Only Orphans Allowed

20170824ma_4716Have you ever wondered why so many kids’ books feature orphans?

Anne Shirley, Mary Lennox, Oliver Twist, Frodo Baggins, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Dorothy Gale, Huckleberry Finn, Pollyanna, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington Bear, the Baudelaire orphans, Harry Potter… and the list goes on.

Or, if the characters aren’t exactly orphans, the parents are somehow (conveniently) off-screen. Like how the Pevensie children are sent out of London before they find their way into Narnia. Or the Bastable children seeking treasure on Lewisham Road in order to help their father who is busy with his business woes. Or how Artemis Fowl’s mother is ill and depressed, while his father is MIA in Russia.

For the author, the first order of business… Get rid of the parents. I used to think this was an unfair trick of so many books. Why did authors do it? Did they really have to make the world so void of parents?

Then one day, I stumbled upon the answer. I read a book where the author must have wondered the same thing. This author had put a “Helpful Dad” type of character into the story. You know the type. The Ward Cleaver. The Pa Ingalls. The kind of dad every kid should have in their lives.

Here’s a brief outline of the story. Kid moves to New Neighbourhood with Loving and Devoted Parents. You know Parents are loving and devoted because of how they interact with Kid. Then Kid somehow notices something fishy going on in a nearby graveyard. He confides in Dad. Great Father/Son interaction. (That’s how it’s supposed to be in real life. Yay for Dad!) Now, Dad understands the call to adventure. He walks with Kid to graveyard. “I’ll watch from over here just in case you need help,” says Dad, ever the understanding type. Kid feels so secure and happy that Dad is so understanding. Kid walks into graveyard alone, while Dad stands by. Then, WHAM! Somehow Kid is sucked into another world… leaving Dad behind.

Okay, so first of all, even this author also realized that he needed to get rid of Helpful Dad at this point in the story.

I don’t know what you thought when you were reading my little outline, but I can tell you my thought process when I was reading the book. As the dad was walking with the kid to the graveyard, I wanted to scream out, “Stop! This is isn’t right. If Helpful Dad is along on the adventure, how can Kid do anything???” Then as Helpful Dad stepped back and let Kid go into the graveyard alone, I wanted to scream, “Wait a minute, Dad. What kind of father are you?! How can you let your kid go in there alone!”

There was no helping it. I was fed up with the story. And actually, to be honest, I never did finish the book.

But this glimpse gave me my answer for why so many books feature orphans. It’s because we really don’t want irresponsible parents. But we also don’t want parents to get in the way of the protagonist’s journey. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good grownup in the story. They can be available for advice, but we don’t want a smothering helicopter.

In real life, we want and need loving parents. In fiction, sometimes it’s best to kill those parents off.

Or at least send them on a long trip.

6 thoughts on “Only Orphans Allowed

  1. Such a great little point here! I personally LOVE ORPHANS and as a writer love killing off parents but that is not the life most kids have… there is a suspension of disbelief that is needed… otherwise the kid is just a brat who won’t listen to his/her parent! ♥️ More like this Maria!

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  2. Pingback: This Week’s Appreciation #21 – Perspective of a Writer

  3. Ahh this is a wonderful piece!! You’re so right!! I love the way you put this!! Funnily enough when I was in high school we had a famous author come to school (Anthony Horowitz) and he explained why he always made sure to get rid of the parents straight away cos otherwise they get in the way of the plot!! I really agreed with him and have never worried/wondered why there are so many absentee parents in plots since then!!

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