Henderson the Rain King

Quick Reference

Novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1959.

Gene Henderson, an intense, vital millionaire, leaves his Connecticut home for Africa in quest of wisdom, and to satisfy his inner voice's cry, “I want, I want.” With Romilayu, a loyal guide, he visits the Arnewi, a humane, cattle-loving people suffering from drought. He makes friends with the king Itelo and his aunts, Mtalba and Queen Willatale, serene, wise women, tries to aid them by cleansing the polluted water supply, but accidentally destroys it, and leaves, disgraced and saddened. Traveling to the island of the Wariri, he finds drought again and he wagers the king, Dahfu, that there will be no rain, but, overwhelmed by a tremendous “wish to do something … to work the right stitch into the design of destiny before it was too late,” he persuades Dahfu to let him try to move an immense idol, the statue of the goddess of clouds. He succeeds, a deluge follows, and although he is made Sungo, the rain king, he is also delivered into the power of the ruler to whom he lost the bet. From Dahfu he learns the fate of Wariri kings: when one weakens, he is killed and his spirit becomes a lion cub that the king's successor must catch within two years. Dahfu, still in his period of trial, has yet to capture Gmilo, the lion spirit of his father, but his uncle Horko, the Queen Mother, and Bunam, the high priest, force him to his obligation, and in his attempt he is clawed to death. As Sungo, Henderson succeeds Dahfu, into whose tomb he is placed near the cub that symbolizes the late king's spirit. Sure that Horko and Bunam effected Dahfu's death, Henderson and Romilayu escape, taking the cub. His inner voice at last quieted, and with an understanding of himself, Henderson and the cub, named Dahfu, take off for his home, after a life “discontinuous with civilization.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Saul Bellow (1915—2005) Canadian-born American novelist