What do these two have in common?

So, I was laying the groundwork for a new project, and began to question some things we take for granted in the fantasy genre. One of the things, specifically was the orphan or parentless hero.

We see it a lot, and it very rarely is a driving element of the character, which is stranger when the parental role isn’t taken up by some sort of surrogate, such as a mentor or foster parent. So I began to ask why is this such a common trope.

My first idea, and this doesn’t apply to all cases, but seems very common, is the fact that it’s a shorthand way to ‘other’ the protagonist. By making him an orphan, he’s immediately set apart from his community, which makes answering The Call just a little bit easier.

Another idea, which was presented by Brooke Johnson on Google+, is that it’s intended as a sympathy element. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to not have parents, and so we automatically sympathize with them. I agree it’s a possibility, but isn’t that just as lazy in the long run as using it to other the hero?

Now, to be fair, I don’t think every orphan hero falls under such tropes, in fact J.K. Rowling used the background as very important to Harry Potter and is a good example of using what can be considered a trope in a good way.

So what are your thoughts on the orphan hero, is this something fantasy should be moving away from? Leave a comment below!