When we root for the underdog, are we all cheering for the same idea? Besides the cartoon character, I can offer two other models.
First, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “underdog”: loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest”. Compare it to this OxFord English Dictionary characterization, the original United States usage: “the beaten dog in a fight”/”the party overcome or worsted in a contest”.
Since we all have underdog moments, it’s easy to relate. If you’re already applauding the less likely (and consequently more deserving) candidate, how much more would you support one who is already down for the count? And how intrigued would you be if presented with two great novels whose protagonists fit both descriptions?
Last weekend’s reading–which prompted my question in the first place–featured two new releases. In both, quick-witted, perceptive main characters confront unusual forces strongly arrayed against them, neither aware of the true nature of the challenge until the test is well underway.
But you’ll know within just a few pages that you’ve already picked a winner:
- The Daughter’s Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick: Already a fine pick for readers who favor engrossing fact-inspired historical fiction, Kirkpatrick’s tale earns extra points for insights into the women’s rights struggle and specialty garment industry (not to mention wonderful character studies). In 1896, twenty-year-old Clara Estby and her mother Helga contract to walk the 3500 miles between Spokane and New York City to earn prize money to save their family’s land from imminent foreclosure. And that’s only the first half of the story…
- Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt: History majors will recall that Chartwell was the country residence of Lord Winston Churchill. In Hunt’s story, it’s 1964, and the aged former Prime Minister suffers periodic visitations by a massive, gloom-inducing black canine. This beast both is and isn’t an actual dog, but we know for certain that he is not the underdog–that would be Churchill. The PM’s long association with the insufferable hound coincides with young widow Esther Hammerhan’s recent acquaintance, and you’ll soon perceive just how daunting a force both characters face. Not gothic or depressing as you might expect, this quirky and sensitive first novel is full of heart–and highly recommended.