Aug 6, 2012

Archetypal Awareness - The Orphan

Orphans are a very popular archetype. Just a few that come to mind are Harry Potter, Annie, Oliver, Luke Skywalker, Simba, Bruce Wayne, Superman, Zeus, Peter Parker...

Okay, if you read the list, there are several who you may say aren't "true" orphans.  If they go through the experience/trama of losing one OR don't know that they aren't an orphan, they count.

So what is it about a kid who has lost his/her parents that makes them so appealing?  Once a child becomes an orphan, something clicks and the drive to be self-reliant, to go out and make their own way.  We see characters often who don't to accept the quest before them because of family connections, but if all those connections are taken away, the launch into the quest just makes sense.

Another element that is appealing about an orphan character is they can be molded, especially if they were orphaned young.  No longer do they have to follow in the path of their parents.  The mentor generally can see the potential, foretelling, destiny, legend, what have you in the child and doesn't have to persuade parents of the truth.

But the character who has lost parents is often looking for that connection, which makes the battle over them between the good and bad start before the orphan even knows what is going on.  They are like molding clay, completely open to become what the mentor would have them be.

Because the orphan has already suffered the unthinkable loss, he/she is able to reach down in challenging, frustrating, emotionally challenging situations and realize that the capability to succeed is already in them.  They may need to be reminded of it, but this archetype tends to rise with a greater determination than before.

Most of the time, an orphan will return to their home - either what was their home or what they came to know as home with the intent to improve the place they came from or say their final goodbyes, with the intent to never return again.  It is either to realize they have risen above what caused them so much pain or with the commitment to make sure no one else from there has to suffer the sorrow they experienced.

Have you felt the draw to write an orphan story?  Who is your favorite orphan character literature/movies?


Catherine Noble said...

Excellent post, Tasha! My MC is an orphan too. I didn't mean it to start off that way, but sometimes it's better to kill the parents off! Sounds terrible, but it seems to work :)

My favourite orphan is Mowgli from The Jungle Book, or Cinderella!

S.P. Bowers said...

My character isn't an orphan exactly but they have been cut off from their family and previous life and had to live as if they were an orphan. Interesting post.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My main character is an orphan and yes, he was looking for a family connection although he didn't realize it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

There are sooooo many orphan stories in kidlit. I suspect it's because most of the writers are too lazy to figure out another way to keep the parents out of the picture. It's become a cliche.

I prefer it when one parent is dead. That's more realistic. As one agent once put it, if YA and MG stories reflected real life, we would have A LOT of orphans running around. ;)

J. A. Bennett said...

I have never looked at orphans this way, but it makes sense. I think it means that much more to have an orphan who never found a family, but had to earn one later (i.e. Harry Potter) great post!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Aragon from LOTR was raised by the elves at Rivendell because he was an orphan.
I never thought about all those heroes you named being orphaned.

David P. King said...

My first book was an orphan story. Haven't gone that route since. :)

Jess Stork said...

Sabriel by Garth Nix, has got to be my favorite orphan, I think.

Angela Cothran said...

My MC is a new orphan (the murder of her family is the catalyst of my story). Will you just make a master list of all the archetypes so I can make sure I've hit them all :)

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Harry Potter! =D

I've heard an agent comment on this. The question of: why aren't there more MCs (especially in middle grade) where there are two loving, supportive parents present.

Interesting question.

My MC isn't an orphan, but he does loose his mother at the beginning of the story.