Trope Review: The Found Family
The Found Family is a popular trope found across vast forms of literature, especially in fantasy genres. It can go hand-in-hand with the quest. The orphaned protagonist journeys with a disparate group of individuals and they become a cohesive unit despite constant bickering and disputes.
A Found Family trope is one that always warms my heart, and I always love it in literature. It’s so fun watching the groups fall into roles that fit their nature. A great example of this is the ‘Gaang’ in Avatar the Last Airbender. (I expect the group in The Legend of Korra has the same tropes but I haven’t seen it yet, sorry.)
Obviously, Katara is the mother of this found family. She lost her mother when she was younger (they don’t let you forget this) but joking aside, she has clearly stepped up and helped run her village. When she meets Aang, she immediately is protective of him.
Sokka, though older than Katara, acts younger initially, but he grows into a leader and planner. When the Gaang is in its prime in Season 3, Zuko easily slips into a older role model. He looks after Aang and the others in a different way to Katara. By taking them on ‘life-changing field trips,’ he is actually helping them grow as characters. He helps Aang learn firebending, becoming a fully realised Avatar. He helps Katara come to terms with her loss and grow. He helps Sokka redeem himself and mature as a leader. And Toph—well we’re still waiting for that, aren’t we?
So why does a Found Family trope work?
A Found Family trope works not only just because of how the characters interact, but also because how the relationships grow the characters.
Take the Court of Dreams in A Court of Thorns and Roses. They have all gone through absolute suffering, but they forge a new family together. And though the relationships and bickering is amazing (Cassian and Amren fighting, Mor grabbing the wine immediately, Rhys, Cassian and Azriel arguing), but it’s how they change each other. Feyre helps Amren grow, which helps her choose to return after the war. The best thing I take from the Court of Dreams is that we can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends.
A great way to mess around with this trope is to have it clash with the birth family. You know the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water?’ Well it’s short for ‘blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.’ Essentially the bonds of friendship can be stronger than biological family.
And just because I’m lazy and Avatar gives off a wealth of examples, let me show off Zuko. We see him struggle with his abusive father and manipulative sister. One of his best moments comes when he fights his sister Azula alongside is Katara. He’s fighting his sister, with his friend. (And no, I don’t ship Zutara.)
I use the found family trope in Torchbearer, and one of my beta readers has commented how much she likes the family in the sequel. There aren’t any blood bonds in the group, but I hope that it is clear by the end they have become something more.
However, just because it's a found family doesn't mean they won't argue. No family is perfect. Take the Guardians of the Galaxy, for example. Nebula commented, "all you do is yell at each other. You are not friends." To which Drax responds, "you're right. We're family." Now this is obviously very cheesy, and I think you guys could do it better. But actions speak louder than words. Sure, they may yell at each other. They may bicker and argue. But when one is trapped, surrounded by enemies, what will the others do? Will they go back for them? If yes, then you’ve made a found family trope.
A Found Family makes for a great character arc and it is the "mother-trope" as I have named it—can encompass so many tropes themselves, some of which I may discuss in the future. These could include the Found Parent, Found Child, Honorary Uncle, Enemies to Lovers/Enemies to Friends to Lovers, and even can slot some Villain Redemption in there. It has a great theme - families are more than blood. They are the ones who have your back, always.
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