It’s a tale many of us nerds are familiar with from comics, films, tv and video games: the heroic orphan. Some of these kids have no memory of their parents, while some older children watch them get murdered. Some might later find new homes, while others wander the world in isolation.
Orphans in fiction are meant to reflect our own fears and differences from society at large; it’s something to “overcome.” In the cases below, the orphaned children (mostly) overcome the raw deal life has handed them and embark upon a hero’s journey. Below, check out a five fictional orphans who found their mojo and did great things.
Harry Potter was just a baby when the evil Voldemort killed his parents. Branded as “The Boy Who Lived,” Harry endures life as a freak first with his repugnant aunt, uncle and cousin, and later as a famewhore and subject of gossip at Hogwarts. It could even be said he was orphaned three times, with each of the murders happening right in front of him — first, by his parents, then by his godfather Sirius, and finally by Dumbledore. With each death, he lost his caretakers and what he felt were his shots at true family. He overcomes all, however, by the power of friendship and love.
We’re never quite sure what happens to Dorothy Gale’s parents — Dorothy’s arrival at Aunt Em’s and Uncle Henry’s house isn’t quite explained in the “Oz” books or famous Judy Garland movie. Heck, we’re not even sure that Em and Henry are blood relatives instead of a kindly foster family. Regardless, Dorothy seems to deal with her life pretty well, and she doesn’t appear to have isolation issues by the time we meet her (other than living in a barren Kansas wasteland — uh, I mean farmland — with only a dog as a friend). Through her own fantasy, she embarks on a journey through Oz, developing a new family of odd friends, of whom she’s very protective. In later literature, Dorothy even is established as second-in-command by virtue of her best friend, Princess Ozma.
Link’s story varies in each of the Legend of Zelda video games, but generally, his mom died while trying to get away from a war in Hyrule. Sometimes his relatives are seen, like his sister, grandmother or grandfather, but it’s usually established that he’s alone, with possibly only other warrior-wannabe kids around. No matter which of the Zelda games we’re talking about, Link’s tale is a classic hero’s journey — a normal kid is chosen to protect a princess and lead a war against evil forces, and he builds skills and character as he accepts the challenge. There’s a reason that the Zelda games resonate with so many people, despite their weird continuity and mish-mash on Nintendo’s non-timeline.
If anyone has a classic story of a normal orphan who really comes into his own, it’s Frodo Baggins. After his parents die in a boating accident, the somewhat-dorky lad eventually is adopted by his “uncle,” Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo starts to go a little crazy and deserts The Shire, leaving the One Ring with Frodo. After many years, Frodo realizes he and the ring are dangers to his village, so he heads out to seek advice about the ring and then destroy it. During his journey, Frodo improves his offensive and defensive skills while maintaining his love and loyalty to his comrades.
If you’re visiting Nerdbastards and don’t know the basics of Spider-Man’s origin, we’re going to have to have words. Like Dorothy Gale, Peter Parker was raised by his aunt and uncle (it was later revealed that Peter’s parents were killed during a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission), but instead of being on the Kansas prairie, he’s in New York City. He’s a nerdy, lonely teenager, different from his classmates. One day, a radioactive spider bites Peter, imbuing him with some spider powers and setting him a long path that includes both self discovery and self destruction. As most superheroes know, fighting for justice makes you that much more isolated, since you often have to maintain a secret identity and withhold information from your closest friends and family; it’s no different for Peter. What makes his plight more difficult, though, is that he’s orphaned again and again, with the eventual deaths of Uncle Ben, Aunt May (though “death” should be in quotes for her) and Gwen Stacy, and through shunning from his best friend Harry Osborn and love interest Mary Jane Watson. Despite these and other setbacks and occasionally giving up his Spider-Man “job,” Peter embraces the work he does and takes heart in the many innocent people he’s aided over the years.
Granted, there are many, many more fictional orphans than just these. For example, I know I’m going to have tomatoes thrown at me for not addressing Batman. Who are some of your favorites?