"Do not eat me when I set you free!"
Just as in the ancient fable
of Androcles and the Lion, a character befriends or aids a wild creature
. In a moment of need, the creature returns the favor. Sometimes the creature was a Pet Baby, Wild Animal
, and the character wonders "Why Isn't It Attacking?
" before recognizing it.
While a pessimist will claim that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
, this Trope can often prove the exact opposite, and sometimes save the hero from certain doom.
often acquire animals like this; they are often Talking Animals
, perhaps even humans trapped
in an animal's body
See Character Witness
when this Trope applies to humans and other sentient creatures.
See also: Interspecies Friendship
, I Owe You My Life
, Disproportionate Reward
, Character Witness
, Rampage from a Nail
, Laser-Guided Karma
, Because You Were Nice to Me
, and Come Back My Pet
. Contrast with The Farmer and the Viper
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- In a tire commercial, a driver brakes suddenly to avoid running over a beaver. Returning to the same road in a rainstorm, he brakes to avoid hitting a tree that falls in his path. Looking out the window, he sees the bridge up ahead being washed away, as the beaver (who's just saved him from an unplanned swim) salutes him from beside a gnawed-through tree stump.
Anime and Manga
- Futari wa Pretty Cure, episode 6, a bear cub rescued by Nagisa stands between the girls and its demon-possessed mother long enough for them to figure out a plan.
- In one episode of Azumanga Daioh, a young wild cat Sakaki had befriended in Okinawa tracks her all the way back home after its mother dies, and shows up just in time to save her from a pack of cats led by Kamineko.
- Momo-chan, the dolphin that Lucia and her friends free early in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, shows up later to take Kaito to bail them out at Lucia's palace.
- A lot of Ash's Pokémon tend to be acquired in this fashion. As well, there's Ash's Charizard, who was completely disobedient until Ash saved its life, again.
- In particular, Pikachu warmed to Ash (and saved his butt) when Ash protected him from a flock of pissed-off Spearow.
- Also, when the Team Rocket scientist Dr. Namba kidnapped Lugia's child in order to capture the parent, Ash and his entourage, along with James and Jesse (who sympathized with it) helped rescue the young Pokémon, and the adult Lugia later became an Androcles' Lion towards all of them.
- In Pokémon Special, Pearl helps a Luxio redeem itself in front of its pack and it eventually ends up saving his life twice before officially joining his team.
- A bunch of Unown that the Sinnoh trio rescue later helps Pearl break into the Veilstone Galactic Building by performing a Zerg Rush to distract the guards.
- Natsume Yuujinchou: An extremely powerful Youkai jumps to Natsume's defence against an evil Ayakashi, because Natsume helped him earlier in the episode. This is a pretty big reward considering all Natsume did was cover up a puddle in the road so that his servants could pass ? despite the fact they could just as easily have walked around it...
- Alucard and Integra Hellsing first meet this way. Later, Alucard pulls their relationship into Poisonous Friend category, amplifying Integra's Church Militant tendencies.
- Koihime†Musou subverts this as a running gag, with Chouhi keeps bumping into the animals her father saved, supposedly - only to discover too late that they aren't.
- The lapins in One Piece. During the Drum Island arc, Luffy pulls a mother lapin free from the snow after an avalanche. Later, the lapins protect Luffy from attacking villains. Unfortunately, while allowing Luffy to get his True Companions to safety, they end up viciously beaten for their trouble.
- In an early issue of the No Need For Tenchi manga, Sasami finds and tends to a wounded wolf that had escaped from a truck, whom she affectionately calls "Doggy". It protects her from a group of wild wolves and, many years IRL-time later, returns to help tend to a group of abandoned raccoon cubs in her school.
- Played darkly in the "Valley Forge, Valley Forge" arc of The Punisher MAX. A group of soldiers have been tasked by to bring down Frank Castle, knowing he won't use deadly force against them, by a cabal of corrupt U.S. generals. In the end it turns out that the Colonel tasked with leading the soldiers was once a soldier in Vietnam who had been rescued by Frank's Marine Recon squad. When the generals come around to view their "prize", they find an untied Frank with a fully loaded 1911. You can guess what happens next. Mildly subverted in that the Colonel covered up the corrupt generals' crimes in the processnote , and that Frank Castle wanted them dead more than he wanted their crimes exposed.
- It turns out that the Colonel wanted the Punisher stopped, but the generals wanted the Punisher dead — so the Colonel actually volunteered for the task to ensure the former.
- In All-Star Superman, Superman keeps a baby sun-eater as a pet. After he releases it, it comes back to save him when he is battling Solaris, The Tyrant Sun.
- Shows up in Bone, where the heroes befriend a baby rat creature whom Smiley Bone names "Bartleby". In part because it's dangerous for a rat creature to be near humans, in part because they figure he belongs with his own kind (never understood that reasoning when "his own kind" is Always Chaotic Evil), they manage to get him back in the company of rat creatures. Of course, later on, when they need the help, one of the rat creatures turns out to be Bartleby, and by the end he's their travel companion for keeps.
- In Red Sonja: Beserker, Sonja rescues a polar bear cub from a pair of sadistic hunters who were tormenting it. The bear stays with her through winter. Years later, Sonja has been sentenced to die in the arena and a bear is unleashed against her. It turns out to be the same bear and refuses to attack her. The two team up and escape the arena.
- In Swordquest: Fireworld, the fire-goblins spared by Torr later return the favor by summoning Tarra to rescue him when he's attacked by an undersea monster.
- This tends to be a stock element of Fairy Tales in general.
- In Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf, the hungry gray wolf eats Ivan's horse, and in amends helps him.
- In Golden Fish an old fisher catches a titular Golden Fish who asks him to let it go and promises all kinds of favors in return... We-ell, it didn't work out eventually, but it was not its fault.
- In Frog-Princess while on his quest to free the imprisoned princess from evil Koshey, Tsarevich Ivan captures various animals for food but releases them when they beg for their lives and promise to do him a favor in return. They later help him to obtains Koshey's Soul Jar.
- In Magick Rng the main hero literally gives a shirt off his back to buy a dog, a cat and a snake from a cruel owner. That works out PERFECTLY!
- In Golden Antelope a boy helps all kinds of animals, getting transportation, guidance, protection and even fundraising in return.
- In The Golden Mermaid, the prince actively offers his horse to the starving wolf, and gets its aid.
- In Don Joseph Pear, the hero spares the fox's life when he catches it stealing, and it plays a Chessmaster Sidekick role for him.
- In The Death of Koshchei The Deathless, Prince Ivan spares several animals and they help him against Baba Yaga.
- Similarly in Grimms' The Two Brothers, and in The Three Princes and Their Beasts.
- Subverted in some versions of "The Frog Prince" or "East of the Sun and West of the Moon"; the girl does not only not wish to set the animal free, she bashes it against the wall and has to make amends.
- In "The Grateful Beasts", Ferko magically cures some animals; in return, they perform his impossible tasks.
- A traditional tale of the Kamba people from Kenya tells the story of a man who cultivated a field. The crops attracted gazelles so he put traps to defend his crops. One day he saw a lion had fallen in one of the traps. He freed the lion after making him promise that he would not hurt him. Once free, however, the lion attacked him. Then the man convinced the lion to let him go after promising that he would give him the heart of every animal that fell on his traps from then on. One day his wife accidentally fell on one of the traps, and just as the man ran to free her the lion appeared and demanded the wife's heart as part of their agreement. The man refused saying that this wasn't part of the deal, so the lion killed the wife and badly injured the man. Moral of the story: Don't trust lions. They f*cking eat people.
- This trope is how Adam Squall is introduced to the namesake family of Rise of the Galeforces, specifically after Sarah frees him from Aperture's Mind-Control Device. While it's true that all of the family members are humans, Adam is the only Prehistoric Monster-turned-human protagonist.
- In Friendship Is Magic: Prime: Act III, Fluttershy saves an Insecticon from getting eaten alive by a Scraplet, and the Insecticon (which she names Bob) becomes ever-faithful to her.
- In several Harry Potter fanfics like the Danger Verse universe or the Alpha series, Harry helps the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets to survive (instead of killing it as in the books) or to get rid of Riddle's influence, and the basilisk ends up helping defend the castle.
- In The Jaded Eyes Series Harry/Tristan befriends Alucard after giving him a bite to drink and freeing him from the alchemical leash put on him by the Hellsing family.
- The My Little Pony fanfic The Cadanceverse has the main characters run into a kraken as they journey through the Everfree. Most of the group wants to fight or run, but Lyra realizes that the kraken is trapped and in pain, and convinces the group to help out. When they remove the stakes fixing the kraken to the lakebed, the kraken is so grateful that it gives them a ride across the lake.
- George Lucas claims in the commentary for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back that Yoda is based on a myth about a magical frog that sits on the side of the road, teaching things to people who are kind to him.
- Also, behind-the-scenes footage of filming the Ewok village scenes in Return of the Jedi show Lucas also intended a similar idea for that movie. Since Luke convinces the others not to harm the Ewoks and surrender, they return the favor by saving the Rebels from the Imperials during the planetside part of the final battle.
- In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn saves Jar-Jar Binks (albeit inadvertently) from a Trade Federation battalion, prompting Jar-Jar to offer himself as a servant in a life debt. Later, it is thanks to Jar-Jar that they persuade Jar-Jar's people, the Gungans, to help the people of Naboo fight and defeat the Trade Federation.
- D'leh in 10,000 BC had second thoughts before his concern over an about-to-drown Sabretooth Tiger led him to release it from where it was pinned under some trees, since falling rain would quickly drown it. For the record, it saves his and his father figure's asses later and marks him as The Chosen One to bring down The Empire.
- In Anchorman, Baxter (Ron Burgundy's dog) befriends a wild bear in his travels. This comes in very handy when the main characters are confronted with that bear's cousin and Baxter is able to talk him down.
- Labyrinth. Sarah rescues Ludo from some Goblins. Later on he saves her from attack in the Goblin City by "calling the rocks" and sending the Goblins flying like tenpins.
- In It Could Happen To You, Charlie loses all his money in court to his ex-wife but feeds a homeless man and even gives him bus fare. The homeless guy is actually an undercover reporter (and the movie's narrator). He writes about Charlie's generosity in the paper which is so touching that people donate money to him. Meanwhile, his ex-wife marries another "millionaire" who turns out to be a con man who steals all her money, forcing her to move in with her mother and go back to her old job in a nail salon.
- Played for equal parts Rule of Funny and squick in the Land of the Lost movie when Rick Marshall is swallowed by "Grumpy" the exceptionally intelligent T-rex who's been chasing him for most of the movie. He later shows up to rescue Will and Holly by riding Grumpy into a pack of Sleestaks. It turns out that he... er... escaped through the back door, and in the process removed some intestinal blockage, for which Grumpy was very grateful.
- In Night at the Museum 2, Larry gives a Giant Octopus the water it desperately searches for. They instantly become friends, and the Octopus helps out in the Final Battle against Kahmunrah.
- The Bandersnatch in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland helps Alice after she gives it back its disembodied eye, by licking the scratch wounds it inflicted on Alice's arm earlier and healing it, lest it (quoeth Cheshire Cat) "festers and putrefies". It later serves as her mount in the Final Battle against the Jabberwock.
- Two Brothers has two tigers that fail to attack the humans that used to own them, even though everyone else is convinced the tigers are dangerous.
- Natty in The Journey of Natty Gann befriends a wolf by opening a door for it to escape a dogfight and later giving it some of her food. The wolf subsequently returns the favor by bringing her a freshly-killed rabbit when she's lost and hungry in the woods, and accompanies her for most of the rest of her travels.
- In the short Sintel, the title character rescues and befriends an injured baby dragon she calls Scales. Later, adult Scales recognizes and hesitates to harm Sintel, who doesn't recognize Scales and strikes her down.
- In Crank High Voltage, Chev Chelios saves a dog that was being tortured by two assholes with a Shock Collar. The dog returns the favor by assaulting someone who was about to attack Chev from behind.
- Hiccup and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup downs Toothless with a catapult, and initially wants to kill him, but realizes the creature is just as scared as he is. They befriend each other and Hiccup invents a rudder-like device to function as a tail for Toothless, since his is partially damaged/deformed.
- In The Living Daylights, James Bond and Kara fight their way out of a corrupt prison in Afghanistan. While escaping, they free the prisoner in the next cell on a whim. The prisoner turns out to be a leader of the Afghan Resistance, and becomes a valuable ally.
- A variation in The Avengers: Tony Stark's kindness towards Bruce Banner, and his lack of fear and suspicion of the Hulk, pays off later on, when the Hulk, previously described as a "mindless beast" consciously and deliberately saves Tony's life during the final battle.
- In Riddick, Riddick is attacked by a dog-like beast on the planet on which he is marooned. He takes his belt buckle and tosses it, and the animal goes to fetch it and eventually becomes something of a pet to him.
- In Shanghai Noon, Chon Wang saves a young Sioux Indian boy from an enemy tribe. Impressed by his skills, he gets welcomed as a tribe member, even accidentally marrying the chief's daughter, who provides Big Damn Heroes moments throughout the rest of the movie, especially in the end with the rest of the tribe.
- Double Subversion in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Despite Harold's protests, the titular pair picks up a hitchhiker that turns out to be Neil Patrick Harris, borderline crazy from drugs, who ends up stealing their car, which only adds on to the problems they were already facing trying to get to White Castle. In the end, when they finally arrive at White Castle, Harold realizes he has no money (he was unknowingly robbed), so Neil, who's also there, pays for their meal.
- Maleficent receives the services and undying loyalty of the raven, Diaval, after she saves him from a farmers net.
- In Secondhand Lions, the two uncles purchase an old circus lioness to have dangerous prey to hunt. However, they find the lion too old and decrepit, and take pity on her, so they release her into their cornfield instead. Throughout the movie, Walter leaves food for the lion, caring for her from a distance. The lion repays the favor in the end when Walter is being attacked, by attacking his assailant. While she successfully protects him, the lion is so old that in the sudden excitement, she suffers a heart attack and dies.
- Played with by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld novel Small Gods. The hero saves a predator, who (now bound by Narrative Convention to do the Androcles) tracks the hero down to symbolically not kill him. However, as is noted, other people didn't save it, and so are fair game.
- Kit removes a bit of wreckage from around the axle of a sentient Lotus in the Young Wizards novel So You Want to Be a Wizard, and the Lotus ends up becoming a friend and helper to them. It pulls a Senseless Sacrifice against the Lone Power, trying to buy them some time to run. It later shows up in Timeheart.
- The Book of Three (1964), the first of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain novels. Taran helps a wounded baby gwythaint (a species of gigantic dangerous bird creatures forced to serve the Big Bad Arawn). The favor is repaid twice; once in the first book when the gwythaint tells Gwydion where to find Taran and the Horned King, and more significantly at the end of the fifth and final book.
- Watership Down:
- Invoked by Hazel, who realizes that the rabbits will need friends and allies in their new home. It ends up earning them the friendship of a mouse, who tells them about a good feeding place, gives them information on the proximity of men, and gives them advance warning when the Efrafans come to attack; and later nets Kehaar, a gull, as a very useful ally and scout.
- In one of the El-ahrairah stories (The Story of King Fur-Rocious) in Tales of Watership Down, on his quest to win a nearly hopeless war against the titular King, El-ahrairah befriends a cat (who jumps into his ear), saves a flock of crows (who also jump into his ear), helps out a nest of ants (into the ear again), and even enlists the help of a river (the other ear, this time). This pays off when, on three consecutive nights, El-ahrairah challenges the King and is shut up with the Rabid Rats (taken care of by the cat), the Wildcat Weasels (killed by the crows), and the Savage Stoats (chased off by the ant nest). The fourth night, King Fur-Rocious decides to have El-ahrairah tied up next to his sleeping place so he can figure out what's going on. For his pains, he eats the full might of the river, and promptly leaves thereafter. That was the only war El-ahrairah ever fought, and that was how he won it. Question: How big are his ears, anyway?! They are woven from starlight.
- In "The Fox in the Water", El-ahrairah altruistically gives advice to many creatures. A snake he helps, having heard of his other deeds, gives El-ahrairah the power of hypnotic eyes temporarily, which he uses to defeat a family of foxes that had been causing problems for his warren.
- Harry Potter:
- In "Chamber of Secrets", Harry frees a House Elf named Dobby, who ironically had tried to covertly save Harry's life in a rather...roundabout way. Many books later, Dobby makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save the lives of Harry and his friends when they are imprisoned in Malfoy Manor and trying to escape.
- When he was a student, Hagrid kept hidden and saved the life of a baby Acromantula named Aragog. The giant talking spider therefore feels a debt of gratitude to Hagrid: he has forbidden his children from ever harming Hagrid, and has personally refrained from eating humans. However, this is as far as his kindness extends: any other human who wanders into his neck of the woods is fair game.
- In Jean Auel's Earths Children series, Ayla adopts a cave lion and raises it from a cub. Later on, after the same cave lion kills Thonolan, she's able to calm it down and preventing it from killing Jondalar. Also, she saves the life of someone else in a similar fashion in the next book (same lion).
- Sword of Truth.
- Richard's pet Gar (named, originally, Gar). He's only called that by Richard until he tells Richard his real name, "Gratch". And once Richard realizes Gratch's intelligence, he's more of a friend than a pet.
- Scarlett the Red Dragon and her son. Richard helps Scarlett rescue her egg (which Darken Rahl was using to force her into servitude). Scarlett (and her son) later aid(s) Richard several times at critical junctures throughout the series when a dragon of her species would ordinarily just eat him regardless.
- In Beyond the Deepwoods, Twig removes a rotten tooth from a mouth of a Banderbear, a species normally nonthreatening but not very social, and befriends it, and even after it dies, he keeps the tooth as a charm and manages to more or less befriend the whole species.
- Psmith tells a version of this story in Mike and Psmith, although he seems to believe that it was a pterodactyl Androcles encountered.
- In Snow Crash, Y.T. shows kindness towards a Rat-Thing, a monstrous cybernetic killing machine. This, as well as taking care of a stray dog with a bullet wound, results in some Laser-Guided Karma at the end of the book.
- It might not apply, but in The Jungle Book, Mowgli's ability to remove painful thorns from the paws of his wolf pack brothers makes him a popular fellow among them. At the same time, however, this is seen as a point of shame among some of the wolves; a fact which Shere Khan uses to turn the pack against Mowgli.
- Subverted in the Chinese short story The Story of the Zhung-Shan Wolf by Ma Zhung-Shi: the wolf pleads a scholar to conceal him from a hunting party, promising to be grateful afterwards. When the hunters are gone, the wolf reveals its true nature and threatens to devour the scholar. Luckily, an old wise-man passes by and tricks the wolf, which the scholar then kills.
- In The Message, the fourth book in the series, the kids help a humpback whale that is being attacked by sharks. At the end of the book, the whale shows up and drives off Visser Three (who was attacking the kids in the form of an alien sea-monster).
- This trope is recycled in the thirty-ninth book, The Hidden, which is perhaps not-so-coincidentally another Cassie book.
- The Hobbit. The Eagle saves Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves because Gandalf once helped him heal his wounded wing.
- In the Lords of Deliverance book "Eternal Rider'' by Larissa Ione, Cara Thornhart earns a hellhound's love and respect after she heals it from a bullet wound.
- In the book King Crow, a crow helps the hero, Cormac, by bringing him news. It does this because Cormac pulled an arrow out of its wing.
- Firebird (Lackey): Ilya gets help from a horse, nightingale, fox and the titular Firebird by saving their lives (or tasty apples, in the horse's case).
- In Monster Hunter International book "Monster Hunter Vendetta", the readers learn that young Julie befriended a shoggoth. Later, the creature throws off the Big Bad's mind control and refuses to hurt her. This shocks everyone, as shoggothes were previously classified as Always Chaotic Evil.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Ned Stark's children find several dire wolf pups dying of starvation (their mother died). They save the pups and adopt them, and the dire wolves become loyal animal companions (especially Jon Snow's albino wolf Ghost: Jon was the one who offered to save the little creatures).
Live Action TV
- Bernard's Watch: the eponymous Bernard used his time stopping watch to remove a tack from an old man's foot. When he is later sent to the new Headmaster, a Mr Lion, who turns out to be the old Man, and instead helps Bernard escape punishment.
- Grimm: Averted in "Last Grimm Standing" where Monroe helps pull a nail out from the hand of a gladiator shortly before they are set to fight each other. But the gladiator had no problem trying to kill Monroe and probably would have if Nick didn't intervene.
- House: In one episode, House heals his crazy cellmate's pet cricket that got sick from a pesticide. Towards the end of the episode, when another inmate is about to stab House with a knife, House's cellmate bashes the other guy in the head with a chair.
- Merlin: Inverted, in which it is the dragon who gives advice and aid to Merlin whenever he's in trouble, and eventually extracts a promise from him that he'll eventually set him free from the dungeon under the castle. When Merlin finally gets around to destroying his chains, the dragon promptly lays waste to Camelot.
- Power Rangers Operation Overdrive: Invoked when Tyzonn the Mercury Ranger removes an improbably long spike from the foot of Norg, a Yeti sharing his cave with one of the Big Bads. While it does mark the beginning of Norg's shifting loyalties, the fact that he hardly counts as a villain to begin with makes it more a case of Butt Face Turn.
- Revolution: Averted Trope. In "Chained Heat", The bounty hunter Charlie persuades Miles to spare later on hands them over to the militia. Later, in the episode "The Plague Dogs", Danny manages to save Tom Neville from certain death and still ends up being rearrested.
- Scrubs: Referenced in an episode, when JD removes a splinter from the Janitor's toe (though he mixes it up slightly with the story of the mouse and the lion). When JD tries telling it, the Janitor cheerfully cuts him off with "Oh yeah, and then the lion kills and eats him anyway!" Funnily, the Janitor does try to repay JD with unwanted help, causing JD to waste the favor by asking the Janitor to do something trivial. The Janitor notes afterward that JD could have asked to not be hassled for a year.
- Sinbad: In the 2012 miniseries, Sinbad gives water to a chained-up Roc, for which it lets him pass and leave his prison, and later gets the key to its chains and releases it. In return, it saves him from a probably fatal fall, capsizes a boat full of people out to kill him, and beats its wings to provide enough wind for his ship to get on its way.
- Stargate Atlantis: The story is referenced by the main characters. Sheppard and Teyla get kidnapped by a wild-looking man who has a Wraith tracker implanted in his back. Sheppard gets the expedition doctor to remove it and in exchange, the wild-looking man, Ronon, attempts to capture a member of the team who had gone AWOL. He fails, but eventually joins the expedition.
- Also in Atlantis, Sheppard is kidnapped by Genii and imprisoned along with a Wraith. They form a truce with each other long enough for the pair to escape, and later the Wraith, "Todd", becomes a valuable ally in the fight against all the Wraith hives, and a (relatively) moderating influence within his own.
- Stargate SG-1: Daniel Jackson makes reference to this story during an episode when he is the captive of an injured Unas and helps its recover from its wounds. Along with other interactions, this develops into a sort-of respect, and the Unas saves his life.
- In a tale about a frog princess, the hero successively spares a bear, a rabbit, a duck, and a pike, and gets help from each of them at the end of the story to get Big Bad Koschei the Deathless' Soul Jar: The bear tears down the tree, the hare kills the hare, the duck strikes the duck, and the pike retrieves the egg from the pond it had fallen into.
- One of the most frequent plotlines in the entirety of ancient folklore, to judge by the number of times it pops up in Grimm's Tales and other sources. Typically, while on his way to rescue the princess, the hero assists several small critters in succession; later, when the villain places seemingly-impossible tasks in his way, the grateful critters return to complete them for him (for instance, when charged with sorting an enormous heap of mixed grains, the hero of one tale is helped by the ants he'd rescued.) It can be guaranteed to work if someone else (preferably an older sibling) ignores the metaphorical lion first.
- In Chrétien de Troyes' Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, Yvain helps a lion fight a giant serpent. The grateful feline then follows Yvain, saving his butt quite a few times.
- Aesop's Fables:
- "The Lion and the Mouse" begins with a lion sparing a mouse, who then later returns the favor by freeing him from a hunter's net.
- "Androcles and the Lion", of course. He took the thorn from its paw, which rather helped when they met in Gladiator Games.
- In the old tale "The Golden-Headed Fish," an Egyptian prince is sent on a mission to capture the title animal, which is the only thing which can save his father from a deadly illness. He succeeds, but can't bring himself to kill the beautiful creature and sets it free. His father (who recovers anyway) banishes him from the realm. Out in the world, he encounters a strange man who wishes to work as his servant, and accompanies him on a number of adventures, saving his life frequently. After the prince's father dies, his mother summons him back to take his rightful place as king, at which time the servant requests permission to leave.
Prince: If it were not for you, I should long ago have been dead.
Servant: And if not for you, I too should long ago have been dead. For I am the golden-headed fish.
- St. Jerome also tames a lion by removing a thorn from its paw.
- There is a story that says that when when King David was on the run from King Saul, he went to hide in a cave, where he saw a spider he was going to kill, before the spider could stop him, saying he'd help him somehow. King David laughed, but spared it anyway. The spider formed a web around the cave's opening, so when King Saul came by the cave, he said there is probably no-one in there, as they'd have to tear through the cobweb to get in. He left, and King David blessed the spider.
- An almost identical story is told of Muhammad, albeit different in an important way: the cave that he and his friend Abu Bakr were hiding in during the Hijra (flight from Mecca to Medina) had a spider in it, which Abu Bakr was about to absentmindedly kill but which the Prophet had him spare. The spider made a cobweb over the opening, and some birds nested, leading Quraish (the pursuing Meccans) to look elsewhere.
- A similar story tells of how King Solomon was stung by a bee once and wanted to kill it, but it asked him to spare her so she'd help him some day. King Solomon reacted the same as David. Later, when the Queen of Sheba came over to test King Solomon's famous wisdom, she asked him to pick the real flower out of three―the other two were impeccably fabricated. The King was stumped, when the bee came over and sat on the real flower. (So apparently the bee gave her life for the hell of it, and made a heroic sacrifice to make amends. Ah well.)
- In the Mahabharata, Yuddhisthra makes it up the mountain to Heaven (and is indeed the only one of the Pandavas to do so), because he refused to leave behind a dog that followed him. It turns out the dog is a reincarnation of his father, Dharma.
- Melampus from Classical Mythology was a soothsayer and healer who gained fame and fortune simply by being kind to animals. In one version of the myth he saved a pair of orphan baby snakes. In gratitude they licked his ears, giving him the power to understand animals.
- Maud and the Wyvern - The Wyvern killed almost everyone in the village that it lived in... except for one, Maud, who he sees as its only friend.
- Dane Cook once did a comedy bit about this, noting how if there's someone at work with a creepy, outsider-vibe to them, it's best to be nice to them so they'll spare you when they finally show up at the office with a shotgun.
"You know that one fat guy in work who's always shunned and made fun of? I always give that guy a Snicker's bar, because the day when he inevitably snaps and storms the office shooting everyone and finds me, he'll go 'Thanks for the candy' and walk away." — Paraphrased version of the routine
- Deadpan comic Jackie Vernon had a bit about this. A man is in the African jungle when he hears moaning and finds an elephant with a thorn in its foot. Very carefully he approaches and removes the thorn. The elephant tests its foot and goes away. Ten years later the man is in Madison Square Garden in NYC at the Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus. During the entrance march of the elephants one of the elephants stops in its tracks, looks across the arena at the man and then breaks away and runs up to him, scattering everyone in its path. It stops in front of the man, reaches down with its trunk, raises him out of his seat, throws him on the ground and steps on him, crushing him to death! (Loooooooong pause) "It was a different elephant."
- Bill Hicks frequently brought it up while discussing his views on creationism.
If the world is 6000 years old and the Bible covers all of it, why doesn't it say "Jesus and His disciples walked towards Nazareth, but lo, the trail was blocked by a giant Brontosaurus... with a splinter in his paw. And the disciples did run a-screamin' 'What a BIG FUCKING LIZARD, Lord!' But Jesus was unafraid and took the splinter from his paw and the Brontosaurus became his friend. And Jesus sent him to Scotland to live in a loch
and attract fat American tourists with fat American wallets
and the Scots did praise the Lord!
- Subverted in The Hairy Ape—the ape in question kills the main character after he frees it.
- George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion plays this as straight as you'd expect from the title.
- Subverted in Wicked: as a student at Shiz, Elphaba (who will later become the Wicked Witch) rescues a lion cub from experimentation and frees it from its cage. This cub grows up to be the Cowardly Lion, who apparently holds Elphaba responsible for his cowardice and helps Dorothy and the Tin Man to hunt her down.
- Early in Resident Evil 4, Leon Kennedy encounters a dog caught in a bear trap. If the player has him free the wolf, it returns later to help Leon fight his battle against the first "El Gigante" boss by distracting the monster.
- At the end of Super Metroid, the baby Metroid which Samus spared at the end of Metroid II: Return of Samus sacrifices itself to rescue Samus from Mother Brain, after having imprinted on Samus beforehand, seeing her as its mother.
- In Super Metroid, the Etecoons and Dachoras were friendly creatures who helped Samus by teaching her techniques like the Wall Jump and the Shinespark. At the end of the game when Samus is trying to escape the Zebes-Shatttering Kaboom, taking a slight detour shows them trapped in a room. If they're saved, a tiny dot will be seen escaping the explosion in the ending sequence. By Metroid: Fusion, the same Etecoons and Dachoras are seen in a containment hold in the BSL labs partway through the game, and Samus sets them loose. At the end of the game, they return her both favors by piloting her ship into the docking bay (with the help of her computerised CO, Adam), allowing her to escape the station just before crash landing.
- Speaking of Samus, Pikachu plays this role with her in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In the story mode Subspace Emissary. After she rescues him from a generator, he accompanies her through the enemy base, helping her get her suit back, and eventually saving her ass when Ridley tries to smear her across the wall.
- King's Quest V:
- A rat that Graham saves by throwing a boot at the cat that's chasing it returns the favor by gnawing through Graham's ropes when he's tied up in a cellar, about to be killed. Of course, this becomes less sweet when the gameplay mechanics come into play: If the player doesn't think to throw the boot when the cat and the rat unexpectedly, briefly appear the first time they enter a certain location, good luck when reaching the cellar.
- In the same vein, the mountain range has a starving eagle on the mountain range that needs to be fed when the player only has two food rations left. Failure to do so means he won't save Graham from the Roc that plucks him away at the end of the chapter.
- Averted in Exile and the first three Avernum games. There are a few minor encounters where freeing a trapped monster will result in said monster trying to kill the player because they're "nowhere near bright enough to comprehend the idea of gratitude." However, the later Avernum games do toss in a few hungry animals who will follow the player around briefly and help during fights after being fed.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2, the player can choose to help out a hungry giant spider by feeding it some bugs. When the player is given ownership of Crossroads Keep later in the chapter, it will take up residence in the castle's basement and knit some spider-silk clothing in gratitude.
- During an early stage in StarTropics, Mike rescues a dolphin. At the end of the game, the dolphin saves him, taking him back to C-Island.
- In Crusader of Centy, many of the player's animal companions must be saved from a horrible fate. Three are held captive by bosses, and two are hopelessly stuck somewhere awaiting death.
- In the first Clock Tower, Jennifer can rescue a crow from being imprisoned in the Barrows Mansion. It's the only way to achieve one of the better endings when Mary tries to kill Jennifer at the top of the clock tower, but is assaulted by a group of crows who cause her to fall to her death. They can also attack Bobby (if he's chasing Jennifer) if he's led into the room where the original crow was freed.
- Inverted in Ōkami: The player is the wolf, who's actually Amaterasu, Shinto goddess of the sun. Through the game, she runs around assisting helpless villagers, and eventually they save her in her time of need by restoring her to her former strength by praying for her.
- Mass Effect: Commander Shepard has the option of letting the last Rachni queen go free. She's captured again in Mass Effect 3, this time by the Reapers. Shepard can once again set her free, leading the Queen to send Rachni workers to aid in the construction of the Crucible project.
- Early on, Ark helps Liam, a young lion cub, pass a test to descend into a valley of death and return alive. Later on, after Beruga wipes out Neo-Tokio with a bio-weapon, a girl in the sewers is found being menaced by a lion. Guess who it is!
- Inverted and then played straight during Liam's escorting mission, as the monster that acts as the stage boss pleads for its life and offers a "treasure" to Ark if he lets it go. The treasure chest is a booby trap, but before the monster could catch Ark off guard, Liam kills it offscreen and then guides Ark back to the safety of the lion den, where his kin welcome Ark as one of them.
- In the SEGA Shadowrun game, Joshua saves Licourtrix, a dragon, from a squad of hunters sent by Renraku. In thanks Licourtrix allows Joshua to take a scale form his body, which can be used as a spell component by a shaman during a ritual. He also pulls a Big Damn Heroes moment during the final battle, binding Thon with his magic and offering Joshua a strategy to destroy him.
- The Legend of Zelda
- In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the boss of the first dungeon (Gohma) is tormenting the tail of the resident guardian spirit, the dragon Valoo. Once Link has put paid to that monster, Valoo expresses his gratitude. Later, when Link is captured by Ganon, Valoo pulls a Big Damn Heroes and brings help, then blasts Ganon with a gout of flame.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the first dungeon is full of monkeys that need to be saved, and are quick to return the favor, proving themselves to be vital to progressing through said dungeon. Furthermore, the first miniboss is a possessed baboon named Ook. After Link beats the insect possessing him off of Ook, he returns the favor by helping Link in the fight against the dungeon's boss Diababa.
- In Fallout 3, the player comes across a dog and a wastelander fighting some raiders in a junkyard. The wastelander always dies, but the dog is saved it becomes a useful companion.
- World of Warcraft features a variant of this, where some one is kidnapping Wyvern babies. They follow the player around for a little while after they're saved, then seem to leave. After fighting the person who captured them as a miniboss, the wyverns then reappear, attack the boss, carry him off a cliff, then drop him.
- In League of Light: Dark Omens a mama griffin who had her injured baby returned to her by the player character shows up at the end to transport the hero and the Damsel in Distress to safety.
- In Banjo-Kazooie, the various Jinjos Banjo and Kazooie have been rescuing through the game will turn up to help you during the final battle with Gruntilda.
- Chuck in Dead Rising 2 can tame one of the bosses, a hungry tiger named Snowflake, by finding pieces of steak in the casino where she lives and feeding them to her. After which she becomes a very useful follower, protecting Chuck from the zombies that have infested Fortune City and can be given to Chuck's daughter Katey as a pet.
- In Revived Legends: Road of the Kings giving a mama roc her lost baby results in her acting as a living bridge across an impassible chasm.
- In Psychosis, if you save the caterpillar from the ants at the beginning of the game, a swarm of butterflies will help you fight the first boss.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, if you're not playing as the Human Noble you can recruit the mabari warhound party member by doing a side-quest in Ostagar, which involves finding a cure for a mabari that's been infected by the darkspawn taint. The dog will appear in a special encounter on your way to Lothering and join your party. Justified, in that mabari are intelligent enough to count as an Uplifted Animal.
- Torg does this for the demon Mosp in this Sluggy Freelance strip. This ends up saving his life when the "That Which Redeems" arc rolls around.
- One of the rare worksafe pages of Oglaf deconstructs the "kindly hunter" version of the story. The hunter releases a deer, a rabbit, and a sandwich upon their requests, and then keels over and starves to death. In the last panel, the creatures gather around his grave and wonder if there wasn't something they could have done.
- In Endstone, Vandric recognizes Kyri in the arena.
- In Doc Rat, they discuss but do not push this trope with Charmane.
- Belkar in The Order of the Stick released an allosaurus that was being held in a cage in the Empire of Blood's arena. Even though it was sedated and returned to the cage, it seems to remember Belkar's deed; in a later scene when one of the Empire's soldiers uses it as a steed during an attack on the Order, it obeys Belkar's command not to eat Roy, and helps drive away the other soldiers. Justified, as Belkar is a ranger with the Wild Empathy ability, making it easier for him to tame and command wild animals.
- It seriously needs to be pointed out that this can be a very bad idea in real life. Approaching a wild animal in distress and trying to help it, unless you are fully prepared and know exactly what you are doing, can be lethal.
- Christian the Lion and the men who set him free.
- Another lion story - in the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, one of the lions turned on its trainer for an unknown reason... however the lioness went and started biting at the lion's tail and chased him away from the trainer to save him while the trainer escaped.
- A real life Julie of the Wolves went away from a wolf pack for a bit, then found the wolf pack which still remembered her.
- Wojtek, the soldier bear. During World War II, some Polish soldiers bought a (abandoned) bear cub during their stay in Iran from a local boy. After raising him and taking him with them on their deployment to Italy, Wojtek helped the soldiers carry artillery ammo.
- Subversion with most Real Life wild animals- because not All Animals Are Domesticated, as some people found out. Also subverted with some Real Life domestic animals. And, of course, also played straight with some wild animals—though without the kind of expert knowledge to reliably know when it will or will not work (and how to do it right), it's quite a gamble to take. Many people take a reasonable compromise by helping the animal enough to save it/get it out of trouble, but will do everything to keep themselves safe while doing so (such as keeping their distance, using long tools and various things for protection in case the animal reacts negatively, always erring on the side of caution, etc).
- Truth in Television, though what degree depends on the animal and the circumstances. The extreme loyalty of some dogs is particularly noteworthy—there's a reason dogs are called Man's Best Friend.
- In humans, this is an instinctive behavior that manifested due to the obvious benefits it provides. Since you aren't always at the top of your game, and you are not infallible, having someone go out of their way to help you is a HUGE bonus in your survival odds—and returning the favor keeps that relationship going for both individuals.
- Played disturbingly straight during the Columbine Massacre, when Eric Harris encountered Brooks Brown. Harris instructed Brown to leave the school, citing their recently created friendship. Minutes after this, Harris and Klebold would go on to murder 13 people.
- Subverted (and double subverted) in a classic joke. A man saves an elephant with a thorn in its foot. The elephant takes a long look at the man and the hurries off. Some years later, the man sees the elephant in a local circus. Since elephants never forget, the man decides to enter into the elephant's enclosure to comfort his old friend the elephant. He is promptly crushed to death, at which point the narrator usually points out that it was probably not the same elephant.
- In Hitherby Dragons, "A succession of magical fish" a woman gets offered her heart's desire from various fish. But it turns out, she's just being kind for the sake of it. She gets ice cream, though.
- The Steampunk Tarot deck shows said lion on the "Strength" card, instead of the usual gentle-control that said card usual shows. It still fits the card's archetype, being of intelligence triumphant over base instinct.