50+ Orphans in Literature: Why Orphans Make the Best Stories

Want to write a book? Our proven program, 100 Day Book closes soon. Get the process to finish your book now. Learn more and sign up here.

What do JK Rowling, Christopher Paolini, David Eddings, and Terry Goodkind have in common? They all wrote bestselling novels starring orphans. And this isn't unique to fantasy. Orphans in literature is a big theme!

50+ Orphans in Literature

Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain all used orphans as some of their most memorable characters.

And don't forget Superman.

In this post, we're looking at more than fifty fictional orphans, why authors love writing about them, and whether or not you should include them in your story.

Why Are Books Always About Orphans?

Writers love writing about orphans.

Why? Because good stories have wide story arcs. The protagonist starts out low and rises high (comedy). Or the protagonist starts high and drops low (tragedy).

Storytellers have the ability to change the world. They use their redemptive imagination to do what storytellers have always done, take the lowest of us to new heights.

50+ Fictional Orphans in Literature List

Here is a list of some of our favorite orphans in literature:

19th Century Orphans in Literature

  • Cosette in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain had Tom Sawyer
  • David Copperfield, Pip (Great Expectations), and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Peter Pan in the story of the same name by J.M. Barrie
  • Mowgli from The Jungle Book and Kim from Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • Jane Eyre by Charolotte Bronte

20th Century Fiction Orphans

  • Harry Potter in the novel series (and films) by J.K. Rowling
  • Ram Mohammed Thomas in Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire) by Vikas Sawrup
  • Ann of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Sophie from The BFG, James from James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Luke and Princess Leia from Star Wars
  • Uhtred of Bebbanburg in The Saxon Stories / The Last Kingdom series by Bernard Cornwall

21st Century Fiction Orphans

  • Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda
  • Theodore Decker in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Werner Pfennig in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Pi Patel from The Life of Pi
  • Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Don Draper from Mad Men

Fantasy Novel Orphans

Orphans are a character trope in fantasy adventure novels. It's almost a challenge to find a fantasy novel that doesn't include an orphan!

  • Frodo from The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Richard Cypher in the Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series
  • Lyra Belacqua from the His Dark Materias series (The Golden Compass) by Philip Pullman
  • Eragon in the series by Christopher Paolini
  • Garion from The Belgariad and The Mallorean series by David Eddings
  • Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronical by Patrick Rothfuss

Superhero Orphans (i.e. pretty much all of them)

  • Superman in the comics and novels by Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuste
  • Batman in the comics by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (pretty much all superheroes)
  • Spiderman
  • The Flash
  • Black Widow
  • Iron Man
  • Thor
  • Black Panther
  • Star-Lord
  • Scarlett Witch
  • Captain America
  • Killmonger
  • Professor X
  • Magneto
  • Daredevil

Disney Orphans

  • Cinderella
  • Snow White
  • Simba from The Lion King
  • Princess Anna and Princess Elsa from Frozen
  • Mowgli from the Jungle Book
  • Aladdin 
  • Peter Pan
  • Lilo from Lilo and Stitch
  • Rapunzel
  • Anastasia
  • Tarzan
  • Annie
  • Arthur from The Sword in the Stone

Can you think of other orphans in books? Leave a comment and we'll add them to the list!

Should YOU Have Characters Who Are Orphans?

As you can see, there are a lot of orphans in fiction. Maybe that inspires you to include them in your story, or maybe that encourages you to avoid the character trope.

The benefit of including orphans is that you have a an instantly sympathetic character with strong character arc.

However, there are other ways to create good characters arcs without forcing your protagonist to be an orphan. For more, check out our guide on character arcs here.

Sample arc plot diagram

Whether you choose to write a story about an orphan or not, make sure to enjoy the writing process (and enjoy reading all the amazing stories about the characters above)!

Would you write a story about an orphan character? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Write a story about an orphan. What is their life like? How will they improve their life? Who will come to their aid?

Write for fifteen minutes, and when you're finished, post your exercise in the practice box below and give feedback to a few other writers.

Enter your practice here:

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

100 Day Book Cover

Closes in . . .

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

Want to Write Your Book?

100 Day Book Closes Soon: Sign up for our proven program, 100 Day Book, and get the coaching, training, and accountability you need to finally become an author and finish your book. The program closes soon though, so sign up now.

23 Comments

  1. Guest

    As the tall man walked closer, the frightened little girl tried desperately to fold herself into the smallest ball possible. Somehow he had spotted her hiding in the large produce box, a box she had been living in ever since running away from the Son of God Orphanage in Port-au-Prince. But why was the man there? Who was he and what did he want? Her confused young mind was racing as she tried to slouch even further into the corner of the box. She shut her eyes, praying that he was just a figment of her imagination or even a ghost. That would certainly be better than a real flesh and blood man. Just seeing men walk towards her made her panicky. She had been abused at the hands of several different men ever since the big earthquake that destroyed her home, killing her entire family.
    Tears formed in the corners of her matted eyes as she tightened them in fear, praying that the man would disappear. As she started praying she quietly called out to her “Heavenly Father” like she had been taught at the orphanage, but she struggled comprehending and accepting who this “Heavenly Father” really was. Was he the God who was good and kind like the bad man at the orphanage told her he was, or was God bad and evil just like the man at the orphanage? In her young nine year old mind, she wrestled with the idea that this Heavenly Father could be good and kind if such a bad and evil man was the one who told her about Him. But she continued to pray in fear, and as she prayed, she remembered her own father. That’s when the tears really began to flow. Her real father truly was a good and kind father, but he was dead, killed by this so-called good and kind “Heavenly Father.”
    Her wet eyes still closed, she was startled when she realized the tall man was standing over her cardboard house. She could hear him breathing heavily. Was he going to do bad things to her like the other men? She braced herself for the worst.
    “My name is Eric, don’t be afraid. I’m here to help. What is your name?” asked the low voice from above.
    The little girl crouched even tighter, saying nothing.
    “Little girl, I want to help you, what is your name?” With that, he placed his hand gently on her head.
    A twinge of terror shot down her spine. She had no idea what the English man was saying. But she knew what it meant when a man touched her that way, and she froze in fear.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Suspense! I like it. What’s going to happen. Is Eric a good guy or bad? I like that you don’t give it away. Readers love suspense, and the longer you can keep those questions unanswered the better.

      This is a little too much “tell,” rather than “show”:

      “She had been abused at the hands of several different men ever since the big earthquake that destroyed her home, killing her entire family.”

      And this:

      “That’s when the tears really began to flow. Her real father truly was a good and kind father, but he was dead, killed by this so-called good and kind ‘Heavenly Father.'”

      But of course, you have to summarize when you have to tell so much in such a short time. (by the way, for a great guide on backstory, check out Livia Blackburne’s post, http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/05/do-flashbacks-make-your-butt-look-big.html )

      I just love that last sentence. It makes the whole scene work.

      Reply
  2. tdub

    As the tall man walked closer, the frightened little girl tried desperately to fold herself into the smallest ball possible. Somehow he had spotted her hiding in the large produce box, a box she had been living in ever since running away from the Son of God Orphanage in Port-au-Prince. But why was the man there? Who was he and what did he want? Her confused young mind was racing as she tried to slouch even further into the corner of the box. She shut her eyes, praying that he was just a figment of her imagination or even a ghost. That would certainly be better than a real flesh and blood man. Just seeing men walk towards her made her panicky. She had been abused at the hands of several different men ever since the big earthquake that destroyed her home, killing her entire family.
    Tears formed in the corners of her matted eyes as she tightened them in fear, praying that the man would disappear. As she started praying she quietly called out to her “Heavenly Father” like she had been taught at the orphanage, but she struggled comprehending and accepting who this “Heavenly Father” really was. Was he the God who was good and kind like the bad man at the orphanage told her he was, or was God bad and evil just like the man at the orphanage? In her young nine year old mind, she wrestled with the idea that this Heavenly Father could be good and kind if such a bad and evil man was the one who told her about Him. But she continued to pray in fear, and as she prayed, she remembered her own father. That’s when the tears really began to flow. Her real father truly was a good and kind father, but he was dead, killed by this so-called good and kind “Heavenly Father.”
    Her wet eyes still closed, she was startled when she realized the tall man was standing over her cardboard house. She could hear him breathing heavily. Was he going to do bad things to her like the other men? She braced herself for the worst.
    “My name is Eric, don’t be afraid. I’m here to help. What is your name?” asked the low voice from above.
    The little girl crouched even tighter, saying nothing.
    “Little girl, I want to help you, what is your name?” With that, he placed his hand gently on her head.
    A twinge of terror shot down her spine. She had no idea what the English man was saying. But she knew what it meant when a man touched her that way, and she froze in fear.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Suspense! I like it. What’s going to happen. Is Eric a good guy or bad? I like that you don’t give it away. Readers love suspense, and the longer you can keep those questions unanswered the better.

      This is a little too much “tell,” rather than “show”:

      “She had been abused at the hands of several different men ever since the big earthquake that destroyed her home, killing her entire family.”

      And this:

      “That’s when the tears really began to flow. Her real father truly was a good and kind father, but he was dead, killed by this so-called good and kind ‘Heavenly Father.'”

      But of course, you have to summarize when you have to tell so much in such a short time. (by the way, for a great guide on backstory, check out Livia Blackburne’s post, http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/05/do-flashbacks-make-your-butt-look-big.html )

      I just love that last sentence. It makes the whole scene work.

      Reply
  3. Mrs. Bunting

    Love a good story about the underdog.

    Reply
  4. Mrs. Bunting

    Love a good story about the underdog.

    Reply
  5. Katie Axelson

    As I walked closer, I realized it wasn’t a dead dog on the side of the road but rather it was a girl, a living, (barely) breathing, little girl. I knelt beside her, her big black eyes watching my every move. I wiped her matted hair from her face, and she reached up to grab by hand.

    “Hello. Don’t be afraid,” I said in English first. I was surprised any words came out around the lump in my throat. Unfortunately, my Creole had vanished.

    She said nothing but kept her hand wrapped around my finger.

    “Mwen Renmen ou,” I said. I love you.

    I gently took her into my arms. In doing so, I thought I would snap her into pieces. My cat weighed more than she did.

    Her feet were blistered and bruised but those were the least of her concerns. The piece of cloth she wore as a dress could not hide her ribs protuding from her skin. There was nothing else there. My first two fingers together were approximately the size of her wrist. Her body was covered in bruises and scrapes.

    I swallowed hard as if that could stop the tears.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thank you, Katie. This is powerful and heartbreaking. I want to know what happens next, and how did she get there in the first place, and what obstacles the narrator had to conquer to find her.

      Reply
  6. Katie Axelson

    As I walked closer, I realized it wasn’t a dead dog on the side of the road but rather it was a girl, a living, (barely) breathing, little girl. I knelt beside her, her big black eyes watching my every move. I wiped her matted hair from her face, and she reached up to grab by hand.

    “Hello. Don’t be afraid,” I said in English first. I was surprised any words came out around the lump in my throat. Unfortunately, my Creole had vanished.

    She said nothing but kept her hand wrapped around my finger.

    “Mwen Renmen ou,” I said. I love you.

    I gently took her into my arms. In doing so, I thought I would snap her into pieces. My cat weighed more than she did.

    Her feet were blistered and bruised but those were the least of her concerns. The piece of cloth she wore as a dress could not hide her ribs protuding from her skin. There was nothing else there. My first two fingers together were approximately the size of her wrist. Her body was covered in bruises and scrapes.

    I swallowed hard as if that could stop the tears.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thank you, Katie. This is powerful and heartbreaking. I want to know what happens next, and how did she get there in the first place, and what obstacles the narrator had to conquer to find her.

      Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Beautiful story, Ryan. He sounds like a neat kid.

      Reply
      • Ryan Haack

        Thanks, Joe. He is. 🙂

        Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Beautiful story, Ryan. He sounds like a neat kid.

      Reply
      • Ryan Haack

        Thanks, Joe. He is. 🙂

        Reply
  7. Bad Horse

    Isn’t this like saying that if your protagonist is a woman, you should have her be raped, because that generates sympathy?

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      While I think you’re missing the point of the post, it’s a provocative question. In our society, unfortunately, rape doesn’t always generate sympathy, so as a strategy, it might not be the best. Maybe a better thing would be to say you should write about a woman who’s been raped because 1 in 5 women (in the US) have been raped and as a writer you have the power to bring justice through your stories.

      Reply
  8. Lele Lele

    He scratched the scabs of his face. It flecked off. The flies scattered away.

    “Hey little girl,” he said pointing his bony arms at the little girl sleeping on the ground floor.

    “Little girl,” he said. She didn’t move. Her belly bloated.

    “You ate little girl?” he said.

    He dragged himself closer to her. On his left hand, maggot infested crusted bread.

    “It’s food,” he said. “Food.”

    She turned towards him. “I have a name.”

    He paused. White bones jut out of his legs.

    He held out his left hand. “Food?”

    She shook her head. “I have a name.”

    He bit his lips. He put his weight on his right knee. He flicked the worms away with his hands.
    “This little wormy went to the farm, This little wormy went to the market, This little wormy went to the forest.”

    She leaned on her left hand an looked at him.
    “What’s that?”

    He raised eyes. “What’s what?”

    “That song, silly.” she said. She smiled. “That stupid song.”

    “This little wormy went to the village,” he flicked and flicked. “This little wormy went to the church, This little wormy went to the orph-”

    He blinked. He threw the bread across the floor.

    She looked to where he threw it and turned back to him.

    “Why’d you do that?” she said. “It’s food.”

    He blinked.

    “Food.”

    “Little girl,” he said. He crawled towards her. He flicked a fly kissing her cheeks.
    “What’s your name?” he said.

    Her eyes got wide. “It’s ah-” She shook her head. “Ah, it’s, I’ll remember.”

    He laughed.

    “What’s my name?” he said. “Do you know who I am?”

    She frowned at him. “You’re the annoying little boy who won’t stop bothering me.”

    He bit his lip.

    “You ate little girl?”

    She shook her head. “Where are they? They said they were gonna come.”

    “You can’t trust them,” he said. “They promise. They send us paper. Can we it paper? It’s bland.”

    He spit out on the ground. It was red.

    “No you can’t trust them,” he said. “They always promise, they never come back.”

    Tears welled up their eyes. “But they promised. She said, she said, they would take us away. That, that.”

    “No.” He flicked the tears away. “They won’t come back. They never do.”

    Reply
  9. Will

    Facing the coast of Port-au-Prince, a massive slum neighbourhood spills over the hillside. Houses, if such tin shanties can be called such, are cramped together against streams of filthy water and pits of rubbish. The soil, elsewhere lush and fertile, is dry and dead. This is all we see when we enter the streets near the Son of God orphanage. Some city streets try for a more self-sufficient look, with broader walkways and a handful of commercial establishments. But once we meet the children living at the Son of God, our preconceptions change; this is not just a poor city – it is one where true misery lives.

    The very least they can claim is a roof over their heads. If they see us approach, they will not wave or shout out, at us as we are used to seeing children do. What minutes of proper rest they get, they choose to spend it in the shade. They’ve been too long at work in the heat of the day, and they’ll be sent to work in the night-time. Selling their bodies for the benefit of their caretakers is the most common job. It’s the one where the girls, none of whom have reached adolescence, are given privilege.

    Reply
  10. Sonia

    Thanks sooooooooo much this helped so much !!!!!!!!!!!!!
    🙂

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Add An Adopted Character to Your NaNoWriMo Cast - [...] in Fiction, part 1 and part 2, at Elizabeth Craig’s blog • Check out Joe Bunting’s post, Why You…
  2. 10 Short Story Ideas - […] Read more about why you should be writing stories about orphans here. […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5
Share to...