hole. The lion was lying down, too overcome with the hunger to stand.
“Hello, Lion,” Rabbit called. “How are you down there?”
Lion’s voice was very faint. “I’m waiting …” he began, and then Rabbit saw the light in his eye as he began to understand who Mr. Hunger was.
“I’m hungry,” called Lion feebly. “Please let me out of here.”
“You believed you were stronger than Mr. Hunger, didn’t you?” Rabbit taunted.
“You betrayed me with a lie, Rabbit,” Lion called out weakly. “You turned my own vanity on me.”
“That I did,” Rabbit said, “and who then is the mightiest of the jungle?”
“Mr. Hunger is,” Lion answered. “I see that Mr. Hunger is bigger and more powerful than all creatures put together.”
“And have you learned a lesson, then?” Rabbit called. He could barely hear Lion’s whispered “yes.” Now satisfied that Lion had indeed been humbled, Rabbit enlisted Elephant to move the stone and help Lion out of the hole.
And never again did Lion brag that he was the mightiest creature on the plain.