Tough Traveling: Orphans
The Thursday feature “Tough Traveling” is the brainchild of Nathan of Review Barn, who has come up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones. Nathan has invited anyone who is interested to come play along, so be sure to check out the first link for more information.
This week’s tour topic is: Orphans
No one in Fantasyland amounts to anything if they still have both parents. Rule number one. Thanks to Stephanie for the suggestion (and let us all be surprised together that it isn’t in the Tough Guide).
For this week’s topic, I actually picked all my books with my own children in mind. My picks are all books that I’ve read with my children either aloud (with me reading to them or my son reading them to us) or via audiobooks. Children’s books are ripe with stories about orphans in various fantastic situations who usually go on to do fantastic things. I’ll start off with two of our most recent reads by Diana Wynne Jones.
David Allard (Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones)
David, who is an orphan obviously, comes home from his boarding school where he learns that he’ll have to put up with his awful relatives during his school break. While having a tantrum, the words that David speaks, which he believes he’s made up, cause a wall in his garden to break and a boy named Luke appears, leading to 8 days of mischievous adventure. This was a wonderfully imaginative story that played with Norse mythology with Luke being everyone’s favorite trickster god.
Earwig is a young girl who was left at an orphanage as a babe with a note that said: “Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.” So, her mother may well not be dead. Usually orphanages are dreary places, but Earwig learns that she can make people do whatever she wants. She isn’t keen on leaving when a woman named Bella Yaga adopts her, but she does want to learn more about magic.
An orphaned boy who finds himself in the care of his grandmother learns that witches are real. Not only are witches very real, but they plan to get rid of all the children. Grandma and boy decide they’re not going to have any of that and decide to get rid of all the witches. All of them. In the entire world. Badass.
Peter Nimble (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier) – As the book itself states:“For those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves.” Peter is a blind thief, the best thief, who steals a box that contains magical eyes that begin a marvelous adventure for him. What I loved about this book is that Peter’s disability is not treated as some sad, sad thing. He’s given so much agency in this book and accomplishes some incredible things, and it’s for that reason the ending leaves me with mixed feelings.
Jack Blank (The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch)
Jack lives at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s in the middle of a swamp. Jack loves comics, but one day he finds himself face to face with something straight out of a comic, a robo-zombie. Jack is spirited away to Imagine Nation (get it?) where all heroes and villains originate, and Jack learns his true origins.
The Orphans (Time Snatchers by Richard Ungar)
A group of orphans are adopted by a man called Uncle for the sole purpose of learning to use time travel to steal valuable objects. However, things are beginning to get a bit complicated and muddled for one of the orphans, Caleb, and he starts thinking about getting away. But how can he when Uncle can find him anywhere in any time? And runaways are not tolerated.
Also because I am actually 12-years-old
and also a terrible human being:
I’m actually quite surprised Orphans wasn’t listed in The Tough Guide either, considering how you can’t swing a cat in Fantasyland without hitting one (not to be confused with Abandoned-At-Birth children though, because there seems to be a ton of those too). They appear pervasive across every SFF sub-genre there is, so I’m looking forward to see a huge variety of books this week, and it also gives me a chance to use a couple of my more recent reads as well as books I’ve never featured for Tough Traveling before:
North and her bear are one of the main attractions aboard the traveling circus ship Excalibur. Long ago, North’s mother had a similar dance act, until she was killed by her own bear on stage, leaving the orphaned North to grow up raised by the ship’s captain and ringmaster Jarrow “Red Gold” Stirling.
Prince Jalan’s quest party grows in this latest installment of The Red Queen’s War, when Jal, Snorri, Tuttugu and the northern witch Kara come upon an orphan named Hennan in Osheim as they make their way south. They bring Hennan along with them on their journey since after losing his grandfather and only family he had left, the boy had no place else to go.
Xhea is a teenage girl who has been living on her own in the depths of the Lower City for as long as she can remember. She survived her early years with the help of an older street girl, until later she disappeared as well. In Defiant, Xhea gets to learn more about her past and the circumstances behind how she was orphaned and left to fend for herself.
Orphaned after their mother died, Kate Prospero and her brother Danny were taken under the wing of their crime boss uncle. Not wanting to be part of a dirty magic coven anymore, Kate takes Danny and leaves that life behind in order to start clean. She eventually became a cop, investigating magic-related crimes while also trying to raise her recalcitrant little brother by herself.
Here’s another story about an older sibling taking care of a younger one after being orphaned when their whole family perishes in a fire. Left with nothing, Lucian can only depend on his magical talents to support himself and his sister Juli, working as an artist for the Pureblood Registry since he had not yet reached the age to inherit his father’s title as head of his house.
Nicolas Lenoir is a brilliant detective, but he had help to get where he is today. Sometimes, Lenoir relies on the tips from his informers, one of them being the street urchin named Zach, the boy Lenoir seems to tolerate more than most. The detective sees potential in the young orphan, and attempts to groom the boy to become something more when he grows up.
Alice has no one else after her father goes down in a shipwreck, so she is sent to live with her strange “uncle” Geryon, who she’s never even heard of. Geryon turns out to be a Reader, a magic user who can enter the worlds of certain books. He takes Alice on as his apprentice, and she has the chance to meet other Reader apprentices in The Mad Apprentice, many of whom are orphans as well. In this book, she also learns more about what happened to her father.
I’m sure I’ve used The Monstrumologist for Tough Traveling before (multiple times, probably) but I can’t help it, I’m an evangelist for this book. The novel is presented as the diary of Will Henry, an orphan working as an assistant/apprentice to the weird Dr. Pellinore Warthrop who is a monstrumologist, someone who studies monsters. IT IS NOT AS CUTE AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, it’s creepy and disgusting. Sometimes, I still find it hard to believe that these books are categorized as YA.
Being an orphan can really suck sometimes. Especially when you discover the truth about your parents. Like when you find out that your mentor lied to you and your dad is really a jerk but he’d really love it if you came to work for him so you can rule the galaxy as father and son. (Star Wars)
Or when your father takes off to continue his life as an awesome space pirate, leaving you and your brother to suffer abandonment issues and be stalked by a not so nice guy named Mr. Sinister. (X-Men)
Or maybe you know who your dad is, but because you’re his bastard son, begat with some scullery maid (or so you believe….) you’ve been shipped off to live with your uncle and his young wife who doesn’t like you very much. (Dragon Age)
Or your real dad (brother in the TV series) turns out to be that evil despot you’ve been sworn to kill, while he’s busy doing his best to kill you, or at least turn you evil too. (Legend of the Seeker/Sword of Truth)
Perhaps the decision to abandon your parent/child relationship has something to do with your dad being an evil demon lord, and you fear becoming like him and instead, use your powers for good. (Teen Titans)
Maybe, after the tragic, tear jerking death of your mom, you become a petty thief and then fate, friends, and a little courage turns you into a hero. But little do you know that the mysterious dad you never knew is actually a pretty big asshole. (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Or you think your mom is a jerk for assassinating your dad, until you learn that you are the product of their love, which is totally against the Peacekeepers rules, and she was forced to choose between killing him or killing you. (Farscape)
Maybe, just maybe, your orphan hood is a good one. Or it’s a bad one. Or it’s a misunderstood one. Or it’s all sorts of things because you didn’t realize that your actual parents were test tubes and that you are not the only one… (Orphan Black)
Wow, being an orphan really can suck sometimes…