The Underdog

Luke Skywalker is an example of an "Underdog" hero.

Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars saga is an example of an “Underdog” hero. 


Written by: Sarah Carter

  • The “Underdog” hero paradigm has survived since ancient times and has been creatively revisited in modern times. A prime example of an “Underdog” hero from antiquity includes David [1] versus the giant Goliath from 1 Samuel Chapter 17 of the Bible [2], while an example from modern times includes Harry Potter versus Voldemort and the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter book series [3].
  • Generally, “Underdog” heroes are characterized as non-aggressive, scrawny male youths who must face their fears and fight all forces of evil while experiencing unpleasant emotions such as uncertainty, vulnerability, affliction, or insecurity.
  • “Underdog” heroes are usually endowed with special powers or carry special protective equipment due to their non-intimidating personas and lack of physical prowess. An exception to the typical “Underdog” hero archetype would include Kratos from the video game series God of War[4].

The “Underdog” hero  can be traced back to the ancient biblical story of David versus the giant Goliath,which is found in 1 Samuel Chapter 17 of the Bible. In addition, many classic fairy tale stories, such as Jack the Giant-Slayer,[5 ] appropriately represent the unique predicament of the “Underdog.” In an animated television series created during the mid-twentieth century, the main protagonist, a beagle, was called “Underdog.” In the cartoon, “Underdog”[6] would come to the rescue whenever his girlfriend Sweet Polly Purebred was in danger, announcing to all present: “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!”

Typically, “Underdog” heroes are characterized as non-threatening, inexperienced male youths who are forced to face their fears, like Harry Potter battles Voldemort in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [7] and the Death Eaters in the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [8]. 

“Underdogs” also independently battle all forces of evil. For example, Jack versus the Giants-and appropriately handle the consequences thereof, as when Kratos opposes Athena and Zeus. As a result, “Underdogs” experience very distinct emotions, such as responsibility, vulnerability, uncertainty, and distress.

To compensate for their small stature and lack of physical prowess, “Underdogs” are usually endowed with special powers, such as Jack’s sense of cunning and use of trickery in the British fairy tale Jack the Giant-Slayer and Luke Skywalker’s use of “the Force” in the Star Wars saga [9].

They might also possess exclusive protective equipment, such as Harry Potter’s magical wand and Kratos’s serrated Blades of Chaos from the video game series God of War. Even so, Kratos is considered an exception to the typical “Underdog” hero archetype since he is portrayed as tall, strong, and an experienced warrior. To some degree, however, Kratos does fit the conventional “Underdog” description because he has to battle against forces of evil that are more powerful than he is, such as the Father of the gods, Zeus, and the goddess Athena from Greek mythology.

God of War video game series-Kratos

God of War video game series-Kratos

The “Underdog” Heroes-Character Traits/Attributes:

    • David: writer, musician, favored by God, pursued God, passionate, destined for greatness, exhibited integrity as a leader, respected
    • Jack the Giant-Slayer: young, adventurous, a trickster, manipulating, curious, cunning, skillful, tactical, daring, warrior, knight in King Arthur’s court
    • Harry Potter: young, victim of circumstances, scrawny, small in stature, inexperienced, open-minded, creative, destined for greatness, selfless, dependable
    • Luke Skywalker: a teenager, inexperienced, victim of circumstances, daring, determined, unknowledgeable in battle tactics and intergalactic politics, courageous, destined for greatness
    • God of War (Kratos): warrior, strong, blunt, bold, ruthless, unmerciful, vengeful, exhibited hatred, disgruntled toward the gods

[1]For more information on David from the Bible, see the following book: Bosch, Juan. David: The Biography of a King. Edited by John Marks. (London: Chatto and Windus Ltd., 1966). Also see the following book: Swindoll, Charles R. David: A Man of Passion and Destiny (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1997).

[2]More specifically, see the following online Hebrew Biblical text resource: “A Hebrew-English Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.” Mechon Mamre. 2005. Last edited 17 Oct. 2012. Web. Accessed 2 Oct. 2013.

To read more specifically about the historical and literary contexts of biblical times, see the following book: ed. Davis, Paul, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Ancient Word, Beginnings-100 C.E. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 127-139.

[3]Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1997).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1998).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  (New York: Scholastic Inc., 2000).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2003).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 2005).

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 2007).

To read more about Harry Potter and the critical issues that are examined within the book series, see the following book: Heilman, Elizabeth E., ed. Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[4]God of War. (PS3), SCE Santa Monica Studios (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2005).

To read an article about how video games can be used as a teaching tool in order to teach students about the ancient world surrounding classical antiquity, see the following journal article: Christesen, Paul and Machado, Dominic. “Video Games and Classical Antiquity.” Classical World 104, no. 1 (Fall 2010): 107-110. Accessed July 4, 2013. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson).

[5]To read a full version of the fairy tale, see the following book: Jacobs, Joseph. English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales. Edited by Donald Haase. (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2002), 77-87.

For more information on Giants and other creatures (such as Ogres) mentioned within this and many other British fairy tales and legends, see the following book: Spence, Lewis. The Minor Traditions of British Mythology (New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1972), 58-70.

[6]Underdog. Written by W. Watts Biggers and Chet Stover. USA: Leonardo Productions/NBC., 1964-1973. DVD.

[7]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Directed by David Yates. UK/USA: Warner Bros., 2010. DVD.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Directed by David Yates. UK/USA: Warner Bros., 2011. DVD.

[8]Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Directed by David Yates. UK/USA: Warner Bros., 2009. DVD.

[9]For a deeper analysis of the character of Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars saga, see the following book: Galipeau, Stephen A. The Journey of Luke Skywalker: An Analysis of Modern Myth and Symbol (Peru, Illinois: Carus Publishing Company, 2001).

Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm., 1999. DVD.

Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm., 2002. DVD.

Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm., 2005. DVD.

Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm., 1977. DVD.

Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Irvin Kershner. USA: Lucasfilm., 1980. DVD.

Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi. Directed by Richard Marquand. USA: Lucasfilm., 1983, DVD.