Many of the literary world’s most remembered characters are orphans

Beginning this week, we will have themed features on children’s literature and book selections based on the theme. This week’s theme is orphans in children’s literature.

“Please Sir, I want some more.”

This Dickensian line is immortal for a very simple reason – it captures Oliver Twist’s hunger.

In the archetypal orphan story, hunger is a constant companion. The orphan is always hungry – for foods, shelter, love or fame. Eventually, with the help of a benefactor, the orphan finds what he or she is looking for.

In Anne of Green Gables, a coming-of-age series by L.M. Montgomery, Anne Shirley is accidentally adopted by Marilla and Mathew Cuthbert. Gradually, she wins not just their affection but that of the entire town.

For author Jean Webster’s protagonist Jerusha Abbot, life is a bed of thorns until Daddy Long-Legs comes along. Over the course of many letters that she writes to him, we go on an emotional rollercoaster ride along with her. It ends happily for all, Jerusha and us.

Orphans have a way of winning us over. Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer is an imp and we love him for it.

Then, there is the most famous orphan, created by J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter’s life is tough. Not only is he an orphan, who has just discovered a world he never knew existed, but he also bears the Herculean burden of saving the world from evil forces.

Take Ram Mohammad Thomas, of Vikas Swarup’s Q and A, who was popularised by the film Slumdog Millionaire. Ram battles his circumstances throughout the book and, in the end, when he wins two billion dollars, we are happy. Not just for him but for underdogs like him around the world.

But what of superheroes? Batman, Superman, Daredevil, Storm, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Robin and many others were orphaned at a young age. The death of their loved ones drives these heroes to keep the rest of the world suffering the same fate as they did.

See how much you know about your favourite superheroes by answering the following:

How old were they when they were orphaned?

What happened to their parents?

How did they find out about their parents’ death?

Was there any benevolent presence in their lives? If so, what is their relationship?

Finally, there are, of course, many villainous orphans. For every Harry Potter, there is a Lord Voldemort. Count how many more orphaned villains you can find in books and stories.

Courtesy: Book Lovers’ Program for Schools

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