There are heaps of things I like that I don't feel get the recognition that they deserve: checklists, peanut butter & banana on toast and The Godfather: Part III all leap immediately to mind. I am aware that perhaps they aren't to everyone's taste, but would argue that – rightly understood – their intrinsic excellences can be appreciated by all, and our lives and society would be the better for it.
If only people would step back and see the thing itself, and not let themselves be distracted by preconceptions of awkward bureacracy or improbable flavour combinations, or by almost irrelevant accidents like a few stilted performances, they would enrich their souls with organizational / gooey / mytho-dramatic goodness.
I think most of us carry a torch for parts of our common culture that we're sure that people would like more if only they'd try a little harder. I recall my friend Pryderi telling me many years ago that Daniel Day Lewis was the most underrated actor of the day. Turns out he was right, though not any more now the rest of us have finally cottoned on.
My own underrated star is Ursula Le Guin. Few, I hope, would argue that she's one of the chief science fiction authors, but fewer still would join me in saying that she is perhaps the greatest author of science fiction ever. They would point to Clarke, Asimov, or Heinlein. They would be wrong to do so.
As a writer, Le Guin leaves them all in the dust. Clarke & Asimov are incapable of characterization, and depict an absurdly narrow range of human experience. Heinlein's characters are undoubtedly engaging, but all too often become either proxies or foils for the author himself. By contrast, Le Guin's characters are complex and nuanced and interesting.
Where other so-called "great" science fiction authors almost delight in long passages of exposition ("Behold my world! Behold my genius!"), Le Guin grinds her exposition down, and makes it into bricks to build her story with.
Likewise, I'm surprised that a speculative fiction author like Margaret Atwood is somehow better known and more widely admired than Le Guin. Please don't misunderstand me, unlike the authors above, Atwood is as sophisticated a writer as Le Guin, although perhaps not as crafty or insightful. I just don't understand why Oryx & Crake escapes the genre ghetto and becomes literature while Left Hand of Darkness shares a shelf with Magic: The Gathering novelizations.
Le Guin has flaws, to be sure, and her writing can miss the mark even for a fan like me (I doubt I'll ever enjoy Tehanu, and I never finished Always Coming Home), but what other author could so deftly weave Taoist themes into books for young adults, or dares to imagine ambiguous utopias that in turn inspire worlds that are grander still.
One day, the world will catch up.