Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Jameela Lares

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Eric Tribunella

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Charles Sumner

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Alexandra Valint

Committee Member 4 Department



Childhood development theory tells us that there are certain psychological processes that we all undergo during childhood, regardless of our national or cultural background. These developmental struggles can include some of the more ambivalent cycles—such as regression, which can be both a positive and negative phenomenon—but can also include some of the more beneficial processes like overcoming separation anxiety and creating and establishing a sense of self. One figure that is often marginalized in discussions of childhood development in children’s fantasy fiction is the orphan. In fact, book-length studies on the orphan figure in children’s literary fantasy are virtually non-existent; however, I believe that attention to this recurring figure in children’s fantasy is crucial to a better psychoanalytic understanding of children’s literature. Childhood developmental psychologists insist upon the influence of the mother and the father as critical to the healthy psychological development of the child. In a comic genre like children’s literature, the orphan—an inherently tragic figure—must still progress normally through the stages of psychological development to ensure the comic narrative. One way that these developmental processes are negotiated is through the intervention of conventions of the fantasy genre. In this study, I will be using childhood developmental theory in order to show how orphan figures in children’s literature—like Harry Potter—demonstrate these developmental dilemmas from various stages of childhood. Furthermore, by drawing on Brian Attebery’s definition of fantasy as both formula and mode, I endeavor to demonstrate how conventions of the fantasy genre—like magic, for instance—help to create a narrative that walks the orphan protagonist through these psycho-developmental stages, thereby allowing those characters the opportunity to process fundamental psychological processes in the absence of the parental influence that childhood developmental psychologists claim is vital to the child’s normalizing progress to adulthood. Ultimately, what I offer in this study is a nuanced analysis of the orphan figure in children’s fantasy, one that draws upon childhood development theory and theories of the fantasy genre in order to show how the fantasy orphan figure models successful resolution of crucial childhood developmental processes through hyperbolic externalizations of those psycho-developmental dilemmas.