I like literary archetypes. To me, they’re the puzzle pieces a person can assemble to understand the canon of Western Literature. Anti-heroes, tricksters, mentors and shadows are all wonderful but my favorite is the orphan-hero. His search is for home, his judgments are his own and like all archetypes he/she morphs to reflect the values of whatever era he’s created in.** If yesterday’s Oliver Twist lives at one end of the Hero/Orphan timeline, then Tensy Farlow in Tensy Farlow & the Home for Mislaid Children resides at the other.
As I said yesterday, Oliver is a sweet kid and everyone’s victim. Graceful and sympathetic beyond his circumstances, his victory is in surviving long enough to be rescued by kind adults. Well, that’s fair, given Victorian Times. Unprotected kids were nature’s victims and the best any of them could hope for is a reasonable adoption. But that’s not very heroic.
Orphan heroes in today’s take charge of their own fates and everyone else’s. They’re brave, caring individuals who stand up to tyrants, tall and small, and they often rescue the adults. I realized this a few years ago when I was working on a long research paper tracing the evolution of Orphan/Heroes. I noticed these orphans advanced from being victims to adventurers, then promising proto-citizens to redeemers and usually the male characters advance a bit in front of the girls. As I got to the end of my search, I found lots of orphan boy heroes rescuing the world with bravery, super powers, and what-not, but I couldn’t find any recent corresponding girls. There were supporting girl characters but not a center heroine that fit the bill. Then I found Tensy Farlow, a heroine for the contemporary fantasy age.
When Albie Gribble finds the abandoned Tensy in a pile of laundry, all he sees is an abandoned baby girl. He doesn’t know Tensy is being looked for, which is all to the good. You see, each human in Tensy’s world has a guardian angel to keep as much evil at bay as possible.. Unfortunately, some angels do their job better than others. Some angels are forgetful or forgotten and some angels become demons, opening the world for wickedness. And, although Tensy Farlow can see guardian angels, no spirit looks after her. Tensy has no angel at all.
Tensy Farlow & the Home for Mislaid Children is a children’s novel in the same literary vein as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Graveyard Book. In other words, the setting is a bit gothic, most of the characters have odd English-sounding names (like Howard Humberstone and Matron Pluckrose) and very improbable things happen. Like many fantasy books, it has the eternal struggle between good and evil but the the hope of redemption is not a ring-bearing hobbit or a wand-waving wizard. Instead, the fate of the universe comes to rest on the bony shoulders of a orphan girl with flyaway red. curly hair, especially good eyesight and a mind of her own. Trust me, she’s somebody special.
For anyone who thought Children’s fantasy stopped with J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket or Neil Gaiman, take a look at this book from Australia. It’s worth the look. You could end up believing in angels.
** If I tend to use male pronouns in talking about universal types, that’s how I was taught during a less-enlightened century. I hope I make it clear that as far as archetypes go, I believe neither gender has a monopoly, nor should they. Fiction, in my opinion, should be the last place to accept limitations.