The Mouse that Roars, the Worm that Turns

So what are famous characters (preferably film, but literature or TV ok) that start off as meek, nebbishy characters, but who–via some agency of empowerment or twist of fate–become the heroes of their own tales?

I’m not looking for characters who “Break Bad” (otherwise Walter White would be perfect), nor am I looking for “Marty”-types who have simple stories about blue-collar hopes and dreams.

I’m talking about those Walter Mitty*-types who dream and fantasize about other, more adventurous lives and are able to inadvertently find one themselves. Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone, for example.


*Walter Mitty as in the Danny Kaye movie, not the Thurber short story–for the latter never elevates out of his fantasyland

Frank Capra movies are noted for these characters. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington mild-mannered eccentrics get thrust into positions of wealth or power, and ultimately end up defeating their powerful and nefarious opponents. (However, Mr. Deeds never aspired to his role beforehand, while Mr. Smith did to some extent.)

When Wesley was introduced to the show Angel, he was a nebbish incompetent who calls himself a “rogue demon hunter.” By the fourth (iirc) season, he’d alienated his friends, and was waging his own battle against the demonic forces using some rather extreme methods. (“I spent the summer keeping a woman locked in my closet.”)

MY first example of this would be Vir Cotto, from Babylon 5. Kind of nerdy at first, he really developed a spine as the series went on.

I loved his “spoo for brains” scene.

There was also the “What do you want?” scene with Mr. Morden.

Luke Skywalker.

This has to be a Trope, although I’m not sure which one; maybe Took A Level In Badass

Sarah Connor from the Terminator series.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (as far as he knows at the start).
Edward G. Robinson in The Whole Town’s Talking
W. C. Fields in The Bank Dick

And especially the (long-after) resolution of that scene. I still giggle.
My contribution is Prince Dauntless the Drab, from Once Upon A Mattress. The transformation is actually explicitly prophecied…his father King Sextimus will suffer a curse of silence “until the mouse devours the hawk”. When Winnifred’s encouragement give him enough nerve to confront his uberbitchy mother, who has been sabotaging the princesses who have been coming to “audition” for marriage to Dauntless, his father’s curse is lifted.

And was Emperor of the (ruins of the) Centauri at the very end, following the death of Londo.

Or upon further searching: Iron Woobie

I loved that, when he raised his hand and wiggle his fingers in a wave. I’d almost forgotten his answer to Mr. Morden, but recalled it then.

Isn’t this the basic Hero’s Journey? So anything with that plot – Star Wars came up, for example.

Ranse Stoddard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Tommy in “Coward of the County” - which is best known as a song but was made into a movie.

That’s why it works best to focus on “wimpy” ones at the start. I don’t think Luke Skywalker was timid or wimpy, just untrained and with no epic focus/mission. He had what it took, but needed to be nurtured.

Sarah Connor and Vir were at least somewhat timid and unagressive and rose to become powerful people you would not want as enemies. And, fortunately, powerful forces for good.

Does Spider-Man fit this?

What about Harry Potter?

All righty, then, how about The Incredible Mr. Limpet!

Willie Stark in All the King’s Men
Norbert Jones in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, though he has greatness thrust upon him.
Chance the gardener from Being There

Cameron Diaz’s character in Knight and Day.

“A Jewish Barber” in The Great Dictator.