To Make Them Big, First You Gotta Rig: (Waddya Gotta Rig?)
The Parent Lack
Parents; they love us, take care of us. Heck! If they didn't do the thing they did, we wouldn't be here now, would we? And they nag, pester and instruct us to "Go clean your room.", we love them even though we may not want to admit it. As we clean our collective rooms grumbling to ourselves, we look forward to the glorious day when we will be on our own, our own boss, and visit home for an excellently cooked Thanksgiving turkey!
But what if they weren't there? What if they left when we were young, or died of some incurable disease before we came of age? What if we were raised by our grandparents or some relatives whether it was out of the kindness of their hearts or their moral duty? Would we be the same person we are now, or would we be someone completely different? Would we like the same food, the same people, the same things in life? It's hard to say and impossible to successfully play "what if" because I left my time-displacement unit in my other pants, but it's not a mystery of what it does to fictional characters.
Just off the top of your head, can you think of a hero or heroine that has both parents still in his or her life? Just out of the fandoms that the PPC are involved with, I can't think of any. In Lord of the Rings, the orphans are nearly as numerous as the motherless. In this case, I'm pretty certain that this is a result of the real life of author and professor J.R.R. Tolkien; having had his father die when Tolkien was only four and his mother die when he was twelve, one would think that writing characters that grew up without parents would only come naturally to him. Also the time-line that Tolkien writes about, it is not uncommon for such characters to be with one or both parents gone; either the loss of a father during war, or the loss of a mother in childbirth was a regular occurrence in history.
In Harry Potter, the main hero is an orphan who's parents were killed trying to save him from an evil and hateful wizard. Another character is Neville Longbottom has grown up with his grandmother because of the current mindset of his parents, which is practically zilch, due to a battle with Voldemort. To add to the list is Hagrid, the magic school's Grounds Keeper who has an astounding lack of parental figures as well; his father has died and his mother is out of the picture.
What about Pirates of the Caribbean? Will Turner left England after the death of his mother, to try and find his father who ultimately had joined up with Jack Sparrow's crew. Elizabeth Swann doesn't have a mother and we even know nothing about Jack himself, so he has a mysterious parent situation.
But with all fandom heroes (or antiheroes) aside, what makes the lack of parents so fascinating or so popular in fictional characters? Even just think of the stories from fairy tales, parents seem to be absent. Why is this? Why is the omitting of parents so popular? Is it the lack of guidance and teaching that the hero desperately needs, but doesn't have? Is it the tough love (or the absences of love) that the hero has grown up with that shapes their personality to where they are most interesting characters? Whatever it is, it seems as if it is a model that is essential for the main character of a story.
Model of a Heroic Epic:
1. Is orphaned or a foster child with a mysterious past.
2. Finds/is given a magical sword/book/item
3. Their home village is attacked with the hero having to leave to fulfil a destiny of some sort
4. Often has a side kick of some kind
5. Overcomes the villain/finds true family/comes into their inheritance
6. Marries their childhood sweetheart/the princess
Awww.... I'm getting all misty eyed, but back to my main point, why does this formula work time and time again? Maybe it's the fact that losing a parent is such a painful thing that does in fact change ones outlook on life. I think the Joker from 'Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker' said it best when in threatening 'Bat-Fake' he stated, "I always think that it adds resonance to a hero's mission to have some defining element of tragedy in his background, don't you?" And perhaps he's right.
So, why can't there be an amazing hero story where both parents are still alive? If there is, I would love to read it. It would be awesome if there was this phenomenal epic where the parents are alive and healthy and kicking, how they don't want the hero to leave and how they have to let him go instead of him/her just leaving for s/he has no attachments.
Therefore, if no parents is what makes the hero and a eye gripping story, then all I have to say is that if and when I have children of my own, they will lead bland and boring lives, for I'm not going anywhere. Besides, it's my turn to tell them to clean their room.
(Special thanks to St. Claire from the PPC board for posting the Heroic Epic Guidelines)