Literary Feral Children

Reading this Roger Moorhouse piece on the eighteenth century German feral child, Peter of Hanover, reminded me of Victor of Aveyron who showed up a few decades later in France and became a tabla rasa for thinkers of the period as they contemplated what it meant to be human.  And then I started thinking about literary feral children and, especially, the mad crushes I had on two of them.  Yes, I confess that as a young reader Mowgli and Peter Pan made my heart race. I found those two feral boys to be brave, headstrong, and delightfully free, free, free.  But as I tried to think of more recent feral children in children’s fiction I came up short. A search came up with this broad list which included Karen Hesse’s The Music of Dolphins and Jane Yolen’s Passenger, but that seemed to be it.  Can you think of others?

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40 responses to “Literary Feral Children

  1. How about the books of Maryrose Wood–The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I The Mysterious Howling and Book II The Hidden Gallery?
    http://bit.ly/qN4aZ5

  2. Margie stole my suggestion, but there are others. Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble (though you could argue that he’s just another version of Peter Pan).

    • Oh come now, Betsy! You’re clearly just trying to rile me up!
      If *anyone* in “Peter Nimble” resembles Barrie’s boy, it’s PEG!

      I’ve been on a “Strewwelpeter” (Shock-Headed Peter) kick as of late, so I can’t help but think of him — not raised by animals, but definitely on the continuum. Also, whoever suggested “I was a Rat” is a genius!

      • Nein to Strewwelpter, nein, nein, nein:) He IS being raised by proper folk, but just refuses to do what they want him to do (cut hair and nails). Sort of like Max in Where the Wild Things Are.

      • Well, sure Peg’s got her resemblance, but orphaned boys who raise themselves and have (eventual) flying companions? Peter = Peter, m’dear. Tis elementary!

  3. Ah yes, forgot the Incorrigibles whom I adore. And didn’t think of Peter Nimble in this regard, but he is one too in the Pan tradition.

  4. Diane

    What about Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins? She’s a teenager but lives with the wild animals.

  5. Kipling’s Kim kind of fits the bill, more of an urban feral child than a wilderness raised lad, but he lived outside the rules of society.

    • True, but I’m thinking more kids raised away from other humans completely and “taught” by non humans — so with wolves in Mowgli’s case and fairies in Peter Pan’s. If we go to urban feral children in stories there are quite a few more, kids living in the subway and then there are kids who go off temporarily like the boy in My Side of the Mountain.

  6. I was a Rat — by Philip Pullman — a book which questions the human/animal nature of the boy (Cinderella’s leftover rat-footman) …… I would also argue that Pippi Longstocking is somewhat feral (in the sense of unaffected by social norms)….

    • Ah, yes, Roger fits! And I did also wonder about Pippi, but then she has no one raising her and isn’t that what makes her so grand? Mowgli’s got the jungle creatures raising him and Peter has the fairies, sort of.

  7. I love feral children! (theoretically; actual, real, historical feral children are mostly very sad). How about Tarzan? does he count as a children’s character? And he is feral – it’s just his innate whiteness and genetic superiority that allows him to teach himself to read and such.
    I can think of mythic or legendary figures – Romulus & Remus and their wolf, Pecos Bill and his wolf-mother – but there have GOT to be more fictional ferals….or is this simply a niche that desperately needs filling? (authors? anyone?)

    • Yes, Tarzan for sure, but is he a child when the series begins? I have to admit, I’ve never read any of them.

      There is a niche, but please no feral children being raised by paranormal animals.

      • what if the animals are just really sparkly in the sunlight??
        Tarzan is, I think, a baby at the start of the first book, and then essentially an older adolescent for much of the book (if I’m remembering correctly – it’s been awhile since I read it). He’s definitely a child when he ends up living with the apes (which are, hilariously and depressingly, consistently described as if they are truly fanged monsters, a la the “wild apes” of Peter Nimble’s Vanished Kingdom). I cannot say I’d recommend reading Tarzan of the Apes, since it’s rather disgustingly racist among other problems, but I’d argue for Tarzan being a feral child/teenager.

  8. Love this post —-gotta love a good list of books in a category—sends me to the library for sure!

  9. It was published as an adult book, but I think Karen Russell’s fantastic short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves makes a great YA cross-over, AND it features (as you might guess from the title) at least one story about feral children (girls raised by wolves) who are being forced to attend a school run by nuns.

    “We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual.”

    Like the rest of the book, the story is weird and wonderful — also haunting in the way that all TRUE feral children stories tend to be.

    • That is a title that has always intrigued me and now your quote makes me all the more interested.

      • I love the book and find it comes to mind for me a lot, because it planted some seriously warped but delightful images in my head from the very first reading. (Kids sledding on sand dunes in the exoskeletons of giant crabs? Awesome.) The first story in the collection feels especially dark — the others a bit less so.

  10. dkm

    Don’t know if Troth of Avi’s Crispin makes your list (technically raised by a hag in the woods), but she fits mine—fun challenge to think about—

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  12. How about Wild Things by Clay Carmichael? There’s a boy who lives in the woods who’s quite wild.

  13. brookeshelf

    Jane Yolen’s “Young Merlin” trilogy begins with the unnamed Merlin as a feral child: in the first book, “Passager,” he is abandoned in the forest by his mother at age eight, and has forgotten human speech at the book’s beginning. The first several chapters portray how he learns to talk and interact with other people after being adopted by a falconer.

    Also, Karen Hesse’s first novel, “The Music of Dolphins,” is a first-person fictional account of a feral child — a girl shipwrecked as a toddler and ostensibly raised by dolphins! The book’s design as well as content shows the character’s entrance into society; font sizes and spacing are generous when the protagonist is half-wild, and then grow smaller as she “evolves.”

    • brookeshelf

      Oh, whoops. Somehow I missed that you already mentioned these two novels, Monica! This is what I get for reading blogs while nursing a baby. :-)

      In the meanwhile, can I also put in two cents for the “mysterious Indian boy” from Eva Ibbotson’s “Journey to the River Sea”? Although he probably isn’t truly “feral.”

      • Read the book ages ago and quite liked it but must admit I don’t remember much about it. He doesn’t sound feral though, at least not according to my idea of feral:)

  14. How about ARNOLD OF THE DUCKS, by Mordicai Gerstein? From Goodreads: “Mistaken for a fish by a nearsighted pelican and deposited with a family of ducks, young Arnold learns to swim, fly, and eat like a duck until his curiosity finally leads him back to his human family.” I remember reading this story in Cricket magazine as a child, and I just weeded (gulp) my library’s very battered copy yesterday.

  15. Speaking of Mordicai Gerstein, what about The Wild Boy?

    • Hmmm… that is based on Victor of Aveyron (and Gerstein also did a nonfiction book for older kids on him). I’ve just looked the nonfiction one up on amazon and came across another intriguing book, Deborah Noyes’ When I Met the Wolf Girls.

  16. sherri

    Pippy Longstocking…

  17. Jody Kopple

    The Boy Who Howled by Timothy Power. Raised by wolves, according to the summary.

  18. I’m days late, and yet no one has mentioned Incident at Hawk’s Hill, so I will.

  19. Well, I am certainly late to the party (sorry, sorry) but I have written a bunch of Wild Child books, including CHILDREN OF THE WOLF (novel about the Midnapore wolf girls), THE WOLF GIRLS (nonfiction wth Heidi E. Y. Stemple, part of the Unsolved Mysteries from History series), and as you mentioned the beginning of the Young Merlin trilogy, PASSAGER. A number of short stories and poems as well.

    Jane Yolen

  20. Hmm….I don’t quite see The Graveyard Book in this category. He’s raised by ghosts, not wolves! But I guess he is rather feral in dress and such.

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