We’ve all heard the word, underdog but have you ever really thought about what it means? According to Dictionary.com an underdog is either someone who is expected to lose in a conflict or contest, or a victim of social or political injustice. Most of us know the first definition, as it is the one that we use when talking about sporting events such as the Super Bowl or the World Series. However, and I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for a minute here, but one could argue that the definition doesn’t fit in either case. All teams that are eligible for these events have an equal chance of winning; the problem is with how well they manage their players, their facilities, and the funds. So, as a result of this, I am not going to discuss the first definition of being an underdog…instead, let’s skip to the second part that says “a victim of social or political injustice”. Once again, I am sure that you can probably think of an example of this, however, I have chosen a few that stand out for some reason or another – I’d love to know if you think that they actually fit the definition, or if this word has become trite and overused.1
First, we have The Lord of the Rings and the character of Frodo Baggins…a character that when we first meet him in the story we wonder how in the world he’s going to succeed at his quest. We know that he’ll succeed, or that the quest will be a successful one, as he is the protagonist in a fantasy epic..it may take 700+ pages. Therefore, what makes Frodo an underdog? His fellow characters had no confidence in his ability to complete the quest, he at times had no confidence in his ability to complete the quest, and as a result, we readers lost our confidence in his ability to complete the quest. Yet, he completed the quest and became a hero – he did this by carrying an unbearable burden where nobody else could have taken it, and he suffered the loss of his own self in carrying the ring. The fact that he managed to resist the lure of the Ring is perhaps the most heroic act that any character in literature ever faced, and he helps us to realize that we cannot face certain tasks on our own. We need the support of multiple people – both powerful and not so powerful. He teaches us that just because we receive help – this doesn’t make us any less of a hero…or any less of an underdog. Frodo, in essence, put everything that he had into reaching his goal – even knowing that he would quite possibly fail.
What do you get when you get a child whose parents were killed by an evil wizard, who was sent to live with relatives that absolutely despised him, and who every year for seven years of his schooling was almost killed multiple times? You get, Harry Potter – referred to as “the boy who lived.” He was an underdog from the beginning…he was expected to have died when Voldemort killed his parents, yet he didn’t. He was a scrawny, geeky kid who lived under the stairs of his relatives home…yet he managed to defeat “the world’s most powerful wizard.” Also, I agree with Harry – Dumbledore is the world’s most powerful wizard and I’ll do a post on that at a later date.
On the film front, there are so many underdogs that are based on sports – in fact, the majority of sports movies are about the underdog. Therefore, we’ll discuss the one that popped into my head that is not related to sports. We have Billy Elliot – a tale of an English boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Billy is both the youngest son of a coal miner and the younger brother of a coal miner. However, the coal miners are on strike – and there is a stigma to being a male ballet dancer. Billy soon learns that his best friend is, in fact, gay – however, Billy is not and is supportive of his friend. He continued to practice ballet, and he is seen by his father who realizes that Billy is in fact truly gifted and vows to help him achieve his dreams, no matter what. Billy’s father plans to cross the picket line, so he can go back to work to raise the money – but he is stopped by his fellow miners who help him and Billy’s older brother raise the funds for Billy to go to London and audition. I’m not going to tell you any more, as I don’t want to spoil the ending – but it is definitely worth a watch.
I’d love to hear about some of your favorite underdogs from literature and film, and do you agree that the ones I mentioned fit one of the definitions of an underdog? If so, which one? Finally, for those who are unaware, the featured image is from a TV series created in the late 1950s by General Mills to sell cereal…yes, even back then they used cartoon characters to sell things to children. I definitely recommend checking out the show – reading a bit more about it here.
- Note: Most of these are from literature and film, as I
am operatingwas operating on less than 4 hours of sleep. ↩