Why Do We Root for the Underdog?

Frodo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy, Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series, and Vin in The Mistborn Trilogy. What do all of these characters have in common? They are all underdogs — they were up against impossible odds, yet (Spoiler alert!) they won the day. They did exactly what they set out to do; Frodo destroyed the Ring, Katniss toppled a corrupt government, Harry defeated the dark wizard that haunted the magic community for years, and Vin saved the world.
Literature is full of characters who overcame seemingly impossible odds, did what they were told could not be done, and laughed in the face of danger. But my question is this: What makes an underdog so appealing? Why do I feel the need to cheer for them when they win a victory or cry with them when all seems lost?
Researchers think that people root for the underdog because seeing somebody win who is supposed to lose arouses a sense of fairness and justice – important principles to most people. Another theory is that we root for underdogs because we are led to believe that the underdog works harder for it, or that they put forth more effort.
Frodo.stingLet’s look at one of my all time favorite literary underdogs, Frodo Baggins, the protagonist of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. I’m sure we all know the story: A young Hobbit comes to possess the One Ring of power and sets out from his home to destroy it. Against all odds, he succeeds, but what makes it such a good story? Well, there isn’t much of a story if the protagonist is fully equipped to handle the trials that they have been burdened with, is there? And in my own opinion, that’s what makes the story great.
There was no way Frodo could take the Ring all the way to Mordor and throw it in the fires of Mount Doom… but he did it anyway. His adversary was a dark lord with an army that was preparing to take over all of Middle-Earth… but Frodo did it anyway. There were Ring-Wraiths after him for almost the entirety of the books… but Frodo did it anyway.
Could it be that within these stories we find what we desire to be? Is it possible that as we read the stories of underdogs we find that we want to be courageous and noble just like them? That we want to do what we’ve always been told could not be done? To find that sense of justice or fairness in our own lives? Because — let’s face it — life is not fair. I think this is one of the reasons why people love reading about underdogs: Though we all seem to be faced with insurmountable struggles, everybody dreams of being a hero.
There are probably a number of reasons for why people love underdogs, as I’m sure there are a number of reasons why certain underdogs are more popular than others. I think we can all agree that underdogs just make for a great story, and I think that’s the simplest explanation for why underdogs are so popular.

Vince Chapman

Vince is a husband, father, and children's pastor in addition to the work he does for Geeks Under Grace.

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