Feral children in mythology and fiction

For documented cases of real children raised by animals, see Feral children.

Missing image
Cover from
Shasta of the Wolves
by Olaf Baker
(1921 British edition)

Feral children (i.e., children raised by animals) in mythology and fiction are often depicted as having superior strength, intelligence and morals to "normal" people, the implication being that due to their animal upbringing they represent humanity in a wild and uncorrupted state.

Thus Enkidu, raised by wild beasts, becomes the friend of the hero Gilgamesh (see also Epic of Gilgamesh); Romulus and Remus, raised by a wolf, became the founders of Rome; Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli, also raised by wolves, becomes the natural ruler of the jungle. He might be seen as a metaphor for the British Raj - a member of a "superior" race whose destiny is to rule the "inferior" races; a jungle version of the white man's burden. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, raised by apes, has become an iconic hero of novels, comic strips and motion pictures; he may have been suckled by an ape but there is never any doubt that he is on the side of the angels.

Other stories featuring children raised by animals, possibly influenced by Mowgli and Tarzan, include Shasta of the Wolves (1919) by Olaf Baker, in which a Native American boy is raised by a wolfpack in the Pacific Northwest, and Jungle-Born (1924) by John Eyton, in which a boy raised by apes in northern India inadvertently saves a teenage girl from her abusive father.

British comic books of the 1960s and 1970s seemed particularly fond of wild child stories. "The Wild Wonders" in Valiant (fl 1970s) are two boys lost on a Scottish island and raised in the wild, developing their own language; returned to civilisation at about the age of 10, they become superb athletes and enjoy many comic adventures.

Missing image

In "Fishboy", written by Scott Goodall (uncredited), (1968 - 1975 in Buster), the eponymous hero was abandoned on a remote island as a baby, implausibly learned how to breathe underwater and to communicate with sea creatures, and grew webbed fingers and toes.

Goodall also created "Kid Chameleon" (1970-1972 in Cor!!). Raised by reptiles in the Kalahari Desert after the murder of his parents, Kid Chameleon wears a suit of lizard scales that can change colour to camouflage him like his namesake the chameleon (actually his camouflage is much better, because the artist simply lets the background colours show through his outline, making him almost invisible). In keeping with the heroism of feral children, both Fishboy and Kid Chameleon spend most of their time using their special abilities to help people in trouble and defeat stereotypical villains.

The story of the 1994 video game Final Fantasy VI includes a character named Gau, a 14-year-old boy who lives wild on a fictional savanna called the Veldt. Abandoned shortly after birth, Gau raises himself among the wild animals of the plain, learning how to fight in the exact style of many different monsters. At the age of 14, he encounters travelers Sabin Rene Figaro and Cyan Garamonde, and chooses to travel with them after they feed him some dried meat. Gau is capable of rudimentary human language, but has no manners nor social skills. Gau is later taught elementary manners to prepare him for reintroduction to the biological father who abandoned him, only to find that the man has been completely insane since Gau was born.

Jane Yolen's Passager (1996), the first of the Young Merlin trilogy of short novels, depicts a slightly more realistic view of feral childhood. Abandoned in a Welsh forest at the age of 7, the boy who will become Merlin lives wild for a year as little better than an animal, until a falconer who is used to taming wild things captures him and begins the long and difficult task of re-educating him in human behaviour.

More recently, the title character of Miyazaki Hayao's 1997 anime film Princess Mononoke (real name San) was raised by a wolf god. San is drawn into a deadly conflict between the forest gods and the humans whose presence seems to threaten them.

Missing image
Pyrénée with the bear and her teddy bear.

The French comic book (bande dessinée (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bande_dessin%E9e)) Pyrénée (1998), by Regis Loisel and Philippe Sternis, features a girl who is raised by a bear and taught wisdom by a blind old eagle in the French Pyrenees. This story has won critical acclaim, but has also drawn some criticism because the girl is naked - a factor which might prevent the comic from appearing in English translation, especially in America.

In Karen Hesse's The Music of Dolphins, a young girl called Mila (Spanish for 'miracle') is found after having been raised by dolphins for over ten years. In the book, Mila is taken to a clinic with other feral children, none of whom adapt to humanity as easily as she does. However, in the end of the book, Mila goes back to the dolphin pod, showing her rejection of human society.

In the series starting with Through Wolfs Eyes by Author Jane Lindskold, a young girl's family and colony are killed by a fire, and she is the only survivor. She is then taken in by the "Royal Wolves" who speak their own language with gestures and signals. Because Firekeeper had already learned a human language before going to live with the wolves, she was able to return to society and became a valuable asset to the royalty, but she found that humans were not as noble as the wolves she loved as family. It is her greatest wish to become a wolf herself and leave the humans behind again.

The Monarch from the Cartoon Network Adult Swim show, The Venture Brothers, was raised by monarch butterflies as a child. He wears a monarch butterfly costume with a crown, showing his "royal" status.

The Quality Comics hero Black Condor, was a boy raised in Mongolia by intelligent condors, gains the improbable power of flight and later becomes a superhero.

See also

Further reading

  • Mother was A Lovely Beast (subtitled 'A Feral Man Anthology Fiction and Fact About Humans Raised By Animals) edited by Philip Jos Farmer (1974)

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