The Cowardly Lion of Oz

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The Cowardly Lion of Oz
Cowardly lion cover.jpg
Cover of The Cowardly Lion of Oz.
Author Ruth Plumly Thompson
Illustrator John R. Neill
Country United States
Language English
Series The Oz books
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Reilly & Lee
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Preceded by Kabumpo in Oz
Followed by Grampa in Oz

The Cowardly Lion of Oz (1923) is the seventeenth in the series of Oz books created by L. Frank Baum and his successors, and the third written by Ruth Plumly Thompson. It was illustrated by John R. Neill.


The story opens with the blue-whiskered Mustafa of Mudge, an Arabian Nights-like turbaned desert monarch, who collects lions. Mustafa demands one more lion — he already has nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine and a half lions, but there are no more lions in Mudge, and Mudgers are forbidden by Ozma, on penalty of death, to travel beyond the desert borders of Mudge. However, when the clown from the circus in Stumptown (somewhere in the humdrum backblocks of the United States of America), whimsically called Notta (actually, Notta Bit More), and a serious-minded orphan boy, called Bobbie Downs (but renamed as Bob Up, by the cheerful Notta), drop into Mudge, this seems to Mustafa to be his chance to send a non-Mudge person on a quest to bring the famous Cowardly Lion to be the ten thousandth lion in Mudge.

People and animals who live in Oz are immortal. This explains why half a live lion is part of Mustafa's collection. When this almost ten thousandth lion was about to be captured by Mustafa's chamberlain, Tazzywaller, it was sliced in half by Tazzywaller's scimitar as Tazzywaller fought to prevent the lion eating him. Only the rear-half, still alive, could be brought back to Mudge. (How a lion could eat an immortal chamberlain is not explained, however. Equally inexplicable is the existence of meat as a food ingredient.)

Meanwhile, in the Emerald City, the Cowardly Lion[1] believes that he has depleted the reserve of courage imbued in him by the Wizard (as told in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). The mischievous Patchwork Girl, Scraps (who was first introduced in an earlier Baum-written title), misdirects the Lion into thinking that he can only replenish his courage by eating a courageous man. Since the Lion dislikes the notion of harming anyone, he resolves to do the deed as quickly as possible, and so embarks on his quest.

Unbeknownst to the Cowardly Lion, he is being hunted by the two would-be lion-hunters: the circus clown, Notta Bit More, and orphan Bobby Downs, dubbed Bob Up.[2] At a difficult point in the circus show, Notta had accidentally said the magic spell that sent Bob and him to the Munchkin land of Mudge, where the tyrannical and cranky ruler, Mustafa,[3] sends them on their quest: two cowardly lion-hunters hunting a Cowardly Lion. Accidentally, the three meet and complications ensue.

The adventurers meet bird people on the Skyle (which is a "sky isle") of the unexpected and unhappy air-borne land of Un, as well as Nikadoodle, the Un bird with a telephone beak, who is also known as Snorer. The feathery, bird-headed people of Un spend their day wishing (shouting loudly for whatever they want), then fishing (for birds), and then fighting. They are all thoroughly “un-“, or negative: unfriendly, unkind, ungrateful, and so on. However there is an unexpected twist to this, that resolves the fighting, near the end of the book: happily, loose ends are neatly tied, for all the strands of the multi-narrative — as should be the case in all good fairy tales. (The unpleasant people of Un replace their wicked king, I-Wish-I-Was with the one good Un, whose name is Unselfish.)

At a convenient, hungry moment Notta, Bob and the Cowardly Lion, who has met up with the lion-hunters without adverse consequences, find the Traveller's Tree, planted by the Wizard Wam in the year 1120 O.Z. This remarkable tree has branches that grow serviettes, cups, jugs of coffee, tea, and cocoa, and covered dishes containing Ozish stew, meat hash, chops, and baked potatoes. They fly about in a Flyaboutabus, which is a mechanical-goose-headed boat fitted with whirling feathered wheels.

Throughout the adventure, words are used to mean, simultaneously, one thing, and another. Sometimes this is merely witty: at others it directly affects the development of the story. For example, Notta and Bob find themselves in the Kingdom of Doorways, ruled by King Theodore the Third, and Queen Adora the First. Confronted by a sign on the queen's door that advises, “No one without a title need apply”, Notta chuckles (he is trying to cheer up young Bob, who suffers profound mental seriousness after years in the grim orphanage), “Well, we may not be earls, but we're early”. King Theodore the Third happens to be behind the fourth door that leads into the kingdom. His wife is Adora the First, although hers is the fifth door. She accuses Notta and Bob of stealing her jam. Then she suddenly asks, “When is a door not a door?” Notta replies, “When it's adorable, like your Majesty … Or when it's a jar of door jam, like the one your Highness has lost”. In case the richness of the punning is not wholly obvious, as well as the door-based, or partial-rhyming, names of the king and Queen, Notta has mentioned a-door-able, a-jar like a door being open, and door jamb. Further attempts to placate the two tetchy royals by amusing them, using further puns and pun-based riddles (a book is like a tomato because it is read through, for example), fail — and Notta and Bob flee for their lives.

Later they encounter the bottled city of Preservatory.

The more usual characters, Dorothy, Glinda, and their compatriots, become involved before a satisfactory conclusion is reached.

For each of the two central characters Notta and the Cowardly Lion, the story of The Cowardly Lion of Oz, is an individual quest to clarify their identities. The Cowardly Lion seeks to become a brave creature — despite FEELING cowardly. Notta searches to become a confident person — despite his appearance as a jolly entertainer. He always begins on the defensive when meeting new challenges, and resorts initially to a disguise. When he meets the Mudges he dons the disguise of a lion (which greatly confuses Mustafa who is eager to find his ten thousandth lion. When Notta meets the King and Queen in the Land of Doorways, he disguises himself as a bear. Later he disguises himself as a huntsman, which greatly confuses the Cowardly Lion who mistakes Notta for a brave person (and therefore a possible candidate for eating — for the Lion to regain courage). Later still, as he and Bob approach the Emerald City he disguises himself as a witch. This not only scares Bob, rather naturally, it scares Dorothy and the other inhabitants of the Emerald City, who are of the opinion that no witch is a good witch. Scraps, the impudent and well-meaning Patchwork Girl, punnishly admonishes Notta, “If you come as a witch you must expect to be treated every witch way”.

To handle his inherent lack of self-confidence, through almost the entire book, Notta enters fresh encounters with new people according to his own four rules: first, use a disguise; then if that fails, be extremely polite; thirdly, if that fails, tell a joke; and fourthly, if that fails, run for your life. As these rules repeatedly result in disasters, albeit narrowly avoided, the Patchwork Girl advises Notta to abandon the four rules, and replace them with two new ones: first be nice, and then be natural — not a bad moral for any human reader!

Yet being natural is something that Notta is not, either at the beginning, or the end. He is always in the disguise of being a clown, in full clown make-up, even when this means re-whitening his face by using the sugar-dust on a marshmallow (from the remnants of a brown paper bag of marshmallows Bob had been given by the sour-faced Orphanage Director to be enjoyed while attending the circus — the initial circumstance that connects Bob and Notta), or the flour he later finds in a cottage. We never learn who Notta is, as a person, behind the clown make-up and costume, which are only ever temporarily interrupted by his nervous disguises.


  1. ^ Jack Snow, Who's Who in Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1954; New York, Peter Bedrick Books, 1988; p. 46.
  2. ^ Who's Who in Oz, pp. 22, 146.
  3. ^ Who's Who in Oz, p. 141.

External links[edit]

The Oz books
Previous book:
Kabumpo in Oz
The Cowardly Lion of Oz
Next book:
Grampa in Oz