Baum never gives the Cowardly Lion a back story. Do I want to create one for him? The others have back stories based on the the original works. What would make Lion so fearful? Would he be born fearful and then be rejected by his pride? Or was he a completely normal lion cub and then something happened to make him fearful?
Chapter 7 – Meeting the Cowardly Lion
“How far is it to the Emerald City? Do you know, Woodman?” asked Dorothy.
They had been walking for many hours and the forest stayed thick and dark. The yellow road was uncared for and trees grew right to the edges of the bricks, lifting the bricks with their roots. Scarecrow was falling less and was becoming more aware of the dangers in the road ahead of him.
“I don’t know. My father went once when I was a little boy, but I have never been to the other side of the forest. I remember that he was gone for a very long time. He told me that the land was dangerous but that it was beautiful when he got close to the Emerald City.”
A screech came from the trees to their right and they all jumped and looked in that direction. Toto, who had been walking ahead, slowed and walked just in front of Dorothy. Soon, a low growl came from their left.
“Dorothy, you should walk between Scarecrow and I,” said the Woodman.
Dorothy moved in-between them, Toto now close to her feet.
In the distance the sounds of a long howl echoed, it seemed to bounce between the trees and each of them looked in a different direction. They moved closer together. Dorothy wound her arms between those of her companions.
“I’m afraid,” said Dorothy quietly.
“Don’t be afraid, Dorothy. You have the mark of the good witch on your forehead. No one will hurt you. The scarecrow doesn’t feel pain and can be put together again. And as long as I have my oil can, nothing will hurt me.”
“But what about Toto!” Dorothy exclaimed, looking up at the Woodman. She let go of their arms and bent, scooping Toto up to carry him against her chest.
Suddenly there was commotion just ahead of them in the trees; loud crashing and limbs falling to the ground. The air shook with a roar and an enormous golden blonde lion leapt onto the bricks in front of them. Dorothy stumbled backward with Toto in her arms, but neither the Scarecrow or the Woodman were fast enough.
A huge paw swept through the air, it’s claws outstretched. The Scarecrow went rolling to the edge of the road, straw filling the air. There was a loud metal ringing as the Woodman was knocked from his feet and slammed into a tree at the edge of the road.
Toto squirmed in Dorothy’s arms, growling, and suddenly broke free, running at the giant beast. The Lion roared again but took a step backward as the little dog ran at him. Toto bit deeply into the Lion’s paw.
“Ouch!” The Lion exclaimed and jumped backward, pulling his leg away from the snapping dog . “You hurt me!” And then, to Dorothy’s surprise, the lion began to cry. Huge, thundering sobs. He held his paw in the air. Toto stood growling in front of the lion, protecting all of his friends.
Dorothy saw her poor friend the Scarecrow huddled at the edge of the road, shaking. His coat appeared to be torn and he was surrounded by hay. She saw the Woodman, lying on the ground against a tree, his eyes closed. She saw her little dog barking at the great crying creature and she was suddenly filled with rage.
Walking forward, she scooped up Toto and slapped the nose of the Lion. “How dare you scare us like that!”
“What was that for?” came his mournful response and he began to cry even more loudly as enormous tears fell from his eyes.
“You knocked down my friends!”
“I didn’t know they were your friends,” the lion said shamefully.
“Of course you did! You apologize.”
The lion began to tremble and looked as if he were going to run back into the forest.
“You stay right there and apologize to my friends.”
Finally, with tears streaming down his face, the Lion said, “I’m sorry that I scared you.”
“That’s better,” said Dorothy, “Toto, you watch the lion and don’t let him go anywhere.” Toto gave a bark and turned to face the lion, a constant grown in his throat.
The lion sobbed as Dorothy went to help up the scarecrow. “Are you okay, Scarecrow?”
“I’ve lost a bit of straw is all,” said the scarecrow, his voice shaky. The lion’s claws had torn a bit from the bottom of his coat and knocked a button from his shirt. Hay lay about his feet. She helped the Scarecrow up and together they gathered the lost hay and stuffed it back into his shirt.
The Tin Woodman has now sitting up next to a tree, his hands pressed into his head. He was turning his head to the right and the left.
“Are you okay Woodman?” asked Dorothy.
“I suppose it is lucky that I don’t have a brain, my head is ringing.”
Dorothy and the scarecrow helped the Woodman into a standing position, and Dorothy saw that the claws had dented the Woodman’s arm.
Dorothy turned to the Lion. “Look what you’ve done! You have damaged his arm with your claws!”
“I didn’t mean to,” said the Lion, his sobs had quieted and he was licking his paw.
“Well of course you meant to!”
“I only meant to scare you,” responded the Lion, petulantly.
“Are you so big and brave that you need to scare a little girl and her companions?”
“No!” roared the lion. “I am not brave at all!” With this, he sunk to the ground and began to weep again. “I have never been brave. I am always afraid. I am afraid of the forest and I was afraid of you. You have the silver shoes of the witch.”
“Then why didn’t you just leave us alone?” asked Dorothy.
“Because I wanted you to go away. And I thought if I scared you, you would go back to where you came from.”
“We can’t go back from where we came from, we are going to the Emerald City.”
“Why are you going there?” asked the Lion, looking up from his injured paw.
“Because I want to go home and I need the wizard’s help to get me there. The Scarecrow needs a brain, and the Woodman needs a heart.”
“Can I come with you?” asked the Lion shyly.
“Why?” asked Dorothy.
“Because I am afraid of everything.” The great lion then tucked his eyes beneath his paw so that Dorothy could not see his face. A moan escaped his body.
Dorothy looked at the Scarecrow who shrugged his shoulders. She looked at Woodman who nodded his head.
“Toto,” said Dorothy, “you can stop your growling at him.” Toto stopped and wagged his tail. He ran back to the Scarecrow and sat at his side. Dorothy walked up to the Lion and sat next to him, stroking his giant mane. He began to quiet.
“What made you so afraid?” asked Dorothy.
“I don’t know,” said the Lion. “I have always been afraid, for as long as I can remember.”
“Did you always live in the forest?”
“No. When I was a cub I lived with my mom and our pride in the west lands, not as far as the witch, but where the land is dry. The witch wanted to control us, to make us work for her, but the Lionesses refused and decided to leave the land. It is only little things that I remember. The dryness. The way that my mother was warm. Her smell. I remember other cubs. I remember us walking and searching for a new home.”
“I remember the day that the flying monkey’s came…”
“Flying monkey’s?” asked Dorothy.
“Oh, yes, they are the minions of the witch!” said the Woodman.
“Terrible creatures,” said the Scarecrow.
“There were so many of them,” said the Lion, “that the sun went dark and the air was filled with the flapping of their wings. My mother picked me up and hid me under a pile of rocks. I remember her telling me not to move until she returned for me.”
“I heard the monkeys screeching and screaming and I heard the Lionesses roar. I heard the flapping of their wings until there was no sound left. The sound of them fighting scared me, but the quiet scared me even more. I waited there, under the rocks, for my mother to come back, but she never came back. I was afraid to leave. I hid until my throat felt like it was filled with sand. I was hungry and I was thirsty, but mostly I was afraid.”
“Finally snuck out from the safety of the rocks. There was my mother, lying among the other Lionesses and their cubs. I tried to wake her, but she refused to move. They were all dead, lying in dried puddle of their own blood.”
Lion had begun to quietly cry again as Dorothy stroked his thick fur. “Poor Lion. What did you do then?”
“I tried to cuddle underneath her for a bit, but she was cold and she smelled different. So I walked in the direction that we had been heading. Every sound scared me and I hid every chance that I got. I didn’t know how to hunt, but I was so hungry that I learned to catch mice and bugs and sometimes even birds. The mice scared me, they were so small and fast, but they were easy to find. Finally, I found a spring of water. It grew and led me to the forest, where I hid.”
“I remember my first roar, and even it scared me. But all the animals of the forest ran and hid from me. For the first time, I did not feel so afraid. When any of the animals came near me, all I needed to do was roar, and they would leave me alone. So I began to roar more and more, but inside I only felt afraid.” The Lion began to cry in great huffing sobs. “I am a coward.”
“Lion,” said Dorothy gently, “would you really like to come with us to the Emerald City? It might be a very scary trip.”
“Really?” He peeked out between his paw.
“Yes, really. It would be nice to have someone as big and strong as you to help us on our journey. And if we need something to leave us alone, I think your roar would do very nicely.”
“Do you think that I can ask the wizard for something?” asked the Lion.
“What will you ask him?” asked Dorothy.
“I will ask him for courage. I am tired of being scared. All that I want is to be brave.”
“Yes, Lion, I think that if Oz will grant us our wishes, then he will grant you yours as well. Now, let me see your paw and make sure that Toto has not hurt you too badly.”
The Lion lifted his paw and saw that Toto’s tiny teeth had not broken the skin.
“I think you will be okay,” said Dorothy, “perhaps a bit of a bruise under your fur, but I don’t think that he cut you.”
Together, Dorothy and the Lion stood, and they all began to walk again down the yellow brick road. The Lion padded ahead, and while Toto occasionally grumbled and growled, in time Toto began to walk at the Lion’s side. It seemed to Dorothy as if the Lion and the dog were having their own conversation as they walked.
As they walked the trees slowly began to open, with more space to see the sky. The trees began to move a bit father back from the road. The Woodman slowly fell back and when Dorothy turned to see why, she saw that rust had formed in streaks down the Woodman’s face.
“Woodman, why are you crying?”
But the Woodman only shook his head.
Scarecrow quickly reached into the lunch bucket and removed the oil can. He poured oil at the Woodman’s eyes and jaw and mouth. He gently rubbed the Woodman’s face with his glove.
Finally the Woodman said, “When we began walking again, there was a little red beetle walking in the road. I didn’t mean to, but I saw it too late. I stepped on the poor little thing and I killed it. I rusted myself with crying.”
“Oh, Woodman, you should have said something before you rusted yourself! There are many bugs in the road and there will be many more before we arrive in Oz. You must not be so hard on yourself.”
“No, I must be harder on myself,” the Woodman responded. “I have no heart and I don’t know when I am being mean. I don’t know if I am doing hurtful things to others. I do not wish to be cruel, and so I must pay even closer attention to every step that I take. You, you have a heart Dorothy. Your heart will guide you to do what’s right. But I must work to be good.”
The Woodman continued to walk, but he was very careful with every step that he took.