(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Born Free is the personal account of a remarkable bond between Elsa and Joy and of the woman’s determination to return the lioness fully to the environment of her birth. The text is illustrated with numerous black-and-white photographs taken by the author and her husband. It details the circumstances of their association and Joy’s dedication to the hitherto never accomplished feat of returning a domesticated lion to the wild. The author renders the couple’s affection for the lioness believable by endowing her with credible, quasi-human personality traits. As well as fearless, Elsa is at times affectionate, protective, loyal, playful, and even childishly willful—those characteristics that cat lovers commonly attribute to their pets.

The preface by Lord William Percy and the foreword by C. R. S. Pitman, the former game warden for Uganda Protectorate, support the veracity of Adamson’s account, its setting, and the extraordinary magnitude of her accomplishment. As is clear throughout the work from their discussions with one another and with others, the Adamsons were fully aware that by adopting Elsa they were taking on a great responsibility and had to ensure her best interests. They devoted themselves tirelessly to their objective of enabling Elsa to rejoin the world into which she had been born. The book records the steps that they took to achieve this goal.

In a series of postscripts and a later publisher’s note, readers learn of friendly contacts in the intervening months between Elsa and George and eventually between Elsa and Joy, following her return from her London publisher, and that cubs have been born to the lioness. In a final message, Joy expresses both her grief at having parted with Elsa and her pride that she has fulfilled her conviction that an animal “born free” should be allowed to remain in freedom.