Cowardly Lion

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Fear has nothing to do with cowardice. A fellow is only yellow when he lets his fear make him quit."

Jerome Cady

A Cowardly Lion is a character with the major characteristic of being a coward, especially when compared to any fearless characters of the story. Thing is, when push comes to shove, they have nothing to envy about the naturally badass characters.

Unlike Took a Level in Badass, the character's fearful nature isn't eliminated after their moment/s of glory. They remain scaredy-cats and/or insecure in their regular lives, despite the fact that they can kick major ass when they put their minds into it. Many of them will tell everyone to Think Nothing of It, because they think the fear they felt trumps the heroism they performed.

Usually, inverse of Miles Gloriosus. Unlike The So-Called Coward, this character is not actually misunderstood and does not need to be viewed by other characters as cowardly; it is his own opinion that matters. (And the so-called coward may be perfectly confident in his own courage.) Unlike the Accidental Hero, the examples in this trope are characters that manage to get things done with their own worth, despite their fears.

Contrast the Fearless Fool—especially when it is invoked to encourage him. Prone to Heroic Self-Deprecation and Face Your Fears. See also Lovable Coward, which may overlap; contrast Dirty Coward, who likely will not.

Examples of Cowardly Lion include:

Anime and Manga

  • Usopp and Chopper in One Piece.
    • Of course, Usopp's a funny case in that as long everything is fine, he's a total Miles Gloriosus. But the instant there's the slightest hint of danger, and particularly when he's the only one who can do anything about it, he upgrades to Cowardly Lion. When any significant danger presents itself, Usopp will panic, then proceed to kick ass despite shaking in his boots the whole time.
  • Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • Mr Satan in Dragon Ball. And to a lesser extent Krillin.
  • Hanyuu in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. She's really fearful and insecure, but lays the smackdown when it comes to people she cares about, as shown at the end of Kai. This isn't always a good thing though.
  • Joe Kido in Digimon Adventure.
  • Grasshop in Spider Riders.
  • Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano!. The guy knocked over eighteen Mafia-owned speakeasies in one night by himself, with a single Tommy gun, crying hysterically in fear all the way. The week after, he helped save a train from two clashing terrorist groups; to do this, he did battle unarmed but for a single cherry bomb against someone with a shiv knife, a fist-gun and a flamethrower (which did turn out to be pretty convenient for lighting said bomb) on top of a moving train. He took a couple of bullets in the gut and a knife in the elbow before he tackled the other guy off the train and won. He was later half-carried to the station by his girlfriend, moaning in pain.
  • GB in Ginga Legend Weed.
  • Sir Penwood and Seras Victoria in Hellsing.
  • Sena Kobayakawa. He's a coward that runs at the first sight of trouble... but then gets drafted into a football team, had his team in dire strait, and then, forced by his own conscience, runs into Seijuro Shin. And the legend of the legendary runningback begins....
    • Kobanzame of the Kyoshin Poseidons is another example. A nervous nellie of a quarterback, Kobanzame thinks he's useless and leaves all the major decisions to Kakei. Yet he has perfect ball handling, and on short passes is a perfectly competent player. Reiji Marco, captain and quarterback/safety of the Hakushuu Dinosaurs is a villainous example—he's utterly terrified of getting hurt, yet continues to use himself as his own best piece, risking his neck to lead his team to victory.
  • Tsuna from Katekyo Hitman Reborn.
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is like this initially. Scared of all the things happening around him that nearly kill him, but if Kamina is in danger he opens up a can of badass at a moment's notice.
  • Closer from Hyde and Closer. Always run from battle, Hyde always had to bail out his ass, but never let his friends in danger, even if that means takes the beating all for himself.
  • Yukiteru Amano from Mirai Nikki. Even though at times he seems to have grown out of this, he remains a Cowardly Lion 'til the end.
  • Yuu from Holyland personifies this beautifully. Basically, if you took a timid, scared, insecure piece of bully-bait and gave him the ability to knock a man unconscious with one punch, he would be Yuu.
  • Italy from Axis Powers Hetalia. So much.
  • Asura from Soul Eater. Despite being fear and insanity incarnate, he rose to be one of the world's most dangerous beings, quite possibly surpassing the much more level headed Shinigami-sama himself.
  • Kenichi from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple will not run away, even if he's facing weapon users. However, the knee-trembling terror he feels occasionally leaks out.
  • Kain Fuery in Fullmetal Alchemist. He's the smallest and youngest member of Roy Mustang's hand-chosen unit, and his main value is as the communications specialist. When the team gets split up and he's reassigned to the southern war front, he's absolutely terrified and only gets through it by shouting at himself that he's going to live. Later, he deserts in order to return to Central City and aid Mustang and Hawkeye with their coup.
    • And then we have Warrant Officer Falman, who was literally crying and shaking with fear as he defied Bradley's order to open the gate to Central palace. Captain Buccaneer called him on it.

Buccaneer: Oh come on now. Don't cry like a girl when you act like a man!

  • Kai Shiden of Mobile Suit Gundam with emphasis on "Lion". An abrasive jerk who perpetually points out the stupidity of the situations they're in and often seems about to panic when sent into combat, Kai's nevertheless a reliable solider who racks up a pretty impressive kill count over the course of the war. He might have easily ended up as one of the Earth Federation's most celebrated aces, if not for being the wingman of the White Devil Amuro Ray.
  • While Ranma Saotome of Ranma ½ is a Combat Pragmatist, he's generally pretty far away from anything that resembles cowardice... unless cats are involved, in which case a few seconds after being surprised by a housecat he is literally catatonic and will eventually lose his mind from the sheer terror until he starts thinking that he's a cat and starts kicking the ass of almost everything within eyeshot using the ultimate technique, the Neko-ken. However, when he was tossed into a situation that almost perfectly replicated his initial trauma (being tossed into a pit of hungry cats while wrapped in fish products), he managed to (sorta) maintain his composure until they brought out a tiger that was about as tall as he was, at which point he snapped. Later on, when facing a grandmaster that was casually kicking his ass and holding his manhood hostage, Ranma deliberately strapped a cat onto himself (or rather, herself) in order to pull out the Neko-ken and get his opponent to back down. That is to say, he deliberately drove himself insane with fear in order to win a fight.
  • Kasumi of King of Thorn. She believes she is weak and useless, having depended on her braver twin sister Shizuku for most of her life. Later she depends on Marco for protection and often needs him to rescue her. However, she's still able to put her fears aside long enough to save someone else's life. She even saves Marco a few times, and earns his respect for it.

Comic Books

  • Sonic the Comic portrayed Tails in this light for a lot of the early issues.
  • Donald Pierce is a villainous version in X Men.
  • Eric O'Grady in The Avengers.
  • Donald Duck (who is often Miles Gloriosus too), especially in Don Rosa's comics.
  • Rex and Pugsy in Beasts of Burden. Notable that Rex was a Miles Gloriosus in the first story, but has gotten better. All of the characters are regularly terrified by the supernatural occurences that surround them, but these two (especially Pugsy) are the ones most likely to be visibly afraid—and yet neither will back down when their friends or their town is in danger
  • Commander Blanx of the pre-Crisis Martian Manhunter comics is a villainous example along the same lines as Donald Pierce. A Dirty Coward and Combat Pragmatist who never fights fair—and indeed, doesn't fight at all if he can get someone else to do the dying for him—he's nevertheless very dangerous when cornered, nearly killing J'onn in one appearance and going toe-to-toe with Superman in another.
  • Empowered of the comic of the same name is a variation on this—instead of considering herself a coward while still being brave, she lacks in self-confidence in her super-heroing duties while still trying her darndest to be a superheroine—which, as her friends point out, generally ends up demonstrating that she's better at it than she thinks she is.

Fan Works


  • A major characteristic of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz is cowardice, overlapping with Lovable Coward. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman fit the Trope too in many scenes.
  • Albert Lory from This Land Is Mine lives in an unnamed country under Nazi occupation and, literally, runs home to his aged mother any time there is an allied air strike. He eventually makes a Heroic Sacrifice because he's more terrified of seeing his friends picked off one by one than actually dying.
  • Bob from Drugstore Cowboy is pretty open about his neurosis and his reliance on drugs to keep the stresses of world away from him. The people around him are still awed by the acts of Magnificent Bastardry he performs out of sheer panic.
  • Edgar from The Lost Boys is a teenager who fancies himself a vampire hunter, but while he is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, he's just as terrified of them as anyone else would be. Still, he does manage to be a decent fighter when backed into a corner.


  • The Trope Namer is the Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Wicked, and he usually tended to lose the "Cowardly" part of his name whenever Dorothy was in danger or something was required that only a Lion could do. The film version examines this trope in some depth, with the Wizard eventually pointing out to the Lion that he was confusing cowardice with common sense. Sometimes, running away is the most sensible option if fighting only gets you pointlessly killed, as the Lion demonstrates when he flees from the Kalidahs in Baum's original book—however, when he has something to protect after joining Dorothy and the others, he not only stands up to them, but volunteers to sacrifice himself to protect the others from them, until Scarecrow comes up with a plan that makes it unnecessary.
    • He, in fact, pretty much explains this trope when explaining 1. His name, and 2. Why he's the bravest person in Oz. Though this is in a sequel book.
  • Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter.
  • David from Animorphs. He gets over this after his Face Heel Turn.
  • Harold Lauder is this way in Stephen King's The Stand.
  • Samwell Tarly in A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • Kell Tainer, from the Wraith Squadron, constantly deals with what he considers to be cowardice. When his commanding officer figures it out, he calls it more a case of "extremely strong performance anxiety", as he's not so much afraid of battle as he is of screwing up, particularly when people are counting on him—understandable, if not necessarily desirable, in military service pilots.
    • Though this officer was unaware of when Kell 1. Literally froze up while controlling an X-wing, unable to work the controls, thinking his ship was instead malfunctioning, and 2. Not really aware that Kell was one lever-pull away from just leaving battle...until he thought of his girlfriend, and pulled a Big Damn Heroes...but Kell definitely fits this trope in his first book. However, he also grows out of the cowardice almost completely, so...
  • In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Wolf's Honour, Mikal feels heavily burdened by the role that fell on him when Berek was gravely wounded. He sees the unconscious leader and asks why him—and is enraged when he realizes that the skald, Morgrim, listened to him. When Morgrim says that he will describe this as a warrior paying respects to his lord before battle, Mikal can not believe him and confesses to his doubts and his conviction that Berek could have led them better; Morgrim assures him that Berek felt the same way and that having never shirked his duty, Mikal has not failed.
  • Ciaphas Cain quite literally wrote the book on how to be one of these in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Despite taking on (and defeating) foes that would have easily brushed aside other mortal men, Cain continues to consider himself a Dirty Coward and writes off all of his heroic feats as the result of either accident or pragmatism.
  • Yossarian of Catch-22. He views this as justified due to the fact that there are thousands of people he's never met who are trying to kill him, but as he's a World War II bombardier, it's nothing personal.
  • Rincewind of Discworld, who has an entire life philosophy based on running away. Nonetheless he has saved the Discworld several times, usually because he simply no longer had anywhere to run to.

Rincewind: Run!
Other character: Where to?
Rincewind: From! The key word is from!

  • Horatio Hornblower, in spades. Every time he sends whatever ship he's on into and out of the fire, he's constantly second-guessing himself and feels like he's lying to his admiring crew because he doesn't give them any hint how honestly frightened he is of being killed or maimed.
    • An example: In one battle, an explosive lands on the deck at his feet. He looks down, grimaces, carefully pinches off the fuse, and disposes of the (now harmless) explosive. He then looks up to see that everyone else on the deck is emerging from cover and staring at him like he's 12 feet tall. From that day forward, his crew worships the ground he walks on, but he still thinks of himself as a coward who just did what had to be done.
  • Nessus in Ringworld. A member of an entire species of cowards, but at one point, he demonstrates where their instinct to turn away from danger may have really come from:

All in one motion, the puppeteer had spun on his forelegs and lashed out with his single hind leg. His heads were turned backwards and spread wide, Louis remembered, to triangulate on his target. Nessus had accurately kicked a man's heart out through his splintered spine.

    • For that matter, Louis Wu from the same novel. He's a self-proclaimed coward who is bad at fighting (something else that he'll be the first to tell you). That said, he managed to out-think a Pak Protector and fix it so the Protector died ugly, just because he pissed Louis off.
  • The protagonist of Rowan of Rin is afraid of virtually everything, but has learned to cope with this enough to be functional in everyday life. This leaves him the last one standing in a nonlethal Dwindling Party scenario--everyone else turns back rather than face their personal worst fear, but he's faced his fears so often that it's become second nature to him.
  • The eponymous dragon from the poem "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" by Ogden Nash is a coward that is afraid of everything and wants nothing more than to be in a nice safe cage. His owner, a little girl named Belinda, and her other pets are described in the narrative as being very brave and occasionally tease poor Custard. When a well-armed and vicious pirate invades their home all of their courage fails them. Custard, on the other hand, is so angry that he briefly forgets he's supposed to be afraid and eats the pirate. Afterwards he goes right back to being cowardly and wishing for a nice safe cage.
  • Martha Abbott (rhymes with rabbit) in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Changeling is this. Deprecated as a coward and crybaby by herself and everyone in her family, she does a number of things that frighten the life out of her. She cries, even pukes, but she does them. Few if any children's books illustrate the difference between courage and fearlessness the way this one does.
  • The title character of Jim C. Hines' Jig the Goblin trilogy.
  • The foppish bard Dandilion in the Witcher series. He is obnoxious and cowardly, but in The Last Wish he mustered a brave face against execution and in Blood of Elves he held his tongue against torture—torture that would have rendered his hands paralyzed and thus unable to play any musical instruments—rather than betray his friend Geralt.
  • Jacky Faber is a self-proclaimed coward, and insists that her moments of badassery were just combinations of bad luck, coincidence, and what had to be done, but the fact is that those moments of badassery far outnumber any actual cowardice she may display.
  • In Herman Wouk's books The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, the character of Leslie Slote views himself as a coward, but his drive not to be one inspires him to commit some brave acts, and he ends up dying a hero.

Live Action TV

  • Mr. Carlton in WKRP in Cincinnati. He's a nervous and henpecked man, but he's strongly implied to have seen heavy combat in World War II bloodbaths.
    • Has his finest hour when he stays on the air during a tornado. "Sometimes we have to be very brave even when we're not."
  • Vila Restal of Blake's 7. There isn't a lock he can't pick, especially if he's scared, and when backed into a corner he can show surprising courage. This is the man who bluffed Servalan and an eight-ship battle fleet into retreating.
  • Mr. Monk in Monk. He went into a panic about having laser pointers pointed at him by children early one episode. Later he has them pointed at him attached to guns, held by professionals, while keeping a jet airplane piloted by a man he knows is a killer on the ground by standing in front of it. He does the latter while barely flinching.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Quark (who had always been portrayed as pretty much a fast talking coward) had a Crowning Moment of Awesome when he stood in front of a Klingon who was nearly twice his height in the middle of the Klingon parliament, after the Klingon had challenged him to a duel to the death, and just looked him straight in the eyes and flat out told him that he wasn't going to fight and if the Klingon wanted Quark dead just to get on with it. This would, of course, deny the Klingon the honor of defeating a foe gloriously in battle (Quark even knelt), making his "victory" shallow and meaningless. The Klingon went in for the kill anyway, but the Klingon Emperor stepped in, and declared that if the bad guy would really kill an unarmed opponent, then he truly had no honor and he was promptly discommendated and kicked out of the building.
    • All told, he shoots down about a dozen super-soldiers over the course of the show when things get serious. A slight subversion, as in his culture talking your way out of things gets you a lot more respect than what other cultures consider heroism.
    • Neelix in Star Trek: Voyager puts on a show of cowardice (to the point of great annoyance for those around him), but he's a ruthless bastard when he needs to be, like when he dealt with the Kazon in the pilot.
  • Connor in Primeval thinks of himself as a cowardly geeky, bookworm, but when it comes to it is just as capable of facing down velociraptors and other nightmare fuel-riffic creatures as any of the more traditionally heroic characters.
  • The Cowardly Lion's counterpart in Tin Man, Raw. Quiet fellow, empathic, healer, and generally not badass in the slightest...until the climax of the series.
  • McKay from Stargate Atlantis is whiny and cowardly. Somewhat justified as he's a scientist put into a military team. In dire situations however, he always shows astounding courage.
  • Xander "I laugh in the face of danger...Then I hide until it goes away" Harris from Buffy the Vampire Slayer talked about being a coward, but he never was.
  • On Leverage Hardison often acts this way, especially in comparison to adrenaline junkie Parker or Badass Elliot. While he often complains about the situations he goes into, he never actually backs down.
  • The Lone Gunmen: Byers is a meek, mild-tempered guy - except when you ask him to look the other way on an injustice. Then, he suddenly develops enough balls to call out one of the most frightening members of The Conspiracy right to his face.
  • Once Upon a Time: Archie (or Jiminy) was such an Extreme Doormat that he gave up his humanity just to get away from his thieving family. However, Regina made the mistake of trying to trying to interfere in his treatment for Henry. Instant backbone and set of Brass Balls showed up, and he threatened her by saying that he could be a deciding factor if Emma wanted to sue Regina for custody of the kid.
  • In the The Electric Company, bumbling hero the Blue Beetle is something of a coward, and if he knows a crisis is too dangerous for him to handle, he politely refuses to help... but if children are in danger in said crisis, that is a different story.

New Media

Newspaper Comics

Video Games

  • You can make a case for Khalid in Baldur's Gate. He's the easily unnerved Henpecked Husband of Jaheira, whois usually the first to have a morale failure and run in a battle (even though he has some of the highest HP) and can hardly form a sentence without stammering. One of his trademark phrases being "If at first I don't succeed the wife won't let me forget..." , but level him up enough and he makes for a pretty decent tank. And you don't want to have to deal with him while he's Dire Charmed.
    • If you'd like a demonstration of Khalid not being as big a wimp as he seems, just sent your group into a random inn and start indiscriminantly slaughtering everyone. Watch as Khalid's usual stutter completely vanishes and he actually soiunds sure of himself for the first time in game.
  • Luigi in Super Mario Bros.. He proves to be more effective than Mario on quite a few occasions. He took down the lord of the underworld by himself. And it was certainly a Curb Stomp Battle.
  • Lucas is like this in Super Smash Bros..
    • He ultimately gets over this, however, reflecting his character growth in his original game.
  • Arnoud from Wild ARMs 4.
  • If you allocate enough points to his Strength stat, the Chaos Hero from Shin Megami Tensei I can be like this.
  • Prince Edward Chris von Muir in Final Fantasy IV.
  • Gordon in Final Fantasy II.
  • The Maw, a game on the Xbox Live Arcade. The title character is a blob who can eat just about anything and keeps getting bigger until it eats the entire planet, but it has a tendency to flee screaming from enemies that posture in a frightening manner.
  • Captain Linebeck in The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass.
  • Almaz, from Disgaea 3. He's a normal human fighting demons; he has a right to be scared. Still manages pretty well for himself when it counts.
  • The Grunts from Halo. They are tiny, weak, and treated like cannon fodder by tyrants who are larger and stronger and far more numerous than the human super-soldiers. On top of that, they breathe methane instead of oxygen; this means they are constantly fighting in poisonous environments and relying on breathers that can be ripped out of their mouths. The methane tanks they are forced to carry on their backs for survival are also extremely prone to explode when shot, thus they are also carrying their own death on their backs. These guys have every reason to be terrified, and yet many of them attempt suicidal attacks of bravery to great effect.
  • Hahn Mahlay from Phantasy Star IV, a meek young scholar who learns the instant death skills Vol and Savol.
  • In Donkey Kong 64, Chunky Kong begged for mercy to a big monster to no avail. What followed was... well, let's just say it must hurt a lot.
  • The player character in Penumbra. The "Cowardly" part is represented in-game—if he so much as looks at a monster for too long, he'll panic and give away his position. "Lion" is made more apparent as you play the game and see just how much stuff he goes through while staying sane and ready for action.
  • Dirk the Daring of Dragon's Lair usually attempts to put on a brave face when battling the disturbing and creepy creatures he has to face when saving Princess Daphne, but it's obvious that he's a freaking nervous wreck the entire time.
  • Poco from Arc the Lad: a musician who's afraid of his own shadow...and who happens to be one of the strongest fighter of The Verse
  • In Medieval 2 and Rome Total War generals will often bring up that there is no shame in feeling fear before a battle, but it is letting fear rule you which is cowardly.

"There is no shame in fear. There is only shame in letting fear rule you! Try not to look scared, and you will find bravery in your heart!"
"...any man who faces battle without concern, is a moonstruck fool. To be brave is to go forward anyway, no matter how afeared! That is why I go forward, with so many other brave men."

  • In Final Fantasy VIII, anytime actual work is proposed, a minor character named Zone immediately crouches by the wall and complains about stomach pains. Later, he goes off and buys emergency train tickets for himself, his leader, and the three main characters, not counting on there being one addition to the party. After a moment, he passes his own ticket to her, then immediately finds a corner to hug his stomach in.
  • Star Control has the Spathi, who are hilariously scared of just about everything. However, when the "Evil Ones" began multiplying on their homeworld, they went from "industrial revolution" to "space-faring species" in under a century. Their ships are extremely tough and have homing weapons. Basically, if they have nowhere to run, they fight back hard. One character describes them as "a clam, armed with a Howitzer".
  • Satoshi Mochida of Corpse Party hates scary stories. But once he finds himself in one, he actually handles himself pretty well.
  • Daichi in Devil Survivor 2 is always scared of the next demon attack and complains that the others are much more calm than him, but he'll always volunteer to fight and will drive a truck right onto a killer divine being to save his comrades.

Web Comics

  • Zergarem the Destroyer from Cwen's Quest seems to be rather cowardly, possibly justified as previously he was nearly killed before a timely surrender saved his life.
  • The rock-crabs, from Vexxarr, are a species that do not eat (they feed on energy gradients), lives in terror of the predators in their native enviroment, and have trouble understanding that other species ever do anything other than running or hiding from danger. They rarely realize that those predators are about the only thing that can harm them. See these examples of their encounter with a Bleen warfleet.
  • Sir Carrot in Cucumber Quest, though he is quite loyal.

Web Original

  • Chip from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes.
  • Phase, from the Whateley Universe. While Team Kimba fearlessly charges into fights against supervillains, Phase is the only one who's really frightened. He still dives in like everyone else. He has claustrophobia, and his best trick is walking into solid matter which sets his phobia off. Or maybe he's the Only Sane Man in a comic book world.
  • Although Headmaster Leonardo Lionheart of RWBY is based on the Trope Namer, he averts this trope by being a Dirty Coward instead.

Western Animation

Jack: Are you kidding? You guys rescued me from the 'Brainless' Horseman, hello? That took real courage! And everybody knows courage is the most powerful magic of all.
Shaggy: Like, I hate to tell you this, but that wasn't courage. That was panic!
Jack: Hey, whatever you call it, it's working for you.

"Let's face it, Kim, you can do anything. So facing all those dangers and villains, well, it's just like you say. No big. A fella filled with that much fear, always chargin' into action with you? Seems to me that's a true hero."

  • Early TV star Tom Terrific had the ironically-named Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, who always suggested avoiding the adventure of the day.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Scardy Cat", Sylvester acts like a Dirty Coward at first, running for his life after the mice grab Porky. Then his conscience appears, calls him a coward and gives him a pep talk. Sylvester manages to overcome his fear, rip a limb from a tree and brandish it like a club... Then changes his mind, uproots the entire tree, and charges in for a Big Damn Heroes-style rescue.