Everyone loves an underdog.
A couple days ago, a rather large sporting event took place, pitting my hometown Denver Broncos against the almost unstoppable Carolina Panthers. Denver was the clear underdog. How could they stop Carolina? In this story, the ending was happy (in my biased opinion).
You can find this idea of underdogs in numerous aspects of daily life. Whether in sports, real life, or fiction, we love watching people overcoming the impossible, going against the odds to achieve their dreams. There’s something satisfying about such stories.
We Can Relate
We’ve all been underdogs at some point in our lives.
- The invisible person at school
- The small kid the bullies pick on
- The girl who will never win the beauty contest
- The employee the boss always negatively singles out
Everywhere you look, you find stories of people daring to dream the impossible. Even if it’s as basic as the primitive need to survive.
It’s a universal theme, which is why it ends up surfacing in so many stories.
We Want Someone to Cheer For
Literature is chock-full of underdogs. Podunk characters struggling against massive corporations. Revolutionaries fighting for a better country. Slaves aching to taste freedom.
Basically, anyone who isn’t given a shot at overcoming whatever obstacle they’re facing.
Why the popularity? Because there’s something eternally satisfying about going on a journey with a struggling character and watching them fight their battles as they climb the mountain of greatness.
Consider a few examples of underdogs from fantasy:
- Frodo Baggins
Vin’s a street urchin, surviving as part of a thieving crew in a large city. A small girl in a rough man’s world. Yet, through the course of the story, she rises above the misery of her life to become one of the most renowned and feared magic-workers of the kingdom.
Kaladin’s life follows a twisting, heart-wrenching path, which eventually leads him to the place of bridgeman—a miserable life filled with brutal labor, rejection, and constant derision. A living hell. Yet remarkably, he overcomes. His story goes from survival to triumph, from despair to greatness. A true underdog who rises above the odds.
I’m an LOTR geek, so of course Frodo is my favorite example. Not only is he an underdog, he’s physical small. Weak. Vulnerable. He’s perhaps the biggest underdog (pun intended) in the history of literature.
One small hobbit against the raging hordes of Mordor. Even with help, he’s still hopelessly outnumbered. Sauron and the Ringwraiths have every advantage. It’s a miracle he makes it out of the Shire alive.
Frodo has as much chance of defeating Sauron as he does of flying to the moon. Or at least, that’s how it looks.
And that’s the beauty of Lord of the Rings. With the help of his friends, Frodo ends up overthrowing the most powerful empire in middle-earth.
This echoes stories in the Bible, where God uses the weak to defeat the strong. He uses the unexpected to pull off the miraculous.
Underdogs Inspire Us
It’s impossible not to side with the weaker ones, the ones who seem destined for defeat. The sense of satisfaction we have when they finally break through is one of the most powerful feelings we can experience. We’ve cried with them. We’ve urged them not to give in.
And ultimately, we celebrate their triumph with them.
Who’s read a story of amazing survival, determination, or courage and not been moved? Impossible, right?
We get chills because the connection is so deep, so profound. The message of hope in a hopeless situation resonates through us.
Powerful stories inspire and stay with us because hardship makes the triumph that much more precious.
What’s your favorite underdog story?
*This post appeared in original form on March 1, 2015, at zacharytotah.com.