Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Appeal of the Underdog Story

What is the attraction of the underdog story? Why does it remain one of the favorite styles to tell and retell?

For literature is saturated with such stories. You can find them in the Bible (David and Goliath) and Greek mythology (pick almost any human hero). You find them in adult literature (Oliver Twist) and children’s (Wrinkle In Time). We love it when they’re based on true stories (The Rookie), but our appetite is so voracious we’ll make some up too (Facing the Giants). And as we saw in Ms. Williamson’s By Darkness Hid, this is a common motif in fantasy.

Simply put, we humans can’t seem to resist a good story about those people, oft of humble or unremarkable circumstances, facing impossible odds.

Which raises the question again—why?

Is it the way the unremarkable becomes marked as special through these extraordinary circumstances? Is it the thrill of facing unimaginable challenges? Is it the satisfaction of seeing the hero conquer and the opponent thwarted?

While all these play a role, I think the reason might be a bit simpler: underdog stories gives us hope.

For, who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by circumstances? Who hasn’t met challenges for which they didn’t think they were equipped? Who hasn’t faced situations where any good outcome seemed impossible? So while we might not be a slave like Achan, facing an unwanted marriage like Vrell, entangled in government conspiracies, or uncovering unusual talents like telepathy, we all know what it is like to encounter problems of gigantic proportions—or at least problems that look like giants at the time. As a result we all look for the reassurance that somehow, despite the impossible odds, we too can triumph.

And that is what the underdog story gives us.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I really appreciate these thoughts, Chawna. Yes, stories showing hope do more than ones showing despair, I think. We can see the bleakness of life without half trying, but to be reminded that there is a reason to do right even when others abuse you, that there is a future free from mistreatment, that there are others who are loyal and true--these are things the underdog story does which elevates life here and now. Especially when the story is told from a Christian worldview because it rings true.


Chawna Schroeder said...

Isn't it amazing how God has written some of these things into the world?

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