So, I noticed that two out of three of my novel ideas feature main characters who are/were raised by aunts. And that made me consider the old question of why so many protagonists, especially in children's stories, are alone-in-the-world orphans, or raised by non-parent relatives. Explanations tend to include the idea that orphanhood frees up the characters, that it gives them strong motivations to find love and acceptance, all that sort of thing. All the explanations seem to assume that if those characters had parents, they would of course be cared for and loved and not have those needs. Eh. My theory is that a whole lot of writers had dysfunctional parents, and therefore had trouble depicting or embracing the idea of the loving parent-protector, and in fact wanted to explore the theme of a child deprived of that loving protection. Society doesn't want the loving protector identity stripped from the fictional parent, so the author just eliminated the parent instead. The parent's role in the conflict is replaced with a non-parent--Cinderella's stepmother, Harry's Dursleys, Sara Crewe's Miss Minchin, Anne's Marilla, Dorothy's Auntie Em. With this replacement, the author can safely explore parent/child conflict without risking the backlash that's likely to ensue if they challenge the idol of the saintly parent--especially the saintly mother. Sometimes it all works out for the characters--as with Marilla and Auntie Em. Sometimes it really, really doesn't. But even when things end sweetly, just the possibility of deep parent/child conflict can lead to trouble. (As it did, for example, with Where the Wild Things Are; when it came out, Max's anger at his mother was seen as shocking.) Discuss?