What is it about orphans that makes for interesting reading? Harry Potter, the Baudelaires, David Copperfield... the list is endless.
What is it about orphans? Most children who have achieved fame in the world of children's literature are orphans. Just cast your mind back: Harry Potter (to begin with the most recent), the three Baudelaires whose tragic life is recorded by Lemony Snicket in the A Series of Unfortunate Events, Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and other books, Tom Sawyer, Jerusha Abbot of Daddy Long Legs fame, Heidi to name a few.
One of the primary reasons for the popularity of orphans in children's books is the element of mystery surrounding them. They present delightfully romantic possibilities. Abandoned on the steps of a church or an orphanage they could be anyone heirs to a throne, or beggardom! In Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes Pauline, Petrova and Posy are orphans who are adopted by an old man. When they start school they realise the need of a family name, and so they pick on the unique `Fossil'. David Copperfield, in Dicken's novel, has memories of his mother and the wonderful times they shared, and this makes it difficult for him to accept the harshness of life after her death. Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket's series A Series of Unfortunate Events wish that their parents had not perished in the fire. Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery's classic Anne of Green Gables gathers all the information that she can find and builds a mental picture of her parents. Orphans provide a good scope for the author's imagination. Adventures that would not be possible if the parents were hale and hearty can be made to happen to orphans. The idea of a child alone and without the protection of parents is frightening but also full of possibilities. Very often authors contrast the orphans with those children who have parents. This comparison is definitely to the advantage of the orphans since they emerge as better human beings. Harry Potter's cousin Dudley, pampered by his parents, is mean, self-centered, greedy and deplorable. Harry, on the other hand, is kind, sincere and brave qualities that help him face and fight Lord Voldemort. Heidi in Joanna Spyri's book lives with her grandfather, bringing cheer and happiness with her sunny presence. She makes her grandfather a happier man and helps him to come to terms with his anger against the people of the village.
In Roald Dahl's The BFG, Sophie is an orphan who helps The Giant. Together they hatch a plan to rid the world of the evil giants. Sophie even gets to meet the Queen of England, and is responsible for putting away the giants. In such stories the authors stress that parentage is less important than what the child accomplishes.
In Daddy Long Legs Jerusha's speculations about her parents finally don't matter because she manages to make her mark in the world by writing a book.
Another important reason for the popularity of orphans is the fact that they appeal to most readers. We applaud the ingenuity of these children, and wish we could yell and encourage them when they fight their enemies. Who are these enemies, anyway? They are none other than adults adults who assume the shape of ogres because of their ignorance or hard heartedness. Sometimes these adults are truly cruel, greedy, grasping and wholly wicked. The authors of these books make it clear that such adults are to be pitied rather than hated for their short-sightedness.
One concludes that, at least in the world of children's literature, it is better to be an orphan. However, you and I, who live in the real world, will agree that parents are not only necessary, they are a blessing!
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