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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.