The term found family or family of choice, according to Wikipedia, “refers to the group of people in an individual’s life that satisfies the typical role of family as a support system.” Sci fi and fantasy is full of characters who have been forced apart from their families of origin, either through circumstances (war, tragedy, evil government regulations…) or by option (differences in ideology, birth family are terrible people, etc.).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good found family. There are so many wonderful families of choice in speculative fiction! I’ve written a fair few of these myself, and removing the protagonists from their families of origin is a well-loved trope that works for a reason. It provides backstory and motivation, and it isolates the main character(s) so they are ready to begin the adventure.
But this isn’t the only way to tell a tale, and lately I’ve found myself (found! Ha!) thinking about all those other stories out there—the ones with biological or childhood families who support the main character, who fight side-by-side, and who provide a safe port for their adventuring children to return to. Let’s have a look at a few of my favorites…
Safe ports and anchors
Sure, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) is full of broken bloodlines, grand gestures for ancestral honor, and tragic pasts, if you look at the humans, dwarves, and elves. But the grounding element of Tolkien’s work is the hobbits, and no one can argue that hobbit society is based on Family with a capital F. Which is why one of my favorite parts of LOTT is the end, when they all return home and set the Shire to rights. For Sam, Merry, and Pippin, their families are the port they leave behind, only to return to once the ‘distant seas’ have been explored.
Another character who finds an anchor in his family is policeman Peter Grant in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (2011–). Although they don’t participate directly in Peter’s adventures, he is always touching base with his parents, and they serve as an ever-present grounding element.
Loving, present, and accounted for
Many stories centered on child protagonists get rid of parents because Reasons (such as allowing adventuring past bedtime!). In middle grade sci fi romp Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez (2019), however, Sal’s family is there for him every day, and when his adventures get out of hand, he knows he can count on them to step in and lend assistance.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is another one where the young protagonist, Miles Morales, has a family who is present in his daily life and makes sure he knows he is loved and cared for. It’s the opposite of the usual superhero origin story, as made clear by Miles’ interactions with versions of himself from across the multiverse, and honestly? I love it. Why NOT have a hero who can go home at the end of the day to his parents’ embrace?
Families who fight evil together, remain together
One of my favorite evil-busting families appears in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series (2012–). The Price siblings come from a large extended clan of cryptozoologists who train together, learn from one another, and most definitely have each other’s backs when the bad stuff hits the fan. There are always great team-ups in McGuire’s books, and this is one family you definitely don’t want to cross!
In the Spy Kids movie franchise, created by Robert Rodriguez (2001–2011), after discovering they come from a long line of undercover agents, child protagonists Carmen and Juni jump right in to become spies themselves. Throughout the series, they often work with their parents in different ways. Family unity is a key theme in these movies, and honestly my favorite element in them. And if we’re talking family teamwork in kid’s movies, it doesn’t get much better than Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004). I still get shivers watching that scene in the jungle where they finally start to work together as a family!
YOU get an arc, YOU get an arc, and YOU get an arc as well
Let’s not forget stories that, while being centered on young protagonists, allow the grown-ups an arc of their own on the side. I’m an unabashed fan of MTV’s Teen Wolf (2011–2017), and one of the reasons I loved that show so much was that, as the seasons progressed, not only did the parents get to support their children and fight with them, but they also had their own arcs as well. We got to see adult characters like Noah Stilinski, Melissa McCall, and Chris Argent grow and evolve alongside their children.
In Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series (2012–2016), the same is true of Blue Sargent’s family. A complex blend of blood and found family, the adults in Blue’s life who watched her grow up seem to twine in and out of the main story, enriching it with their own arcs even as they contribute to the main plotline.
You inspire me!
A shout-out here to the absolute gem that is Blue Sky’s Robots (2005). The main character, wannabe inventor Rodney Copperbottom, is the small-town boy who sets off to make his way in the big city. He leaves behind loving and supportive parents—especially his father who has brought him up to believe in his dreams. His parents are not an active part of the story, but are more than just a safe port or an anchor: they are Rodney’s main source of inspiration, the reason for his ‘quest’, and never far from his mind.
Here’s to all those wonderful families in fiction who keep our beloved protagonists grounded and those plots marching forward! These were a few of my personal favorites; what are yours?