Friday, February 12, 2016

A dozen orphans

Why do we love reading about orphans so much? Literature is bursting with them. They've filled our classics, establishing themselves as some of our favourite characters for centuries. Yet the word 'orphan' itself carries connotations of being lost, unkempt, neglected, driftwood, unclaimed baggage. In fact, it's been banned by adoption agencies, as they think it's negative adoption language. So I repeat, why do we love orphans so much in stories?

I agree with what author Lorilee Craker suggests in her book.. No matter what sort of family we belong to, we can relate to them, because we probably all feel we've carried the orphan spirit at some time in our lives. Maybe we've been ignored, snubbed, left behind, or found ourselves unable to make some grade or win some competition. I remember feeling alienated and alone each day at school, even though I had a family of blood relatives to return to at home each evening. Story book orphans simply take what we've all suffered up to the next level. Since we all relate to main characters, we cheer when we finally see them find a place to belong. It's the next best thing to finding our perfect niche ourselves.

So without further ado, here are some of the most famous classic orphans I could think of. There are so many, many, many more, I won't even attempt to fit them all. I'm going with the first ones that spring to mind.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1) 1) Anne Shirley
Before being shuffled off to the Hopetown Orphanage, she'd lived with a number of different families who exploited her to work hard for them. She'd never have found her perfect home with the Cuthberts if there hadn't been a mistake, since they initially wanted a boy to help with farm chores.

2) Orphan Annie
Hmmm, another red-haired Anne. I remember going to the movies with my dad to see how she sung her cheerful way out of the orphanage and into wealthy Daddy Warbucks' heart and home.

Oliver Twist 3) Oliver Twist
Daring to ask for more gruel at the orphanage got him into a load of trouble, until the tide finally turned. It's another book-cum-musical with songs which stick in my head.

4) Pip from Great Expectations
Another Dickens boy. His parents were dead, and he lived with his harsh sister, who didn't really appreciate the extra mouth to feed. Fortunately, her husband, Joe Gargery, was a softer touch.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter #7) 5) Harry Potter
He was orphaned the night his parents died trying to save his life. For his first 11 years, all he knew was a wretched life with his aunt, uncle and spoiled cousin Dudley. Rather than a bedroom, he slept in a broom cupboard beneath the stairs.

6) Luke Skywalker
Well, he thought he was an orphan. Given the way his father turned out, living on the barren planet Tatooine with his aunt and uncle wasn't too bad.

7) Tarzan
The classic feral child who'd been tragically orphaned, but found family in a warm and unexpected place.

8) Mowgli from The Jungle Book
His situation had similarities to Tarzan's.

9) Jane Eyre
Some orphans have nice aunts to live with and pleasant boarding schools to attend. Poor Jane wasn't one of them. Hers were unimaginably bad.

10) Pollyanna
She wasn't wanted by her crotchety Aunt Polly, but managed to work the situation to her favour because of her bright personality. I love the incident when Aunt Polly sent her up to her bedroom with a pamphlet to read as a punishment, and Pollyanna thanked her for the treat.

Cinderella 11) Cinderella
Lucky for her she had such tiny feet, or her nasty stepmother and stepsisters might have always kept her under the thumb. Having a fairy godmother is a good thing for an orphan too.

12) Heathcliff
I've added him just to show that there is a certain risk involved in taking an orphan beneath your roof, because you've no idea where he came from or how he's going to turn out.

Have you any favourite orphans of your own to add to my dozen? One of my favourite fictional orphans I've come across in recent years is Errol Stone from A Cast of Stones by Patrick W Carr. And I've been reminded that several little girls love Elsa from Frozen, as all the merchandise sold in shops would prove. I'd love to know who yours are, and why they've stuck in your heart.


  1. I've just discovered your book lists and am loving reading through them and noting which book to read next! I am also a lover of missionary stories, both modern and older. (loved Naomi Reed's My Seventh Monsoon).
    This section on orphans is interesting, I have a fascination with adoption stories- and I am definitely not adopted nor have I given up a child. But somehow I am intrigued by this whole notion. How much are we a product of our circumstances and how much a product of our dna? I do feel 'different' than my three sisters, although we undoubtedly look very similar. But I am a committed Christian, and even though they believe in God, their styles are quite different. That's enough of my story though Paula, just thank you for providing an Australian point of view on books.

    1. Hi Rosie,
      I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying the lists. They are certainly good fun to create.
      It's certainly interesting that there are so many orphan/adoption stories to draw from, especially since that doesn't to the majority of us. It just strikes a chord in us all though.
      Perhaps I'll do a list of Missionary stories in the future. Thanks for the suggestion :) Please feel free to drop by and leave a comment any time.

  2. Here is another one, more recent, "Orphan Train" by Christina Blake Kline. Love these lists!

    1. Is it based on the orphan trains of WW2 Britain? Will have to look it up.

    2. It is about immigrant children who were orphaned in New York city because parents died of disease. They were sent on a train towards the West and at different towns when the train stopped, farmers who needed labour on their farms or childless couples who wanted to adopt could pick and choose. But the main story is about one of the young girls and how she made out in life up to when she was in her 90s and her friendship with a modern day orphaned teenager. Good story.

    3. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for dropping by with suggestions too. I enjoy getting more leads to follow up from these lists. I aim to add a new list perhaps every week, but at least every fortnight.