Friday, October 7, 2011

Orphans: Why do we love them?

So I'm writing a novel with my kids. We're in the fun phase -- drafting characters and brainstorming ideas.

I call them idears, and we keep them in a black book I call My Little Ocean. The Ocean used to be pocket-sized. Now it's a leather-bound journal.

Anyway, we're drafting the characters, and I keep coming back to orphanizing the two kids.

See, you need two kids, a boy and a girl, same as I have at the house. I'm not making them twins. The girl is older by a year.

And I keep killing off their parents. Sometimes one or the other parent is alive, but usually the kids are somehow abandoned.

And I got to thinking how common that is.

Luke Skywalker was an orphan. So was Harry Potter. Little Orphan Annie and the kid in Great Expectations were orphans. Superman was an orphan. Megamind and Metroman were orphans. Percy Jackson was semi-orphaned, had an estranged father.

I could go on, but you get the point so go on your own dang self. The thing is, we orphanize our children in YA lit.

Why is that, I wonder?

I still don't have the answer, but I'm beginning to let that question fester. I look back at my own stories and realize I have a novella about orphans. Never thought about it.

There's something romantic about an orphan, something magical, something that gets the gears turning and makes us automatically relate to them.

Why do we relate to kids without parents? Why is it so easy to demonize step-parents and victimize step-children? I have no freaking clue. You tell me.

But we do relate. Maybe it's that coming-of-age thing, where we all sever from our parents and become ourselves.

Oh, Spider-Man was orphaned, too. So was Batman, and in fact his orphanization caused him to morph into the Dark Knight.

Gads, that's an easy thing to think up orphaned heroes, isn't it.

You tell ME! Why are orphans so common and desirable in literature!

Meanwhile, I'll be drafting my own set of orphans. They have [expletive] eyes. Shh. Don't tell anyone.

- Eric


Joshua McCune said...

Because it generates instant sympathy and a relatively easier path for the MC to take control of his/her life (no pesky parents in the way). That's all I got.

Cynthia Lee said...

It's a very, very common trope in the mythological hero's journey. The hero has to be severed from home, from parents, from any sort of protection and go into the scary world of adventure.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It evokes sympathy. And in YA, it eliminates pesky parents.

Wine and Words said...

I think, in general, we tend to be nuturing. And everyone loves to root for the underdog because at one time or another we've all been there. So you have nuture and empathy tied up in orphans (I, having been an orphan for 21 whole days, have somewhat of a PHD on the subject). You want to take care of them, and you want them to succeed. OH.MY.GOSH. The Blind Side? Hellooooo. I never wanted that movie to end. Boxcar Children??? Never wanted those books to end. I'm actually kinda pissed I ever got adopted. Harumph! I coulda been a heroine.

Wine and Words said...

So...I'm loved right??? 21 days! That counts, doesn't it?


dolorah said...

No clue Dude, but you are right. The YA that I've read usually involves orphans - especially in the fantasy realm. My own fantasy features an orphan heroine - sort of. She is abandoned . .


Roland D. Yeomans said...

Victor Standish, my hero, is an orphan of sorts.

No parents gives freedom for your orphan to go on his adventure of self-discovery, the epic journey of all heroes according to Joseph Campbell (HERO OF A 1000 FACES.)

It stirs echoes of the reader of the journey he made from childhood to adulthood -- or helps the young person rehearse that journey in front of him or her.

Anyway, parents make you eat your vegatables! Yuck.

Oh, and Huck Finn was an orphan, too! Roland

Phoenix said...

I think a broken or incomplete family (how many of the young heroes and heroines in Disney films are missing at least one parent? And 90% of the time it's the mother?) immediately grabs the sympathy and interest of the audience, starts off the young hero or heroine on a journey to find himself/herself/his or her backstory/history/genealogy/curse/whatever and has us rooting for the character to get back to a place of innocence (loss of innocence occurring of course when the parent or family member was lost.)

That's my brilliance for the day. :)