Study Guide

The Wizard of Oz Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)

Scaredy Cat

Of all of Dorothy's companions, the Lion raises the most questions about whether or not he gains his desired trait at the end. It depends on how you look at it, and once again, his less-interesting twin Zeke back in Kansas holds some clues about what it all means.

The Lion's a coward, of course, which means he's afraid of everything. He's even afraid of the sheep he counts to try to get to sleep, and if you've ever met a sheep, you know just how pathetic that is. Mufasa he is not.

Here's the tricky part. He never really stops being scared. He goes into the Witch's castle only under extreme duress and his initial interview with the Wizard starts with a faint and ends with him diving out the nearest window. So yeah, not much in the guts department. That continues when he gets to the Witch's castle, vowing to go in and save Dorothy, then begging his friends to "talk me out of it!" It makes you wonder how he's going to hold up if any other Wicked Witches show up after Dorothy's leaves.

The good news is that at least he acknowledges it. He has no illusions about himself and he's very clear that everything in the world scares him to death. And once you get past the bullying he uses to keep everyone at bay, he's actually quite a sweetheart. He sings, he cracks jokes, and he has a knack for self-effacement that kind of steals the show. (Notice that he gets two songs about his courage, while the Scarecrow and the Tin Man only get one.)

But good qualities aside, he's still an abject coward, and we're not sure he ever gets better.

Or does he?

The Lion's a coward only if you think of courage as a lack of fear. Real courage, the Hero's Journey definition of courage, means being scared enough to wet yourself and doing what you need to do anyway. In this sense, the Lion is as brave as they come. Granted, he needs some help from his friends from time to time. They remind him of the consequences, such as when he needs to go into the Witch's castle to rescue Dorothy or when he has to enter the Wizard's hall to ask for his courage. And if he needs his paw to be held, they do it without question. (In that way, he's probably the most child-like of the companions, definitely someone all the little kids in the audience can relate to.)

With his friends at his back, the Lion eventually finds that elusive courage, powering past his fear and going to places he never thought he could. Seriously, that castle is bad news, but he marches in there just the same... with his tail sticking out behind him the whole way. He doesn't quite figure that out that the end (he thinks it's all because of his medal), but it doesn't matter.

And we can see that reflected in Zeke back on the farm. Like the Lion, Zeke's kind of a blowhard. He talks a big game about Miss Gulch:

ZEKE: Then the next time she squawks, walk right up to her and spit in her eye. That's what I'd do!

But we'd bet that if he ever ran into her, he'd shiver himself into a coma. How do we know? Well he's shaking like a leaf when he pulls Dorothy from that pig pen, and he freaks out even more when the tornado arrives. (Though we have to concede the twister to him: those things are scary!)

But like the Lion, he does what he needs to do when the chips are down. The hogs don't cut quite the same menacing figure that the Witch does, but if they terrify him, then who are we to judge his heroic plunge into their snuffling, grunting ranks to extract Dorothy? Though everyone gives him a very hard time for being scared, that might actually the bravest thing he's ever done. And that, friends, is the point of the whole darn trip: whether in Kansas, Oz, or otherwise.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...