Hyenas are portrayed as evil in fiction. Sometimes they are depicted as insane Ax-Crazy sadists. Other times, they are depicted as stupid Dirty Cowards. The majority of the time, however, they're depicted as dirty, smelly Villainous Gluttons. These hyenas also have a fondness for laughing and a fear (and hatred) of lions. How many times have you seen a good hyena in fiction? None? Very few? That's because of this trope. Aversions of this trope are incredibly rare. This trope does not only apply to actual hyenas, but humans or other creatures that use hyena symbolism; comparing a character with an unpleasant laugh to a hyena is particularly common in fiction. Fictional hyenas are almost always spotted hyenas; striped and brown hyenas are much, much rarer. Subtrope of Scavengers Are Scum. Contrast King of Beasts (hyenas are the Unpleasant Animal Counterpart to lions). Compare The Hyena, which is a character that's constantly laughing (and is not always, but quite often, a literal hyena).
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- Batman: Harley Quinn has traditionally kept a pair of hyenas named Bud and Lou, which she has used in the dual role of personal pets and attack animals. These two hyenas sometimes accompany Harley during a brazen heist to keep the hostages / customers / incidentals at bay. Nosy goofballs throw Harley off her groove, y'know? Bud and Lou would migrate to Batman: The Animated Series along with Harley
Film - Animation
- The Lion King portrays hyenas as the constantly hungry, brutish enforcers for Scar. They are depicted as dirty, stupid, and cowardly; however, they do end up killing Scar after he attempts to betray them.
- In the animated soccer segment of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, there is a spotted hyena in the yellow team, which consists of other stereotypically mean animals such as a crocodile, a warthog, a rhino and a gorilla.
- In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig.
- In the Earth's Children series Ayla has a strong aversion to hyenas, ever since a hyena grabbed a baby during a mammoth hunt. She sees hyenas as scum and will never allow a hyena around. She is otherwise a Friend to All Living Things (even those she kills for food).
- Averted in the children's book Pinduli, which is one of the few sympathetic depictions of hyenas. The protagonist is a young hyena who gets teased by other animals because of her looks. The book also lists various facts about hyenas at the end. This book was written by the author of a number of other books about unpopular animals, including Stellaluna (about a bat), Virdi (about a snake), and Crickwing (about a cockroach).
Mythology and Folklore
- The crocotta is a vicious mythical animal from Roman and Medieval bestiaries and accounts, said to inhabit subsaharan Africa, India or both and resemble a monstrous doglike or wolflike animal. It was reputed to have a single ridge of bone in each jaw rather than teeth, to dig up and eat human corpses and to switch genders every year. Its most notable characteristic was its ability to imitate human voices, an ability it used to lure humans and dogs out of their homes and into the wilderness. Those who answered its calls were set upon by the beast and viciously torn to pieces. There was a similar creature called the leucrocotta, which had much the same appearance and attributes, but also had hooves and was reputed to be an extremely swift runner. It is generally agreed that the creature was inspired by real life accounts of hyenas, which do indeed produce human-like vocalizations (such as their famous "laughter") and whose genders are notoriously difficult to tell apart (female hyenas are bigger than the males, in the inverse of how it usually works for mammals, and most notably their sexual organs resemble those of mammal males far more than they resemble those of other female mammals). The scientific name of the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, was directly inspired by the mythical crocotta.
- In many African — especially West African — traditions, hyenas do not exactly enjoy a stellar reputation. They are often associated with a great variety of negative traits (exactly which ones often depends on the culture and tradition in question), including deviousness, brutishness, immorality, gluttony, subversive and unwholesome behavior and filthiness.
- At least one myth, from the Tanzanian Gogo people, blames hyenas for human mortality: according to the myth, humans were originally supposed to be made immortal, but a hyena kept this from happening to ensure it would always have plenty of corpses to eat.
- Hyenas are also associated with evil magic. They are often paired with witches: in the folklore of the Mbugwe people of Tanzania, for instance, all hyenas are considered to be under the control of witches, who keep them as familiars, milk them and use them as mounts. Other traditions include shapeshifting werehyenas, creatures often considered evil and wicked.
- This has spread beyond the native animistic religions: the Christian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Ethiopia uses hyenas to symbolize criminal behavior and sexual deviancy.
- This is, however, averted in a number of other traditions which see hyenas in a more positive light. For example, the mythology of the Lungu people credits a hyena with bringing the sun — and, consequently, warmth and life — to a previously cold and barren Earth.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Gnolls are monstrous humanoids resembling hyenas that were originally created by the demon lord Yeenoghu. They are Always Chaotic Evil to the point that the 5th edition Monster Manual compares them to demons in that they lack anything resembling a conscience and nothing can sway them from their destructive tendencies.
- Orion's Arm: Sapient spotted hyenas are one the many kinds of Uplifted Animals among the Terragen civilizations. While not evil, as such, they are noted to be very aggressive and competitive compared to other sapients, something carried over from their non-sapient ancestors. As such, they have long-standing problems with conflicts with both each other and other sapients, as well as recurring issues of fratricide among their young before they can be properly socialized.
- As they developed as a people in their own right, they ended up consciously embracing the stereotypes of this trope: while neurological and biological modifications were available to dampen their aggressive tendencies, the sapient hyenas saw these as anthropocentric attempts to erase their identity as a species and turn them into yet another clade of humans in animal bodies. As such, most sapient hyenas ended up celebrating their status as aggressive outcasts and pariahs unwanted by mainstream civilization. Of course, many hyenas did choose to take the behavioral modifications, and considered the hyenas still enamored with this trope to be backward savages obsessed with glorifying violence.
- Overall, sapient hyenas in the setting's present have tendency to live in highly hierarchical matriarchies, to have personalities tending to being aggressive and vindictive and to spend a great deal of time jockeying for position amongst each other, although they are also highly social and cooperative. Notable hyenas in the galaxy include the inhabitants of Skulk, a gas giant dotted with floating habitats home to hyena clans, which were unified by a hyena matriarch named Belligerence in a bloody power grab. Some centuries in the past there was also a band of mercenary humanoid hyena cyborgs that rose to infamy when they attacked a peaceful habitat with maser weaponry, boarded it with several containers of salt and spices and devoured the soft-boiled bodies of its inhabitants over the course of a three-day feast.
- The Lion Guard:
- Zigzagged. A group of hyenas are the villains in the pilot and become recurring antagonists in the series; they are portrayed as thuggish and malevolent. However, a hyena named Jasiri mentions that hyenas serve as scavengers in the Circle of Life and tells Kion that not all hyenas are bad, and Kion and the Guard become close friends with a group of "good" hyenas (including Jasiri).
- * All the Aardwolves (a small species of hyena) that appear in the show are "good." In fact, this trope is a plot point in their initial appearance, since they get mistaken for the "bad" spotted hyenas and chased out of the Pridelands by the Guard.
- In Gargoyles, one of the most depraved members of the animal-themed mercenary group The Pack is named Hyena (according to Word of God she's a psychopath).
- Harchi the hyena from Oscars Oasis is part of a villainous trio that tries to eat Oscar.
- Krypto the Superdog: Bud and Lou, Harley Quinn's pair of pet spotted hyenas, appear as recurring antagonists.
- Zig from Zig & Sharko is an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who keeps trying to eat a mermaid. No, really.
- Averted with Hardy from Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har. He's a nice guy, if a bit depressed.
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