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The So-Called Coward
We're pacifists, not passivists.

Ev'ryone considered him the coward of the county
He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong
His mama named him Tommy, the folks just called him Yellow
But something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong...
Kenny Rogers, "Coward of the County"

A character is passive and nonviolent, unwilling to engage in meaningless brawls. A bullying braggart sets out to harass the character. The character backs down, and is branded a coward.

However, a peril soon crops up that endangers the entire community. The bully wets his Levis. The quiet character then engages in spectacular acts of heroism that stun the community. Thus endeth the Aesop.

May or may not be a Badass Pacifist. Often has a subplot of Single Woman Seeks Good Man.

If we reduce life to videogame terms, this person would probably be a Stone Wall, not able to do much actively, but capable of selfless acts of defense if needed.

Compare Cowardly Lion, who believes himself a coward; the tropes may overlap but seldom do. It may, however, overlap with Beware the Nice Ones or Martial Pacifist. Contrast Dirty Coward, for which these will be mistaken at first. Also contrast Nobody Calls Me Chicken, when being labeled a coward provokes a character into doing something brave (or stupid).


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Subverted in the Battle Royale manga, where muscular black belt Sugimura is exactly this kind of character, steadfastly refusing to fight even when backed against the wall by street thugs and subsequently branded a coward by all the delinquents in the class. However he continues this moral stance when on the island, refusing to go for fatal blows and as a result allows the most dangerous kids on the island to go free to kill again. This convinces him to abandon his stance and use firearms in the next fight; however, in a cruel twist, his opponent has at this point improved his skills to the point where Sugimura is no match for him.
  • Subverted with Yasutora Sado in Bleach, where - despite being Made of Iron - he absolutely refuses to fight for himself. Even if he dies. Good thing Ichigo shows up...
    • Recently, Keigo, of all people, has been becoming this. On seeing exactly what the Big Bad is capable of, knowing full well that he wants to kill them all, he turns around to attempt to hit him with a stolen zanpaku-tou, just to see if it'll work. Sure, the owner of that zanpaku-tou came to get it back, but it's the thought that counts.
  • The more aggressive and deadly characters in Trigun sometimes accuse Vash the Stampede of being a coward, due to him almost always being ridiculously goofy and extremely non-violent. By the end of each episode, said characters usually end up seeing him for the saint-like Bad Ass that he really is, or are utterly confused and dazed.
    • Others who don't react like that argue that he would've saved thousands of lives if he'd killed his genocidal brother when they first fought 100 years ago. (And a third point of view is that if he did give up pacifism, he'd be on his brother's side, fighting to save his people from the humans unknowingly killing them for energy.)
  • Eyeshield21: "Your dream for 4 years? It's over, trash". And the cowardly runningback Kobayakawa Sena smacks Agon's ass down in the most awesome way.
  • Despite being called as such, Tail from Dorothy of Oz isn't.
  • In the Jaya Arc of One Piece, Bellamy mocks Luffy's belief and ultimately decides to beat him and Zoro, but Luffy told him not to fight and they were beaten up. When they next confront Bellamy after, he mocks Luffy for being weak and cowardly. However, this time around Bellamy's made the mistake of stealing from and beating up one of Luffy's friends. The result: Luffy defeated him with one punch.
    • Which is an echo of what Red-Haired Shanks (Luffy's idol) did in the very first chapter (which is probably where Luffy got the attitude from). Shanks allows himself to be humiliated in front of his friends and his men by a lowly bandit chief rather than start a fight, only to come back to kick major butt as soon as the bandits actually start threatening his friends.
      • And just as a heads up, Shanks is one of the most powerful people in the world. His mere presence can knock out hardened pirates.
    • This is the defining trait of Usopp: He will spend much of a conflict trying to run away, but he will invariably regain his bearings and wallop the enemy he feels he's most suited to fight. That being said, when he DOES fight, he still has a "coward" motif to his style, using hit-and-run tactics and keeping his distance with long-range attacks. This reaches its peak when he fights ghost-girl Perona, as when Usopp figures out her powers, he instantly turns the tables and leaves her foaming at the mouth from terror over him.
  • In Samurai Deeper Kyo, the main protagonist, Kyoshiro comes across as a sniveling coward, who refuses to engage in fights with anyone, even when people he cares about are being threatened. At first, he only seems to be a competent fighter when his body gets hijacked by a more violent resident soul living inside him, named Kyo. However, it's later revealed that without his stubborn pacifism, Kyoshiro is even more dangerous than Kyo.
  • Tended to happen to Digimon Adventure's Jou/Joe Kido whenever he had A Day in the Limelight. Being the eldest in the group, he tended to be almost obsessively cautious, until it was clear the others thought of him as a coward or his older brother saw him as a doormat. Note that he ends up doing some of the badassest things in the series, including jumping off a roof onto an evil Digimon to save TK, getting squeezed like a tube of toothpaste for his troubles, and still telling TK's older brother to beat the other evil Digimon first, 'cause he's just fine; it was this act of selflessness that caused Matt to realize The Power of Friendship and caused his Crest to glow.
    • He also climbed a mountain alone to make sure it was safe for the rest of the group to climb it back when his digimon was not able to evolve and later almost drowned saving the kid again in a later episode.
    • He also jumped on the back of a GIANT RAMPAGING FLYING HORSE MONSTER to prevent it from attacking Tai and Sora.
  • Akito Tenkawa of Martian Successor Nadesico is initially believed to be a military deserter because he has the universe's Humongous Mechas' Unusual User Interface on his hand. In truth, he's from Mars, where said interface is much more common because it's used for heavy machinery too — and on top of that he's suffering PTSD because he only barely survived an attack by The Empire.
  • Played with in Monster when Tenma, hiding on top of a bookcase in a library waiting to kill a man, reminisces about being called a pussy as a child because he got inordinately scared during a game of hide-and-seek.
  • Gundam SEED: Kira Yamato may be a pacifist who did not originally want to get involved in the war, and who avoids fighting whenever possible, but may God help you if you put his friends in danger. His Wikipedia and Gundam Wiki articles even point out that he tends to be shy and non-violent in most situations outside of combat, while also having a strong desire to protect people.
  • From the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Kai Shiden constantly complained and acted selfishly and cowardly in and out of the battlefield, which didn't earn him too many friends. However, he still got in the Guncannon and fought back whenever required, and after taking a few levels in badass his cowardly traits disappear completely.
  • Kintaro from Golden Boy. In several episodes he's beaten up by thugs, bodyguards, and once, a jealous boyfriend. Near the end of that episode, however, he dodges a punch and counters with one of his own, shown from three different angles, all of which are horribly painful to look at.
    Kintaro: I opened up a can of whoop-ass. I used my Kenpo Training Center technique in such a manner as stupid as this! I have so much more that I need to learn!
  • The prime minister in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was given her position because she lacked the determination and ambition to interfere with the actual people in charge. But she would only take so much shit.
  • Shinji, and eventually, Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion are a quite reluctant to pilot Eva, but still wreck Angel shit until their crippling psychological hindrances kick into high gear.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman, Dr. Leslie Thompkins is a stolid pacifist. During the "No Man's Land" arc, a group of criminals entered the free clinic she was running and tried to start somethin'. She stood there, took absolutely no action whatsoever except tell them she was not going to take up arms against them, and stared their asses DOWN!
  • A particular story of Usagi Yojimbo illustrates this perfectly. A small band of thugs are drinking in an Inn when Usagi enters. One of them bumps into him and angrily demands Usagi apologize. Usagi, being the polite bunny that he is, does so, cordially bowing and offering to purchase the thug a new drink. The thugs decide that Usagi must be a coward and goad the 'wronged' thug into challenging Usagi to a duel. Usagi declines - thus cementing him as a 'coward' in the thugs' eyes - and the 'wronged' thug insists. Usagi is roughly the single most skilled swordsman in his entire world, so this ends exactly as you'd imagine. He walks away from the 'wronged' thug's corpse, lamenting fools who cannot discern the difference between politeness and cowardice.
  • An issue of Captain America in the 1970s had a character who became a conscientious objector to Vietnam after serving his tour treated like this. He won't use a gun, either, but manages to save a (temporarily disabled) Cap and the person who had called him a coward from a supervillain by withstanding torture, without blinking, buying enough time for help to arrive. The denouement is over here.
  • In the DC Universe Alternate Continuity series DC: The New Frontier, Hal Jordan is considered a coward because he wouldn't shoot down enemy aircraft during the Korean War, and suffered a mental breakdown when forced to shoot an enemy soldier to save his own life. Fortunately, the Guardians of the Universe and a dying Abin Sur weren't as biased and recruited him as the sector's Green Lantern. He saved the world.
    • The Animated version of this story has a dying Abin Sur explain to Hal Jordan exactly why his status as The So-Called Coward makes him the only kind of person worthy of wielding a Green Lantern ring.
      Abin Sur: I had to find a deserving one. A man entirely without fear.
      Hal Jordan: A lot of people think I'm a coward because of what happened in the war. Did your ring tell you about that?
      Abin Sur: You are no coward, Hal Jordan! To you, all life is precious - and this ring is far too powerful to fall into the hands of someone who doesn't understand that.
    • Kyle Rayner, another major Green Lantern, has gotten this on occasion, since he has no real badass nature or backstory. Hal Jordan was praised by superheroes for being "The Man Without Fear," which is actually a common requirement for Green Lanterns, while Kyle feels fear like any normal person. At one point Ganthet referred to Kyle's ability to be afraid as "a defect," as opposed to the other way around. Of course, the Sandman said that made him better then Jordan, and the other Lanterns wound up having to learn to "remember" fear in order to avoid being overtaken by Parallax.
      • The reason why Kyle is often considered one of the most powerful Lanterns in history (and eventually became the godlike Ion) is because he knows fear and has learned to overcome it. A man who knows no fear doesn't have anywhere near the willpower of a man who can rise above his fear.
      • This is now how new Lanterns are selected. The older Lanterns were chosen for their lack of fear; those chosen since the re-ignition of the central battery on Oa are chosen for their ability to overcome it.
      • At the same time, it's also been shown that the reason Hal has no fear is because he's already experienced his greatest fear in the past.
  • The first arc of Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal is titled "Coward", and follows a brilliant but small-time thief who is considered overly cautious by his peers. He does his best to survive a caper gone wrong (which he had to be emotionally blackmailed into doing to begin with) until one final loss sends him on an eerily calculated and cold-blooded Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Toward the end, he confesses that he runs from danger because he's terrified someone will set him off like when he killed his friend's father.
  • The Gronk in classic Strontium Dog is constantly in fear of being beaten up and moaning about his weak heart. However, whenever Johnny and Wulf are in real trouble, he usually manages to come through and perform some small act which saves them.
  • Spider-Man: Peter Parker often pretends to be cowardly as a way of stopping people from guessing his secret identity. Some excuses he's been forced to think up to explain his absences also make people think of this, such as when he claims he has a headache so he can slip off to fight a villain, but the other school kids think he's just scared of playing volleyball against Flash.
  • The DC Comics western character Johnny Tate/Johnny Thunder's backstory is that he promised his dying mother that he'd never use a gun. He later creates the character of Johnny Thunder to get round this. A subsequent retcon reveals that his father thought he was a coward, using his mother as an excuse.
  • When he was young, the Marvel Comics western character Kid Colt avoided guns because he knew he was an expert shot with a bad temper, and didn't think other people were safe if he had one. As with Sheriff Tate, his father assumed he was a coward.
  • Similar to Spiderman, Clark Kent pretends to be a coward because its the perfect excuse for him to slip away in a dangerous situation and return as Superman.

    Film 
  • In The Karate Kid Part 2, this was essential plot of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel going to Okinawa and being harassed by an old rival, Sato, and his bullying nephew as cowards. However, during a sudden typhoon, the rival is amazed at seeing Miyagi and student risk life and limb performing rescues while being disgusted at his own nephew being a totally useless coward in the shelter at the same time. In fact, Sato is so impressed that he insists on helping them personally.
  • An interesting variation appears in Stalag 17- the cynical protagonist, who is in a prisoner of war camp is considered not only unpatriotic but also suspected of being a traitor and is brutally beaten up for this. When he does save everyone, the others are shocked as per the trope, but he still has no desire to be friendly with them nor they with him. Though he does give them a friendly salute and smile before he departs.
  • The Big Country is all about this trope. The ship's captain Jim MacKay played by Gregory Peck is opposed to fighting, and is called a coward for it. In particular, he has no interest in participating in his future father-in-law's increasingly violent rivalry with a nearby landowner over a nearby river and tries to negotiate a fair and peaceful solution, which earns him the jeers of everyone and the disgust of his fiancee; however, he's just savvy enough to realize that their entire feud is basically two bitter, petty old men trying to get other people to fight their battles for them. Eventually, a long-standing and particularly vocal rival does manage to provoke him into a fist-fight — and after they've knocked the stuffing out of each other, he wearily asks what, exactly, either of them have proved by it. The rival comes to respect him a bit more.
    • In the climax, he also gets himself roped into a duel with the cocky, arrogant son of one of the old landowners who's provoked him like this before. Guess which one faces the duel head-on honourably without flinching and which one cheats. A clue: the cheater is not the one played by Gregory Peck. When the son, exposed as a coward, tries to shoot Peck's character in the back, his own father shoots him.
    • It's suggested that Jim was a captain in the navy during the Civil War, with a distinguished career... which sickened him on war and unnecessary battles.
    • Jim explained early on that after his father died in a duel of honor, he lost any interest in showboating.
  • Deconstructed in Straw Dogs, where the nerd's revenge exposes him as the true villain of the film. Although it really is hard to feel sorry for his victims.
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Jimmy Stewart's character is not so much a coward as a wimp, but eventually decides to put aside his lawbooks and face Liberty Valance with a gun.
    • Partially subverted given that it was Doniphon who shot Liberty.
  • Sky High featured Layla, a pacifistic and intellectual student, who refuses to use her powers of controlling flora in the hero/hero support class assignment program (stating that she only ever uses such powers for self defense). Because of this, she's put into the hero support category, basically second-class citizenship in this universe. Later, when the school that had put down her and her friends so much is in trouble, she wipes the floor with the duplicating henchperson. Of course, the fact that this ultra-powerful student voluntarily chooses to forgo her chance to train in the 'hero' path, it kind of makes the main character look like an ass.
    • Will seemed plenty fine in the movie to continue being a sidekick after he had gotten his powers, but was involuntarily switched to the hero program because the school's administration knew about his powers after his fight with Warren. Layla would probably would have been forced to do the same if she'd had a more public display.
  • In The Monster Squad, Fat Kid guns down the Gill Man while his former bullies cower and watch.
  • The Lion King has a rare villainous version that played out Scar as a skinny weakling. Scar himself mentioned that he was no match for Mufasa in a fight early in the film. However, he definitely holds his own in his battle against Simba in the climax of the film, putting more hits on Simba than Simba does on him, before the villain's demise. (Of course, Simba spent most of his time living a life of indolence with a warthog and a meerkat, and Scar had to get that scar from somewhere...)
  • In Key Largo, Frank appears cowardly in Rocco's eyes because the "living war hero" refuses to pick up a gun and take a shot at the mobster. Nora and James both believe that Frank could tell the gun wasn't loaded from the weight, but Frank rebuffs such talk. Frank's desire to "make a world in which there's no place for Johnny Rocco" comes back after the sheriff mistakenly kills the Osceola Brothers for the deputy's death and it looks as though Rocco will get away.
  • In Fat Man and Little Boynote  scientist Michael Merriman reports that people in his hometown were less than impressed when he told them he was going to "a P.O. box in New Mexico" rather than shipping out to fight in World War II. As implied by the film's title, Merriman was assigned to the Manhattan Project.

    Folk Lore 
  • There is a Japanese folk tale about a bully who harassed a man eating with his wife by taking away his chopsticks. When the wife demanded them back, the bully just laughed at her. Wife proceeded to beat the tar out of said bully and took back her husband's chopsticks. A witness asked her where she learned to fight and she answered "My husband taught me." When asked why her husband didn't fight himself, she answered "He's afraid he might kill someone."

    Literature 
  • Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter is portrayed as an outwardly timid and meek young lad, bullied by Malfoy and his gang. But he proves his Gryffindor bravery at the end of the first book by standing up to Harry, Ron and Hermione when he thinks that they're going to lose more points for Gryffindor. The real show of bravery, however, comes in the seventh book; after the Death Eaters take charge at Hogwarts, he becomes the leader in a group of student rebels, opposing the Death Eaters' regime and supporting Harry Potter, sustaining painful punishment as a consequence. He is aided by Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood, who are just as brave as him. Then during the battle, he basically spits in Voldemort's face by defiantly refusing to join The Dark Side and killing the last Horcrux while on fire! He does this even when he thinks Harry is dead and they have no chance of winning. If that's not brave, nothing is.
    • Also, Horace Slughorn is more of a Lovable Coward, choosing at first to evacuate himself along with Slytherin House during the final battle. Later, however, It turns out he only left to rally up reinforcements in Hogsmeade and came back, leading Slytherin House into battle to help defeat the Death Eaters.
  • The novel The Four Feathers may be the trope originator.
    • He may have been a so-called coward but in the movie he was a very real oathbreaker. He was after all an officer in the British Army. What did he think he had enlisted for?
      • Actually, it seems very unlikely that he had enlisted himself. It isn't explicitly stated (at least in the movie) but it seems rather obvious that his father forced him into accepting a commission. The reason he gave for resigning—to take care of the family estate, which had fallen into woeful disrepair under his army-mad father—does seem to get forgotten rather promptly, though...
  • Old Yeller is one of these in both the movie, but especially in the book, hence his name. He normally acts the coward around people running away from beatings, theatrically whining when he gets hit, but by the end of the book he is shown to be anything but a coward.
  • Played with in the Discworld novels with Rincewind, in that he actually is a coward, a self-confessed one in fact, but nonetheless keeps performing great acts of heroism. Though his travels have made him skittish and jaded, and he would like nothing better than to sit at home in a quiet room, he has: saved the Disc from incineration using a creation spell lodged in his head; challenged a powerful Sourcerer with only a half-brick in a sock despite knowing that it would lead to almost certain death or worse; took it upon himself to distract countless nightmares from the Dungeon Dimensions to prevent them from invading the Disc; journeyed through Hell; prevented civil war in Agatea; and saved the continent of Fourecks by bringing rain. Not bad for an abject coward.
    • In Unseen Academicals he does something, almost unnoticed in the background by the other wizards. During a shouting match between two high-ranking, powerful wizards he quietly puts a half brick in one of his socks, the same way he prepared for the last wizard war... Thankfully, one of the people who noticed his act had the political chops to get them to back down.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cainnote  in his memoirs calls himself an abject coward; however, he just keeps pulling off feats of bravery that even Astartes would envy—much to his dismay, as it only adds to his heroic reputation that he just as well could live without. Although it has been suggested numerous times that he might not give himself enough credit - that being said, the author does not set his foot down on the canonical interpretation of Cain.
  • Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird refuses to teach his children to shoot, leaving that to Uncle Jack. Turns out he's a pretty good shot himself.
    • That's more of him being an Actual Pacifist until it is necessary to put down a rabid dog. His real display of courage comes when he defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in a Deep South town in the 1930s. Doing this leaves him alienated from many of his peers, and he later has to face down a lynch mob (who included some of his friends,) to protect his client and gets publicly spat on by his opponent (who he then refuses to fight). He knew all of this would happen, and he took the job anyway. There is a reason why this pacifistic, soft-spoken lawyer beat Indiana Jones to first place on the American Film Institute's list of heroes.
  • In Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, both Red and his men are called cowards by Red's powerhungry uncle, Richard. In subtler words than that, but cowards nonetheless. Throughout the book, however, they are shown as brave and decent men, who just rather stay at home and tend their flocks than to fight in a war that neither side has a hope of winning.
  • In Xanth, Goody Goblin is kind of like this. Most male goblins are cowardly braggarts, so because he was fed reverse wood as a small child, he's quietly brave.
  • Sam Tarly in A Song of Ice and Fire is slow and fat and scared, to the point that he outright, albeit, shamefully, admits he's a coward. Legions of Hell pop up and, well, now he's Sam The Slayer... He still calls himself a coward though.
    • It seems like he has a lot of trouble standing up for himself. Put someone he's responsible in danger, though (Gilly, Maester Aemon, the baby) and you'll be in serious trouble.
  • Gwystyl from the Chronicles of Prydain is derided as a coward by all the heroes; however at the end of the book tales of his heroism in battle reach their ears, though he denies it all, and it's hinted that he's deliberately fostering a cowardly exterior.
  • In The Winds of War there is Leslie Slote, a self-called coward. A secretary at the American embassy who considers himself a coward (really he is just timid; there is a difference) is traveling through Germany with some neutral diplomats. An SS flunky demands to know which of them are Jews. In a Moment Of Awesome, this secretary faces down the SS officer, telling him that he has no right to that information, and announcing in effect that either none of them are Jews or all of them. Intimidated by the secretary's unaccustomed imperiousness the SS officer lets them go.
    • In fact, the fiancee of the hero's son is a Jew and is traveling with them.
  • The puppeteers in Larry Niven's Known Space setting are a race of cowards. A very few, whom are considered by their own kind to be insane (and who often exhibit personality disorders recognizable to humans) are just brave enough to leave their homeworld in ships made of virtually indestructible material and equipped with emergency stasis fields in which they can wait out the end of the universe if necessary. One of these scouts, Nessus, is a manic depressive who often curls up into a motionless ball in his depressive state. He turns his back to run from any danger... although he might just be getting ready to kick your heart out through your chest with his hind leg. Nessus goes out in to the big scary universe because, although he is truly terrified by the dangers amongst the stars, he feels a great sense of duty to his people that, since he can bear to face such dangers, he must to protect the rest. His altruism extends to the human companions he often hires, whom he has more than once risked his own life to save. After such moments of heroism, he becomes a blubbering mess when he realizes just how much danger he was actually in.
    • To give a frame to the extent of his depressive states, at one point in Ringworld he ask to go into a building during a conversation in the street, afraid of the infinitesimal probability that a a meteor could kill him
    • Louis Wu is a pretty good human example. His first reaction to violence is to run away. That said, he never panics while he runs away, and his running away is almost always so he can get into a better position to kill you from a distance. And when he becomes a Protector, well... forget that running away crap.
  • Ogden Nash wrote a poem called "Custard the Dragon," about a woman named Belinda who lived with a kitten, a mouse, a dog, and a dragon. Counter-intuitively, the kitten, mouse, and dog were all described as being very brave, while the dragon was a coward. However, when a pirate broke into the house and threatened Belinda, the three supposedly 'brave' animals ran and hid, and Custard stood his ground, fought the pirate, and ate him.
  • Kayim the versifier from Lloyd Alexander's The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha not only declares himself as a coward, but does so proudly, declaring that the world could do with a few more cowards around (a speech which endears him to the titular character). However, all through the book he never acts even remotely cowardly and is a loyal and steadfast friend — what he lacks isn't courage, but the exaggerated pride and willingness to kill or die that so many other characters of the book possess.
  • In Helm, Leland de Laal receives little respect from his father Dulan or his brother Anthony for his tendency to back (or run) away from fights and not hit back ... but when Dulan places him in charge of a unit of mounted infantry, he quickly reveals himself to be the epitome of a quick-thinking, brave, and capable Reluctant Warrior instead.
  • This could be said of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, mixed with Beware the Nice Ones - small and shy and generally avoids conflict, but if you threaten him or his friends...whoo boy.
  • The wizard Howl of Howl's Moving Castle describes himself as a coward, and main character Sophie calls him a "Slitherer-outer", but when his family, or his friends, are in danger, he proves why he's known as one of the most powerful wizards in Ingary.

    This carries over to Castle in the Air, when Howl demands that the djinn explain why it stole his castle and transformed Howl and Calcifer into a genie and magic carpet respectively. Abdullah is impressed, because he remembers how cowardly Howl was as a genie and knows that the man is likely still terrified of the djinn, but is still standing his ground.
  • Older Than Steam from John Dryden:
    Oh that my Pow'r to Saving were confin’d:
    Why am I forc’d, like Heav’n, against my mind,
    To make Examples of another Kind?
    Must I at length the Sword of Justice draw?
    Oh curst Effects of necessary Law!
    How ill my Fear they by my Mercy scan,
    Beware the Fury of a Patient Man.
  • Jacob in The Red Keep at first appears to be a stereotypical Dirty Coward medieval Jew, especially when he tags along with the hero Conan to get his protection from bandits but later runs and hides as soon as Conan is in trouble. Later evolves into this trope when he shows up on the eve of Conan having to fight a Duel to the Death, points out that his race is banned from carrying arms and thus has no option but to run, and then reveals that he had, at great personal risk and expense, acquired armor of supreme quality for Conan as the only form of repayment in his power. This armor ends up saving Conan's life in the aforementioned duel.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the third season of Game of Thrones, fat, unskilled Lovable Coward Samwell Tarly actually pulls a You Shall Not Pass on a White Walker that has come for Gilly's baby. When it shatters his sword and tosses him effortlessly to the side, Sam charges at it with nothing but an dragonglass dagger. Which promptly shatters the Walker into a thousand pieces.
  • Played straight in Dad's Army. Private Godfrey reveals that he doesn't think himself capable of killing anyone, and that he was a conscientious objector during WWI. The rest of the unit ostracise him for being a coward and consider kicking him out of the Home Guard, until he saves Captain Mainwaring from a smoke-filled house. Whilst recuperating, they find that Godfrey has both service medals for WWI and the Military Medal for bravery. Turns out Godfrey joined the Royal Army Medical Corp instead and won his medal for bravery during the Battle of the Somme, after venturing into No Man's Land and rescuing troops whilst under heavy fire.
  • The Doctor, beloved time traveler from Doctor Who, is an ardent pacifist (kinda), has no problem being called a coward by those around him, and sees no problem with running away from the variety of nasty monsters he encounters each episode. He is, of course, a total genius who never fails to face down the bad guys and save the day.
    • In Frontios, despite being freaked out by his Genetic Memory of the enemy, Turlough braces himself and goes back.
    • The BigBads of Doctor Who thinking that The Doctor is a coward is, in part, due to The Doctor using Obfuscating Stupidity, and in part due to the fact that Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, because this is a man who has taken on some of the universe's nastiest of the nasty, like Daleks, Cybermen, and performing acts of derring-do such as transporting the TARDIS onto a crashing airplane with no idea how to fly it in an effort to save lives.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the definitive example of this trope. Other Trek characters and even real-life Trek fans felt Picard was too 'soft', especially when compared to the more two-fisted Capt. Kirk. But as Picard demonstrated no less than a thousand times, sometimes you don't need fists to beat somebody badly. Of course, when fists were needed, he used those as well.
    • Best examples here and here.
    • The Federation is a whole interstellar civilisation with this reputation. They mostly live by ideals of peace over war and defence rather than conquest if fighting is necessary, mutual cooperation and understanding, individual rights and self-expression balanced with honouring whatever group one has joined, and other ideas that would seem to mark them as Wide-Eyed Idealists. They also have a well-armed, well-trained, and most of all large fleet to back those up if needed, and, as Deep Space Nine made clear, a tendency to start looking like the best option going...
      [Garak takes a drink of root beer and grimaces from the taste]
      Quark: What do you think?
      Elim Garak: It's vile!
      Quark: I know. It's so bubbly and cloying...and happy.
      Elim Garak: ...Just like the Federation.
      Quark: And you know what's really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it.
      Elim Garak: It's insidious.
      • The best example of understatement of the Federation's military strength would have to be the Galaxy-class starship, made famous as Picard's Enterprise. Here is a ship classified as an "Explorer", responsible for charting unknown regions of space, and discovering new life forms and civilisations. Yet the Galaxy-class has enough firepower to take on pure warships like the Klingon Vor'cha attack cruiser and the Romulan D'deridex Warbird—both of which are considered pure battleships by the series. During the Dominion war story arc of Deep Space Nine, Galaxy class ships were responsible for more Dominion losses than any other ship class in the Federation fleet. The two circumstances where Galaxy class ships were lost in direct combat both involved weaponry modified to pass through energy shields and one suffering a kamikaze attack.
      • Another is the Nebula-class, which main role is science and research, one despite losing its shields, due to weaponry modified to pass through energy shields, still ripped apart a Cardassian warship in seconds. You soon realize why Cardassia never ever wants a war with the Federation ever again.
      • When the Federation stopped playing around and actually made a dedicated warship in the Defiant-class, they end up making a Pint-Sized Powerhouse that can take on ships many times its own size.
      • USS Defiant survived a kamikaze assault on a Borg cube. Admittedly Enterprise-E did intervene at the last moment but it's still an impressive feat for such a tiny vessel. For pacifists, the Federation know how to build pocket warships.
      • The Soverign-class is a post-359 design probably intended to replace the Galaxy-class. It's still a science and exploration vessel in intent, but you would be foolish to screw with one. It carries the brand-new Quantum Torpedo weapon system, capable of taking out a Borg sphere in two or three shots and its new shields can shrug off Borg tractor beams/particle weapons.
  • The loveable but easily cowed Sgt. Schultz in Hogan's Heroes actually stood up to Gestapo agents and threw his weight around (while pretending to be a general) to protect several Allied agents. This was aided, however, by the fact that he was completely drunk.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Marshall refuses to engage in a fist fight with the other guys, claiming pacifism. Everyone scoffs at him and calls him a wuss... until someone punches Ted, and Marshall's berserker side comes out. He and his brothers fought ruthlessly as kids, it turns out, and Marshall is (justifiably) wary of unleashing the beast.
  • Monk: The titular Monk is more or less terrified of everything. But he still goes out and fights crime. For Trudy.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander Harris is believed to be the coward, the hanger-on, and the useless Normal of the group, when he is in fact, one of the two only sane men and Badass Normals in the group. The rest of the group either ignore or are ignorant of his achievements: Xander brought back the titular character, Buffy, from the dead; is responsible for splitting the Slayer line into two instead of just one; saved Buffy's and Cordelia's (his soon-to-be 'girlfriend') lives on Halloween 1997; faced down Buffy's rampaging lover, the walking corpse Angel, to prevent him from killing Buffy; took over the protection of their hometown in Sunnydale CA when Buffy abandoned her post as a Slayer and ran away to LA; saved Faith's (the third slayer of the series, after the Second slayer Kendra dies) life, had sex with her, then stopped a bomb from killing them all, all in one night; planned the assault on and subsequent explosion into Chunky Salsa of season 3 Big Bad Mayor Richard Wilkins III; literally saved the world with his love for a grief-crazed Willow; and helped lead the final assault against the First Evil.
  • Colin Mathews from Press Gang is a genuine and frequent coward, not ashamed to throw his friends and co-workers into the firing line of his disgruntled con victims/custormers on a regular basis...but when he finds out a little girl is being sexually abused by her father he puts the whole paper on the line to help her be safe, and when a gunman threatens the Junior Gazette staff in their headquarters he nervously but determinedly heads on in via the forgotten back entryway and does the thing he does best - bargains - with the gunman to get some of his friends set free. And gets shot for his trouble. Of course, this is later subverted by his playing the wound up for sympathy like nothing you'd believe and using his actions as a get-out-of-jail-free card for any and all shenanigans that come to his co-workers' attention, but it's Colin. What did you expect?
  • In Merlin, the titular warlock is seen by most people as the cowardly, bumbling servant to the brave Prince Arthur, never knowing that he's actually saved Arthur's life and the kingdom several times over. This mainly due to the fact that he has to run away so as to not get caught helping and work behind the scenes because if he shows he isn't just a coward, but the most powerful warlock, he'll most likely be killed for his efforts.
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger's Green Ranger, "Doc" Don Doggioer, is something of a scaredy cat, mainly because he was just a mechanic and engineer when he was recruited. That doesn't change the fact that he still goes out there and fights alongside the others, making good use of Confusion Fu to deal with enemies and, in his ultimate Crowning Moment Of Awesome, single-handedly facing down someone called the Strongest Soldier in the Universe.
  • An interesting version in Kamen Rider Fourze: Ryuusei will always run away (often screaming) when a Zodiarts attacks. However, what he's actually doing is getting out of sight so he can henshin unseen. He was actually a Badass Normal before he got the Meteor Driver and Switch, and the few times we've seen him fight without the Meteor System, he turned out to be quite impressive—even when fighting against hopeless numbers with no way to henshin.
  • Ziggy from Power Rangers RPM is like this. Yeah he has no combat skills and would rather turn tail when trouble comes. But before he was a Ranger took a shipment of medical supplies he was supposed to deliver to the mob and hijacked it for needy kids instead, knowing it would bring down the wrath of the mob on him; he only became a Ranger to keep the morpher from falling into enemy hands (it had to be DNA encoded and there was no turning back once it bonded to someone); and in the finale when the rest of the Rangers are dealing with the Big Bad, he stays with Dr. K as their hideout is being invaded by enemy forces.
    • Bulk and Skull from the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers were like this, sort of. Most of the time they were cowards, but there were times when they actually stood up to the Big Bad's minions (or at least tried to). More than once, this made a big difference for the actual heroes. (And in one case, in "When is a Ranger Not a Ranger", they had their own Big Damn Heroes moment, and actually saved the Rangers from total defeat. Sadly, a side effect of the Monster of the Week's powers made them forget that it happened, but that was for the best, because they also saw the Rangers unmasked.)
  • In The Adventuresof Superman Lois constantly derides Clark as a coward, even though in many episodes, he acts fairly brave (notwithstanding the fact that he's really Superman) such as when he headed to Hollywood to supervise a film based on some of his articles, despite knowing he has a price on his head in the area, or when he assisted a doctor in operating on a mysterious "mole man" (who was believed to be radioactive) while outside, a mob was growing to attack the creature.
  • Vir in Babylon5. Cowering, scared assistant. When pushed too far, can turn into a sword-wielding maniac. Only person ever to tell off Mr. Morden. Later, he runs an underground railway saving thousands of Narn from death by the hands of his own people. And in the end, he becomes emperor.

    Music 
  • The song "Coward of the County" by Kenny Rogers, which currently provides the page quote. Tommy's father died in prison and on his deathbed he told Tommy not to follow in his footsteps, saying that "you don't have to fight to be a man." Later in the song a bunch of guys rape Tommy's girlfriend while he's away at work and he learns that "sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man." Tommy's Crowning Moment Of Awesome comes when he confronts the rapists in a bar. He turns around and they mock him for running... then they realize he's locking the door so they can't escape.
  • Stan Roger's "Harris and the Mare"

    Religion 
  • During the early days of Islam, as the religion was just gaining followers, the new followers were constantly attacked, beaten, and persecuted with no resistance because the Prophet told them to maintain peace. When they finally had formed a community, and their persecutors decided to wage a battle with them, God finally said that they could fight back. The battle that occurred at Badr was an epic Curb-Stomp Battle for the ages. Granted, the next major conflict was a loss for the Muslims, but when they took Mecca at last, it was with no drop of blood spilled, and all their persecutors forgiven.
  • Similarly, early Christians were viewed as cowards due to their tendency towards pacifism and reasoning over force and violence. Here's an interesting exercise: pick a name that was popular back then, and type it into Google with the word 'Saint' in front of it. Chances are what comes up will be the story of a very early Memetic Badass.

    Tabletop Gaming 
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, the Nezumi, as a species, follow this, usually fleeing from battle if they cannot talk their way out of it. Which they rarely can, since they live around a pit to hell.
  • The Tau of Warhammer 40K are sometimes considered this by the Imperium, as the Tau believe it's better to retreat if the risk is too great or abandoning a planet if there is no great benefit to it, as opposed to Imperial generals who use conscripts to clear out landfields by marching into them. The fact that the Tau have weapons that outstrip humans' in range and damage may also have something to do with it: the Tau suck at close combat, so they make sure the enemy is dead before they can close.

    Video Games 
  • Luigi of Super Mario Bros. is a good example. He's certainly scared, even more so when he's without his brother, but that doesn't stop him from beating the king of ghosts in Luigi's Mansion, the Master of Dimensions in Super Paper Mario, and curb-stomping the Lord of the Underworld in the same game. Oh, and he curb-stomped a planet-scale army in Mario is Missing! because... Well, they kidnapped Mario.
  • Jak and Daxter: Daxter is famous for his stories, which feature him as the hero, but he usually hides behind Jak and lets him to all the work. But when Jak is in trouble or someone wrongs his friends, don't think you can talk Daxter out of joining the fight and kicking some ass.
  • Johnny in Metal Gear Solid 4 is mostly a burden to his special forces team and one would actually wonder how he managed to get into the armed forces in the first place. He is extremely skittish and insecure and for most of the game shows no combat skills at all. However near the end of the game it is revealed that he was fully aware of his shortcomming and only joined the team because he preferred to be close to Meryl to try his best to save her, if she ever got caught in a desperate situation. Even though he lacked the performance enhancing and fear suppressing system that all other soldiers heavily relied on! And oh boy, did he!
  • Lucas from Mother 3 is referred to as a "crybaby" in the narration between chapters (and only because he cried for a few days after witnessing his mother's death). He turned out to defeat a whole army, survive tons of scrapes with fully grown men and actual monsters, as well as face his mind-controlled brother and witness the suicide of same.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Mummy The Animated Series has Jonathan Carnahan, the protagonist's uncle. Mostly providing comedic relief, he is usually the one asking if they can't just go home or talk things out in his Adorkable British fashion, but when push comes to shove he'll dive right into battle alongside his family, and will never abandon them.
  • The Magic School Bus has a kid named Arnold. He's generally depicted as being a coward, and always wishes he had "stayed home today". But when the class goes back to the time of the dinosaurs, Arnold yells at an attacking T. Rex, and scares it away.
    • A bigger example in the animated series is the space episode. The class is joined by Arnold's bratty cousin, Janet, who wishes to take some moon rocks to prove she's been to space. Arnold plays second fiddle for the most part. But at the end when Janet overloads on rocks and refuses to leave them behind. Arnold get fed up and actually take his helmet off to show her what'll happen if she stays in space. Janet quickly abandons the rocks to get Arnold back home and his head defrosted.
    • In a chapter book on the series, the bus was underwater as a submarine. Towards the end, Ms.Frizzle and the students (except Arnold) got seasick. Arnold drove the bus back to the surface.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog is definitely more courage than coward, constantly kicking paranormal ass to protect his owners—though he screams the whole way.
  • The Disney adaptations of Winnie the Pooh portray Piglet as this, there are several times he will lose it if he believes his friends are in danger.
  • Fluttershy of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the shyest, quietest, most introverted pony in the Mane Cast, to the point of even being afraid of her own shadow. That is, until something like a gigantic dragon or a cockatrice makes the mistake of trying to hurt her friends...
    • And when Rarity is kidnapped by a gang of gem loving ruffians, all of her friends suspect her to be completely helpless as their prisoner. Not only did she manage to free herself, but she made her would-be kidnappers into her sniveling servants, topping it all off with the moral that "just because [she] is a lady doesn't mean [she] is helpless."
    • Spike, being a baby dragon, has a fully justified reason to be a coward and to back down from a fight. That still doesn't stop him from jumping between Applejack and a Timberwolf (A plant monster about 50 times her size) after she's rendered helpless.
  • Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines: Zilly, the card-carrying coward of The Vulture Squadron, grows a pair after being hypnotized in the episode "Zilly's a Dilly."
  • Prince Adam of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) experiences this. Because he's forced to run away from battle to engage in his secret transformation to He Man, he's forced to accept a reputation for being a coward. When he's forced to act as Prince Adam instead of He-Man, this can result in characters who don't know his secret being shocked by his sudden desire to "play hero". In the 80s series, there's an indication that Prince Adam himself lacks confidence as a result of this and therefore often doesn't have enough faith in himself resulting in a rare overlap with the Cowardly Lion trope. In the 2002 series, Prince Adam is instead a cocky 16 year old boy who has to learn the wisdom of accepting the hit to his pride for the sake of the greater good and he therefore doesn't have the self-doubts of his 80s-series counterpart.
  • Edd from Ed, Edd n Eddy may be a thin, timid guy, but in The Movie, he was the first one to call out Eddy's Brother, who even Rolf was afraid of.
  • PJ of Goof Troop is a huge pessimist, a Shrinking Violet, keenly aware of his mortality, scared to death of his own father (though not without reason), and treated as The Drag-Along... and yet, someone is always around to save Max from his mortal peril. PJ has pushed Max out of the way of an oncoming hazard risking himself at least twice, as well as attempting to defeat or slow down dangerous criminals to protect him. He also stands up to bullies and a man who dwarfs and outweighs him in order to protect his smaller friends, with varying levels of success.

    Real Life 
  • Mess with someone's child, and you'll see just how true this trope can get.
  • Bully picks a fight with a stranger. Target tries to talk him out of it. Bully insists, and gets schooled.
  • During WWII, those conscientious objectors who couldn't avoid military service were usually made medics/corpsmen, and were stuck on the front lines with no weapons. Three such objectors would win the Medal of Honor.
    • Lew Ayres became a pacifist after filming All Quiet on the Western Front and enlisted as a conscientious objector in World War Two. His films were blacklisted due to the outrage. However, Ayres ended up joining the medical corps, and served under fire in the Pacific.
    • British conscientious objectors often became Bomb Disposal technicians. A job which saved civilian lives, but had an insanely high mortality rate.
    • Some people near Bletchley would be asked what they were doing to aid the war effort. They would never say, but by cracking German signals intelligence they did more to bring about Allied victory than they possibly could have done with a rifle.
    • A lot of British conscientious objectors and men who were similarly kept back from the front lines also joined the Volunteer Fire Service during World War II, which quickly gained a rather sneered-at reputation in the early months of the war as being a 'dodge' from the fighting. Then, the Luftwaffe started bombing British cities with high explosives and incendiary bombs, prompting these men to risk their lives fighting massive fires almost every night. A lot of tunes started to be changed.
    • In the Vietnam War, American conscientious objectors had the highest death rates of all; they flew the unarmed Red Cross helicopters into enemy territory and were often shot down—and they knew that before objecting. It was a morals thing.
      • Others served as medics. Three received Medals of Honor for actions that sound nigh impossible. In World War II, Desmond Doss personally lowered scores of wounded men down a rope litter off a cliff while still exposed to fire. He was later wounded, treated his own wounds rather than call for help, waited for others to carry him off, then got off the litter so another soldier with worse injuries could get on it. He was injured again, treated his own injury again, and crawled to an aid station. The other two served in Vietnam and died tending to the wounded while under direct fire. They are also the only conscientious objectors honored with a Medal of Honor.
  • Most Black civil-rights leaders didn't resort to violence. That didn't mean that when they had to suffer it, they shrank. No, far from it. Many got beat up, jailed, and shot, and this only made them more determined.
  • Mohandas Gandhi repeatedly insisted that his doctrine of non-violence was the opposite of cowardice: "Non-violence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Non-violence is the greatest virtue, cowardice, the greatest vice. Non-violence springs from love, cowardice from hate. Non-violence always suffers, cowardice would always inflict suffering. Perfect non-violence is the highest bravery." And despite his own pacifistic tendencies, he even asserted that violence was preferable to cowardice.
  • Chuck Norris may be the subject of many spurious "facts", but in real life, he avoids getting into fights. One time, a local tough guy tried to bully Norris into giving him his seat at a bar. Norris quietly complied. Later, tough guy realized who he was talking to and asked Norris why he didn't kick his ass. Norris replied "What would it prove?"
  • Sun Tzu urges diplomacy at all costs to avoid conflict. His reasoning for this is if you do have to go to war, it should be swift and merciless, with all available power committed to winning. A quick bloodbath incurs less casualties and achieves better success than a long, drawn out war. (He also recommends using espionage and other asymmetrical means to hasten the end of the war.)
  • This tends to be the defining rule of many forms of martial arts. Students are trained first and foremost to avoid a fight if at all possible. All that kicking, punching and arm-breaking they teach you is just so you can end a fight quickly should it ever becomes inevitable.

    Some mentors even go through the legal details, so that if you really have no choice but to fight, you can still legally claim self-defense. Interesting bits of info include: if your assailant comes at you with a knife, and you grab the knife and stab them with it, you'll go to jail; however, if you twist his arm and make him stab himself while he's still holding the knife, all knife damage to him counts as self-inflicted. It's important, because at that time there were several stories in the news of people facing trial for defending themselves—mostly jewelry store owners shooting at the burglars. The extent to which you can defend your property, rather than your life, depends in large part on where you live. Look up "Castle Doctrine" for details on the variations of the American version.
    • Case in point: Tai Chi. It may look graceful and passive, but it's actually an alternate form of martial arts which is honed by constant practicenote . So the next time you see the little old ladies practice it in the park, just keep that in mind...
  • Rabbits. Wild rabbits, in particular, can be particularly nasty to anything they perceive as dangerous, despite the common perception of rabbits always running off. Rabbits have been seen biting snakes and forcing the snakes to retreat. Here's an example.
  • Many an animal mother has attacked a larger, more formidable creature in defense of her young- a behavior so unexpected it will sometimes spook the predator into retreating.
  • In his youth, the ancient Chinese general Han Xin was confronted by a local bully who told him to either take his sword and kill him, or crawl through his legs. Han Xin chose to crawl through his legs. Later, after Han Xin became commander of the Han armies and king of Qi and Chu, he came across the bully again. Instead of punishing him, Han Xin gave him a nice job in his army.
  • France's military might have the nasty reputation of being cowards and wimps, but their military is ranked sixth on GFP's list of military strength.
    • You try sharing a land border with Germany during the Second World War. The British had a sea between the Germans and them, and the Americans had an entire ocean, but if you lived in France, the tanks were rolling right over the border and directly into the country. It doesn't compare. Of course they lost the fight and had to surrender.


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