Hi, guys…Sarah here. This week’s topic? Underdogs. My yet-to-be-published middle-grade fantasy series, Belinda Starr, wouldn’t be as powerful and compelling if I didn’t include a classic underdog character. In fact, while one character in particular stands out to me as the official underdog, there are many characters in Belinda Starr that have underdog traits, because like so many others do, I love a good underdog. Harry Potter is chock-full of ’em. Lord of the Rings? Indeed, hobbits by their very nature are built-in underdogs.
It’s been said before: everyone loves an underdog, and that’s because we can relate! Whether you are bubbling to the brim with confidence or whether you can’t keep your sad eyes pointed anywhere but at the ground, most of us have felt like the underdog at one point or another. Chances are, you’ve felt like or have experienced one or more of the following (and have felt like an underdog because of it):
all-around shy guy/gal
And although sad, it’s true: real life doesn’t always produce that moment of victory for real life underdogs. Why? Because we, through our choices, remain stuck in the mold into which we’ve been cast. But the underdogs of fiction, through their choices, make us feel like we, too, can achieve the un-achievable. We relate to their downtrodden lives, and as we follow their stories, we live vicariously through them. We root for their victories, because in a way, when they win, we win, too. And if we take all there is to take from underdogs, some of us might even follow their examples by applying their life lessons to our own lives. Don’t worry, underdog. Your victory is right around the corner. Keep pushing! Onward and upward!
Here, in no particular order, are my Six Favorite Underdogs in Fantasy (Books and Films alike):
- Ludo (Labyrinth, 1986 film)
Misunderstood? Remember, not everything is always what it seems, and we’re not about to take this underdog for granted. Ludo, a big furry wookie-esque beast from the 1986 film Labyrinth, is presented at first as a growling, scary monster. The protagonist Sarah, despite hearing the monstrous snarling noises, investigates a questionable scene and finds Ludo, who is being held upside down and tortured with what I call “the bitey-sticks”. Sarah rescues Ludo, tells him he seems like “such a nice beast”, and that she hopes he is “what he seems to be”, but already Sarah has looked past his monstrous exterior, and sees the sweet, gentle creature beneath all that fur and growling. Sarah befriends Ludo, and he turns out to be a wonderful asset with his rock-calling abilities.
2. Neville Longbottom (The Harry Potter Series)
A tragic past (like Harry) and far from being Mr. Popularity (unlike Harry), Neville Longbottom showed his chops right off the bat in Sorcerer’s Stone, and it earned Gryffindor the House Cup. Though hesitant and timid, Neville has always spoken out against what he believes is wrong. He is a true Gryffindor, through-and-through…courageous to the end! Now, it’s fun to think about what the series would look like if Voldemort had chosen Neville that night instead of Harry, but here’s another thing about underdogs: no matter who the protagonist is, we tend to gravitate towards the ancillary characters. Even if the protagonist is an underdog (and Harry is), unlike the protagonist, the ancillary characters are not automatically in the spotlight, and so by default, they are even more of an underdog than the protagonist. We therefor identify with them all the more, because we know what it’s like to stand back while we watch the “main characters” in our lives shine. We know those ancillary characters have stories, too, and so we cling to and celebrate them when they at last reach their moments of victory.
3. Puddleglum (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair)
Puddleglum, if you didn’t know, is comparable to Eeyore or Chicken Little. Tell yourself the sky is falling enough, you might just start to believe it is. But when it comes down to it, when backed against the wall and everything is at stake, you find yourself accessing that minuscule part of your brain that believes not all is lost, after all. We love it when pessimists act contrary to their nature by stepping up and saving the day, even if all along they’re muttering how it’s not likely to work, no, not at all!
4. Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings)
Now this underdog was made for the role of unlikely hero, although really, he’s not that unlikely at all. Small and meek is the perfect candidate to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom. Frodo shows little desire for power, so the Ring does not tempt him the way it has done for other characters. It’s often said the best leaders are those who have no desire to lead. And Frodo’s small size comes in handy for hiding in cramped spaces!
5. Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
Meek and timid with a just plain-awful brother, Daenerys Targaryen has had more than her fair share of strife, and it shows in her stony, glossy-eyed expressions. She is a woman defeated, but that’s just part of her story. Her transformation is a powerful one, leaving her fans cheering as she at last regains control over her own life. Daenerys gives courage to the lowest of underdogs; no matter how much crap life pitches at you, you can always pick up the pieces and be your own hero.
6. Screwball (Legend, 1985 film)
Cowards often end up being the underdog, because no one admires cowardice and underdogs are often not-well liked to start with, but what Screwball lacks in courage, he makes up for with his screwball-nature. He lives up to his name, and we can’t help but chuckle at his antics and constant griping. What makes him an underdog is overcoming his own comfort zone by volunteering to place the mirrors in order to defeat Darkness. He’s a coward turned hero…a great role model for anyone struggling to be brave amongst the terrors of life.
Do you agree with my list? What underdog characters would you add? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the photos used in this blog post.