Lions as a Media Trope

Lions are a common trope in the media. Often, they represent regality, royalty, and power, but they can also represent aggression and violence, or be used to subvert the expectations of the trope to great effect.

In this poster, we see Aslan depicted as a regal, powerful figure, one who confers royalty. He stands upon a raised altar, silhouetted by a rising sun. This draws the eye to him, almost before you see Peter in the foreground, especially since he’s situated in the upper third of the photo. This establishes him as a vital character and elevated him in the eye of the viewer. You can also see the golden lion on Peter’s shirt, further cementing Aslan’s importance. When you look at the words used in the photo, they continue to emphasize the red and gold color scheme. Interestingly enough, for this particular poster, although the title says “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, only the lion is shown.

Aslan is surrounded by reds and golds, both of which are used to indicate royalty, good fortune, wealth, especially when used in combination with each other. However, he is not in pose to attack – he stands and looks out of the image serenely. This makes him seem powerful, but not aggressive; royal, but not overbearing; majestic, but not likely to come down and bite your head off if you get too close.

Slightly different contexts, or a failure to recognize some elements of the design, could significantly affect the analysis. Red, for example, is also used for blood, for violence, and as a warning sign. Coupled with the weapons being wielded by those bearing Aslan’s colors and the fact that they are children could make it easy to see Aslan as more violent, if you lack any knowledge of the movie or the book that preceded it. And, naturally, if you come from a culture that fears lions more than they respect them, or one that does not see violence as power, the image would seem very alarming indeed.

An editorial cartoon. A raging lion comes in from the top right, with "COVID-19" written in it's mane. It towers over a small beaver holding a planner. Text in the top left reads, "March... in like a lion".

This political comic makes use of the phrase “in like a lion, out like a lamb” (a common way to describe the weather of March) to contextualize their drawing. In it, the lion is not a regal figure, although it maintains its violent power. The lion takes up a large portion of the image, bearing down on the small beaver with a planner. Spittle flies from its open, snarling mouth; its eyes are furious. It means to try to destroy the beaver, presumably meant to represent Winnipeg, and so the artist drew upon the more violent side of the lion to make their point.

Like most political cartoons, this image is very subject to cultural clash. For example, without knowledge of of the phrase “in like a lion, out like a lamb” and what it means, the viewer is likely to be more confused than anything. In addition, the cartoony style, while appropriate for the genre, does make the lion seem a little less serious. It’s hard to discern whether the cartoonist is making a serious statement about the virus or mocking it and/or the public’s response to it.

An image of the logo of the Detroit Lions, a simple blue side profile of a lion outlined in white. It lunges towards the right. Behind it is a faded image of some Detroit buildings and three wide, diagonal stripes.

The mascot of the Detroit Lions employs both the vicious and the regal sides of the lion’s symbolism. The lion is depicted lunging forwards, as if to attack, but it is not enraged like the political cartoon. It also employs a blue color scheme, which has a more calming effect than, say, red and black. The lion is displayed in front of the city of Detroit, as if it protecting them; this matches the specific purpose of this image, which is to advertise the team’s efforts to contribute to their community. Naturally, this relies on the perspective that blue is a calmer color than red, which is not always the case. Also, as with the Aslan figure, some people may be less inclined to think of a lion ‘guarding’ their city as a good thing. Nevertheless, the use of the lion for the team’s branding would generally communicate the right ideas, especially since the main audience is presumably from Detroit and not a place where lions are a regular threat.


First Image: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 2005 film by Andrew Adamson. Poster by Pop Culture Graphics

Second Image: : Editorial Cartoon, March 2020, by Winnipeg Free Press

Third Image: Logo of the Detroit Lions from their Community Report, 2020