An Examination of Orphans and their Mentors – From Oedipus to Harry Potter and Athena to Dumbledore

‘Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell.’

From the song Children Will Listen from INTO THE WOODS by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine

The Legends and Tales of the ‘Orphan in the Storm’

“An orphaned calf licks its own back.”

Kenyan Proverb


Mythological Orphan Tales and What we Mean By ‘Orphan’

This section begins by asking “What do we mean by ‘orphan’?” and then goes on to examine several seminal orphan myths and stories, including Oedipus, Moses and Romulus and Remus.

Orphan Folklore and its Influence

This section looks at the history of the Lost Child in folklore and how the story tropes established in folktales later became crucial elements and themes in the orphan novels of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë and Victor Hugo.

The Nature of the Orphan Child

This section considers what makes an orphan so different from other children and then goes on to look at an array of different types of orphans in stories, ranging from the runaway and the street urchin to the child lost of the jungle and the orphan time traveller.

The Darker Side of the Life of an Orphan

This section takes a look at those stories where a painful early life experience can turn a child to wickedness and those tales where children make themselves orphans by killing their own parents.

Orphanages, Adoption, Evacuees and Refugees

This section first considers the institution of the orphanage and how it has been represented in stories. This segment of ORPHANS AND THEIR MENTORS then goes on to specifically look at tales of adopted orphan and child evacuees and refugees.

Orphan Story Patterns and Tropes

This section of ORPHANS AND THEIR MENTORS examines some of the recurring forms of the orphan tale such as the Redeeming Orphan and the Rapunzel Story. This section also considers some of the story tropes you might typically find in an orphan tale, plus the role of the grown-up in an orphan story.

The Orphan Tale Storytellers and their Bereavement

This segment considers the work of several orphan story creators such as Charlie Chaplin, Oscar Hammerstein, Walt Disney and Roald Dahl, asking “How did their own life experience shape their tales?”

The Stories of Abducted Children

This section first looks at several disturbing tales where children are stolen or taken from their parents, and then moves on to take a detailed look at compulsorily legal adoptions, where religious institutions and government bodies forcibly removed children from their natural mothers or fathers.

Puer Aeternus: The Eternal Orphan

This section is an extensive examination of the world’s most famous eternal orphan child, namely, Peter Pan.

Eighteenth Century Orphans and Foundlings

This section briefly looks two novels from the eighteenth century, namely Henry Fielding’s foundling tale TOM JONES and Daniel Defoe’s Newgate story of illegitimate birth MOLL FLANDERS.

Orphan Back Stories and Foundling Lineage In Popular Culture

This section assesses the importance of a lost child’s personal history and parentage in their orphan tale. This segment also looks at the some examples of the ‘back story’ of the orphaned child in modern popular culture.

The Orphan Story and its Genre Variations

This section considers the vast array of genre variations in the Orphan Story from fantasy, spying adventures, Anime and Manga to social realism, time travel, comedy, stop-motion animation and horror.

Real Life Orphans

A list of many the famous people, often high achievers, who lost a parent at a formative stage in their lives.

Swidgers Train sign logo

The Swidgers

This section looks at the character of William in the SWIDGER Time Adventure book series and the importance of his orphan status in his history.

Swidgers book cover A Tunnel Image in Blue

“An orphan is not weak because reality makes them stronger than a beast.”

Remon Rakibul

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“Myths are stories that express meaning, morality or motivation. Whether they are true or not is irrelevant.”

Michael Shermer

The role of ‘The Helper’ – The writer has decided on the nature of the orphan character for the tale they wish to tell and the child is about to be been sent off on their quest. So the next question is “Who’s going to help them on their way?” There will be friends and allies but there is likely as well to be a Mentor. It’s rare in orphan tales to find one without the other. But it has to be the right sort of Mentor to suit both the orphan and the story. Which leads us to ‘Under their Wings’: Mentors, Guides and Teachers.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Isaac Newton


‘Under their Wings’: Mentors, Guides and Teachers

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“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


The Mentor: Characteristics, Nature and Story Functions

This section begins by asking “What is a Mentor?” This segment then offers some early examples of the Mentor figure from classical mythology, followed by a detailed look at the wide range of characteristics and story functions of the Mentor.


The Human Psychology of the Mentor and Mentor Variations

This section begins with an examination of how the Mentor

figure relates to human psychology and then movers on to consider variations in the Mentor figure, plus the sometimes complex relationship between the Mentor and the Hero. This section concludes with a look at Granny, the very unusual Mentor to William in the SWIDGERS Time Adventure book series.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

Oprah Winfrey

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granny and william

Young Adult Reader Reviews

"One of the things that makes the book so original is the mixture of fantasy, sci-fi, adventure and comedy, so you never know what to expect next… I found the book exciting, entertaining and very, very funny and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to my friends." Year 10

"I loved reading the story. It was creative and different from any other books I’ve read… I could picture the events so clear. It was like I was watching a movie." Year 8

"I think that the storyline of the book was great and that there were some great characters… A brilliant book… I really enjoyed the book and would definitely read the rest in the series." Year 7

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book due to the amazing storyline, character, humour and general style of writing." Year 10

"I’d recommend it to my friends as I think they’d like the mystery and adventure but also find it funny." Year 9

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