The Underdog as the Hero in Popular Children's Literature

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The underdog is so crucial in a children’s story because ‘children know that they are not perfect, they all have insecurities and worries and times when they feel that they aren’t special.’ (Smith, 2007, p.105). So these characters have to start the story with some of these traits or else the reader wont relate, or worse they will despise the protagonist for being too perfect.
Vogler talks about some of the issues writers have with creating conflict for their characters. ‘We often find that writers can give the heroes a good outer problem…but sometimes writers neglect to give the characters a compelling inner problem to solve as well.’ (Vogler, 2007, p.89) An underdog is a good way to combat this because underdogs, by nature, have an internal conflicts. They often believe they are not necessarily as popular, brave, intelligent or successful as their opponents. This isn’t always the case, as often during the course of the story these characters learn they are as brave, or braver, than their counterpart. Or it is their intelligence that shines through. Or their kind nature allows them to make allies in the otherwise cruel world. ‘We can all relate to basic drives such as the need for recognition, affection, acceptance, or understanding’ (Vogler, 2007, p.91) and it is these needs that drive the hero onward. With an underdog hero there is internal conflict because often they do not believe they deserve affection, they often must fight for recognition and their differences makes them in more need of acceptance and understanding.
It is these drives that allow the reader to connect with the hero, because the underdog hero can seem to mirror the reader’s own insecurities and anxieties. However ‘you don’t accomplish this connection by tr...

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...and instead wallows, readers quickly lose sympathy. We like underdogs with a bit of fight in them.
This is why character growth is so important. We can get away with frightened, fool hardy or nerdy heroes. But it is important that they grow. Just as we grow. ‘Flaws are a starting point of imperfection or incompleteness from which a character can grow.’ (Vogler, 2007, p.33). And an underdog character offers a great deal of room for growth. In fact growth is integral to the story. The ‘character must develop in order for the [story] to communicate on a psychological level. (Indick, 2004, p.18). If a character fails at something (which the underdog must do often or they wont be considered an underdog) and then just wallows over it, they wont grow. Harry has to barely escape Voldemort throughout the series so that the stakes are highest during the final confrontation.

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