Cast children’s stories exclusively with orphans

Standing outside the rhinoceros enclosure, Billy tried to hide his distress from his friends. It was in just such an enclosure that his parents had died when he was only four years old. He could still see the rhino’s breath hanging in the cold air as they clung to one another in fear. Of course, they had actually died from the effects of the virulent plague they carried whilst the rhino was distracted by the arrival of a pair of unfortunate parachutists – his best friend Suzie’s parents, as it turned out. They had been gored to death by the rhino whilst, in the sky far above, the plane they had jumped from exploded in mid-air, killing the pilot and co-pilot, who were his friend Nate’s mum and dad respectively.
‘You okay, Bill?’ asked Suzie, laying a hand gently on his shoulder.
‘Yeah,’ said Billy. ‘Just... you know.’
‘Yeah,’ said Nate, looking wistfully at the clouds above them. Just then, Naomi came back from the toilet, grinning broadly.
‘My parents should be here to pick us up soon,’ she said cheerily. ‘I love coming to the zoo.’
‘Shut up, Naomi,’ said Billy.


  1. Is this a reference to something specific? I'm not sure I get it...I do recognize how quite silly it all is, but where did the idea for this one come from?

  2. Quite right, they should all have been sent to live with their aunts. Their parents should be alive and well and on holiday/running the Death Star.
    Karl: Harry Potter/Mowgli/Kay Harker/James and the Giant Peach etc etc etc etc

  3. Parents just get in the way of ADVENTURES

  4. Karl, some of it could be James and the Giant Peach.

  5. True that, Anon. True that.

  6. Yes but what I really want to know is what happened to the rhino?

  7. The rhino was painlessly destroyed by the zookeeper, a tall, dark, and handsome fellow in his mid-thirties who had lost his parents at the age of eight when they, in pursuit of a suicide pact, had gone over Niagara Falls in a single barrel. If only ....

  8. No, no, no. You're doing it all wrong. Existentially despairing orphans only works when they're in their teens. Everyone knows the proper operation with childhood orphans is orphans IN physical distress.

    What you need here is a villain. A villain who can:

    Kill Nate.
    Kidnap Suzie, threatening to marry her against her will. (obviously)
    Torment Billy.

    This is called a kick-the-dog moment. It makes it quite clear to your audience who the bad guy in the story is, and frees the audience from any feelings of guilt or aversion when he is gored by rhinos while a model airplane (built by enterprising orphans) explodes inside him, spreading a fast-acting and very painful plague through his body.

    And that's just if it's a male villain. Female villains are another story, but abuse of orphans works just as well.

  9. Or was that your next post?

  10. It would be interesting to see a few more child adventure stories where parents actually exist in a meaningful way - but that would require creativity.
    See Disney for details.

  11. It's well known you can't have adventures with parents around... then it's a grown-up story.

    Lemony Snicket is the ultimate example of Wallis' theory of physical danger. And of course no story would be complete without the slightly smug/uninteresting/stupid character (Naomi) who in a completely unfair manner has nothing go wrong in their lives, and often has things go rather well. Things are rather boring for them, although they do sometimes get to witness the ultimate triumph (or tragic death) of our plucky hero/es.

    Other options (besides the aunt or the Death Star) include having one remaining-but-quite-sickly parent, or re-married and now-distant (physically or emotionally) parents - although if one parent is dead you can technically be considered an orphan - or of course you can be sent off to school or into the country. C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones (j'adore!), Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew)... not all guilty of bad writing, of course. Just not that keen on parents hanging around, confiscating shiny rings or ancient tomes, or telling you not to climb out of that window in the attic and what are you doing in that Wardrobe? Dinner's nearly ready, for goodness sake.

  12. Dickens and L. M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables et al) occurred to me at 3am as two more authors who callously orphaned their hero/ines. Considering how many books Montgomery wrote about children and families, there were very few where the children had both parents present.

    I'll try and stop now... just don't usually get to talk about my junior fiction collection for some reason... *sigh*

  13. And of course in 'Matilda', Roald Dahl made being an orphan something to aspire to by giving Matilda the world's most awful parents and making her hero-teacher-saviour Miss Honey an orphan herself.

    It didn't work out quite so well for Oliver Twist, admittedly. That's kind of a story about the difficulty of finding the right foster parents. I suppose the same could be said of Mowgli in the Jungle Book.

    And let's not forget the superhero orphan contingent – Superman, Batman, Robin, Spiderman etc. There's just something about orphanhood that pushes children towards a life of adventure.

  14. right out of Patterns in Comparative Religion by Eliade (in my words, far less eloquent): the unwanted/orphaned child was thought of in some primitive cultures as being abandoned to the Earth-Mother. if she saves him and brings him up, then he no longer shares in the common fate of man, but receives from her an exceptional destiny. ..his biographical legend repeats the myths about gods abandoned at birth, and his appearance typically accompanies a new age on some level of reality.
    (i love that book.)

  15. Nothing to add except . . . how come no one's mentioned Frodo yet?

  16. As for me, I don't consider LOTR children's books. But then I dragged Dickens in as well, didn't I? The orphan-in-adult-stories is another thread, I guess, as is the old debate about what's a children's story and what isn't.

    Also Frodo's orphaned state doesn't seem to come into the story much, once the scene is established. To be fair, he doesn't have a lot of time to mope about it.

    Love that quote, Ashley - very apt for Mowgli / Tarzan et al.

  17. ...the rhino, impassioned beyond reason by the cruelty of the men who had murdered his parents and captured him, reared through his cage's bars and fatally gored Naomi's just-arrived mother and father, only narrowly missing Naomi herself.

  18. ...As Naomi sobbed for the loss of her parents, an empathetic squirrel observed her. After his parents had been killed on the highway, he too had been overwhelmed. He scurried to pick up an acorn. It so happens that the tree from which the acorn fell was recently cut down to make room for a new exhibit; the acorn was an orphan, too!
    (and obviously this is just nuts)